Every Sunday in October, Old Ass Movies will be teaming with 31 Days of Horror in order to deliver a horror film that was made before you were born and tell you why you should like this.
This week, Old Ass Horror presents the shocking tale of a man who disappears from a train station only to emerge later as a gruesome half-man/half-alligator! The exclamation mark means that you’ve never seen terror like this before! Terror!
Synopsis: The beautiful Jane (Beverly Garland) is doing sessions with a psychologist when she reveals under pentathol that her real name is Joyce Webster, she lost her husband when he hopped off a train to make an upsetting phone call, and, oh yeah, she tracked him down and found out the horrible truth about his life in Louisiana. The caretaker for the estate (played by Lon Chaney) is a hook-handed man who shoots at alligators all night, the lady of the house (Frieda Inescort) is a frigid bitch who hides the truth, but Joyce still stumbles upon a world of mad science and alligator DNA splicing. As it turns out, you shouldn’t be meddling with that kind of thing.
Killer Scene: As B-movies go, the true shock is completely overstated, but the first scene where Paul Webster (Richard Crane) appears in his mid-stage transformation is actually really well done. In the moonlight, we see a dark figure approach a truck. Through the shadow, it becomes clear that the man’s face is covered in scales and his eyes glow with a strange ferocity as he explains that he can’t let the woman he loves see him like this.
Violence: There’s not much. Lon Chaney drunkenly shooting at alligators, some actual alligator wrestling (no silly rubber alligators here) goes down, and a few shoulder-grabbing struggles from the monstrous alligator-man (silly rubber alligator here) round it out.
Sex: It’s a proven fact that no one had sex in the 1950s.
Scares: The frights here are few and far between for a modern audience, but it’s designed to be a story of loss and terror. Oddly enough, it’s the mystery and powerlessness of not knowing where Paul went or what happened to him that gets under the skin more than the creature feature segments. For most of the movie, powerful people keep important information from an innocent, sweet woman, and that’s always frustratingly satisfying.
Final Thoughts: By the score sheet, it might seem like vouching for this film is a lost cause, and while it’s true that it’s a B-level monster movie (with barely any monster in it), it still lands somewhere between Great and Cheesy. It’s a rare feat for a movie from this era, following this pattern, to rise above the groans the genre usually causes. The Alligator People tells an honest enough mystery that leads toward a lesson about nuclear dangers and why you shouldn’t try to infuse a human with alligator DNA. For those that haven’t yet learned that lesson, the film could be invaluable. For those that have, it’s still a clever, refreshing, slightly-better-than-B-movie that deserves to be smiled at (and not mocked like most of its counterparts).