See Ya Later, Imitator… Sergio Martino’s BIG ALLIGATOR RIVER Reviewed.

 

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DVD. Region Free. No Shame. Unrated.

With the likely exception of Mario Bava, Sergio Martino took the giallo more places than anybody else would even have attempted and having given the definitive push to the American “body count” box office phenom with 1973’s Torso (which tellingly played on drive in double bills with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre) he pretty much left the genre alone (barring the misfiring crime slime / comedy crossover Suspicious Death Of A Minor and a couple of variable stabs at TV giallo). There were plenty of Sexy Comedies to come and, driven by the ruthless logic of commercial production, he would continue to jump any new bandwagon, e.g. pasta post-Apocalypse with 2019: After The Fall Of New York, killer cyborgs (Hands Of Stone) or revisit any resurgent filone (see his late breaking spaghetti western Mannaja: A Man Called Blade, 1977).

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During 1978 and 1979 Martino essayed a loose trilogy of stonking Boy’s Own adventure yarns, inaugurated by Prisoner Of The Cannibal God (an H. Rider Haggard knock off with enough voguish cannibalism tacked on to see it consigned to the DPP’s dreaded “video nasties” list), continued in Island Of The Fishmen (The Island Of Dr Moreau as if rewritten by Jules Verne) and concluded via the item under consideration here, whose original Italian title translates as River Of The Great Caiman but which is also known as Big (or “Great”) Alligator, Big (or “Great”) Alligator River (as it is identified here) and in some markets the titular beasty was rebranded a crocodile…

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… but let’s not get too nitpicky about our saurians. The film’s story (co-written with Martino by ol’ Anthropophababy himself, Luigi Montefiori, among others) is an obvious cash in on Jaws but so what? What’s Jaws if not Ibsen’s An Enemy Of The People with added, er, bite? Mel Ferrer is Joshua, the entrepreneur with no social conscience who’s opening a swinging hot spot on the banks of a Sri Lankan river, oblivious to the man eating menace lurking nearby. He won’t listen to the warnings of his publicity photographer Daniel Nessel (Martino stalwart Claudio Cassinelli) but Dan finds solace in the arms of Alice, a foxy anthropologist played by the luscious Barbara Bach. Literally a Starr in the making, BB isn’t the only rock star’s chick in the cast, which also includes the perpetually bikini-clad Lory Del Santo, later mother of the ill-fated Connor Clapton. Other familiar faces include black muscle dude Bobby Rhodes and (as sassy, pint-sized comic relief Minou) Silvia Collatina (best known for her subsequent role as Mae Freudstein in Lucio Fulci’s House By The Cemetery) in her screen debut. Making up the hat trick of Fish Men holdovers, Richard Johnson cameos as Father Jonathan, a missionary gone native (signified by his Catweazle wig and beard) who subscribes to the theory that the alligator / caiman / crocodile / whatever is actually an incarnation of “The Great God Kruna”.

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Aside from growing resentment about the ecological damage done to the island, local tribe the Kuma take particular exception to a member of their number being seduced by one of the holiday makers during a full moon, a time when their pagan gods demand abstinence. The two miscreants are subsequently wolfed down by Kruna himself, in day for night shots which don’t work at all on this DVD. At least the underwater work of Gian Lorenzo (Inferno) Battaglia is as good as you’d expect.

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Things are getting a bit nippy on the Sri Lankan waterways! And as for that alligator…

The great Kruna now goes on a predictable snacking rampage through the ranks of the assembled 18-30 crowd who go into overacting overdrive and swim for their lives, only to end up impaled on the spiked fences that were supposed to be keeping the critter out or reaching the shore and being butchered by vengeful Kumas (though after Cassinelli has dispatched their alligator god with a handy dandy fistful of dynamite, everybody seems to bury the hatchet with a minimum of fuss). Carlo De Marchis’s alligator looks pretty solid by the general standard of these things (until Cassinelli blows it to smithereens, of course) though like myself, many viewers will probably find the most arresting spectacle in the film that of Ms Bach, kidnapped by the Kumas, lashed to a bamboo raft and attired in a flimsy and progressively wetter shift. Nice shift work if you can get it.

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With the aid of such regular collaborators as DP Giancarlo Ferrando, art director Massimo Antonello Geleng and composer Stelvio Cipriani, Martino has here turned in a more than acceptable slice of spaghetti exploitation that would sit comfortably in a triple Lockdown bill with Fabrizio De Angelis’s Killer Crocodile brace.

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Back in the naughty noughties, Italy’s No Shame label was the best place to go for Martino films on disc and although better editions of his gialli are now available, their “Sergio Martino Collection” is still as good a source as any for some of his non-giallo offerings. Here you get a good 1.85:1 transfer, enhanced for 16X9. Extras wise, you get a collectors’ booklet, the international and domestic trailers (the latter marginally more psychedelic), poster gallery and a featurette comprising the reminiscences of Martino and Geleng. I particularly welcomed the opportunity to enjoy a good nose around the latter’s apartment, which is crammed to bursting with interesting artefacts from various points in his illustrious career.

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