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Fox Home Entertainment presents
"I'll kill you, alligator man—just like I'd kill any four-legged 'gator! You hear me? I'll kill ya!"
DVD ReviewFifties sci-fi usually involved alien menaces or giant monstrosities of some kind. But medical advances were also a fruitful source of paranoia in those days, as seen in this oddball combination of a Michael Crichton medical thriller and The Lady Vanishes.
Joyce Webster (Beverly Garland) has just married Paul Webster (Richard Crane) and they're taking a honeymoon train when he receives a mysterious telegram. Obviously shaken, he gets off the train at a mail stop, ostensibly to make a phone call, and disappears without a trace. Joyce, distraught about her interrupted honeymoon and vanished groom, doggedly follows every trail until she finds one leading to an old house deep in the Louisiana bayou. The owner, Mrs. Henry Hawthorne (Frieda Inescort) denies any knowledge of Paul, but mysterious experiments turning men into reptiles are being conducted by Dr. Mark Sinclair (George Macready). Lurking in the background is the drunken lout Manon (Lon Chaney Jr.), who hates alligators due to losing his hand to one. Joyce isn't one to be put off, however, and soon stumbles onto the experiments and learns the horrible truth about her husband.
Garland was the queen of the sci-fi B-movie during the 1950s, and she shows why in this outing. She makes for a wholesome heroine, but demonstrates great strength of character throughout. Having a strong female lead like this helps make this a more enjoyable picture than might have otherwise been the case. Chaney, deep into alcoholism at this point of his career, is pretty well typecast as a drunk, and his hook-hand isn't in the least convincing, but he is sufficiently brutal and animalistic to constitute a much bigger threat than the titular creatures. The rest of the cast is nondescript, though Inescort has some good moments as she keeps pouring on lies to Joyce, getting slightly flustered but trying to keep her cool.
The picture is stuck with a rather silly framing device as Joyce is put under the influence of sodium pentothal to reveal her story. While it might be a weak attempt at making the story convincing, it really feels like padding. Most of the first hour of the film is pretty engrossing otherwise, however, with an ominous feeling of dread culminating in Manon's attack on Joyce. However, the last ten minutes are thoroughly torpedoed by the most woeful rubber monster costume ever committed to film. It doesn't help that many of its scenes are under strong lighting, emphasizing its fakeness. The rubber-suited alligator man pretending to fight with an obviously stiff alligator is just the crowning silliness. This last bit reduces the picture to the level of laughability from which it can never recover, even with a somewhat poignant finale.
It's too bad that the promising beginning is thus wasted, but the film's worth watching for Garland and Chaney, in any event. Much of the dialogue and the theory behind the alligator people seems to have survived in the form of the Lizard in the Spider-Man comics. It seems clear that Stan Lee or Steve Ditko must have kept this film in mind for some years.
Rating for Style: C+
Rating for Substance: C+
Image Transfer Review: The anamorphic Cinemascope picture looks quite nice indeed. The black-and-white photography comes through clearly and only with the slightest occasional aliasing. Some dust spots are in evidence throughout, but otherwise it looks first-rate. Even the very dark scenes have good shadow detail, providing a palpable mood while still allowing the viewer to see the action. The bit rate is quite high, consistently around 8 Mbps.
Image Transfer Grade: A-
Audio Transfer Review: Both a stereo and 2.0 mono English track are provided, in addition to a mono Spanish track. There's very little difference between the mono and stereo tracks, frankly, other than the mono track is recorded quite a bit louder. I noticed very little in the way of directionality. Dialogue is clear enough, and hiss is at acceptable levels. The music is a little on the shrill side and lacking almost completely in deep bass.
Audio Transfer Grade: B-
Disc ExtrasStatic menu with music
Scene Access with 24 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
4 Other Trailer(s) featuring The Fly (1958), The Fly (1986), The Omen, Phantom of the Paradise
Extras Review: The sole extras are an anamorphic widescreen trailer for the feature, and four other horror/sci-fi offerings from 20th Century Fox. Oddly enough, the 1986 version of The Fly is represented only by a full-frame trailer. The chaptering is thorough.
Extras Grade: D+
Final CommentsIf only a better effects team had been at work, this could have been pretty entertaining. A nice transfer, but no extras to speak of.
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