From the DVD case: A young wife (Beverly Garland) is abandoned by her husband (Richard Crane) on their wedding day. Distraught, she traces him to his ancestral home in the bayous of Louisiana, where, amid the swamps and deadly undergrowth, she discovers a terrible secret.
Her husband was saved from death by an experimental medical procedure involving serum derived from alligators, and now he’s developing horrifying side effects. She’ll face any danger to help him, but soon discovers her love may not be enough. (1959,b&w)
Mark says: When film historian Tom Weaver asked Beverly Garland about her experiences during The Alligator People, she replied, “The hardest thing in that movie was simply to keep a straight face.” That gives you an idea as to the type of movie we are dealing with here. Of course, you probably already guessed that from the title.
Most of The Alligator People is told in flashback. A psychiatrist, Dr. MacGregor (Douglas Kennedy; The Amazing Transparent Man) discovers that his nurse has suffered a traumatic shock that she can only remember through hypnosis. The nurse, played by Beverly Garland (It Conquered the World) has taken on a new identity since the trauma, completely repressing the events that led to her breakdown. The story unfolds through Garland’s narrative while under hypnosis.
Beverly Garland is not just window dressing to support a leading man, but the true star of this picture. She plays Jane Marvin, who, before her trauma, was known as Joyce Webster. Because most of the story takes place in the past, I will refer to Garland’s character as Joyce for the remainder of this review.
Joyce is a determined woman who tenaciously tracks her husband after he disappears from a train during their wedding night. She finally traces him to an old plantation in Louisiana, where she faces down Mrs. Hawthorne (Frieda Inescort, The She-Creature) an old ogress and “lady” of the house. Mrs. Hawthorne is obviously eager to get rid of Joyce, and claims no knowledge of her bridegroom. Mrs. Hawthorne reveals a secret about her identity later in the film (which I won’t reveal as it is probably the only source of suspense you’ll find here).
Richard Crane (House of the Damned) plays Joyce’s husband, Paul Webster, who, because of an experimental new medication, is transforming into an alligator man. Crane’s performance isn’t particularly noteworthy, but it is fun to listen to him speak like an alligator. Mr. Webster is only one of many alligator people being treated at the remote Louisiana facility. Of course, all of this is supposed to be hush-hush, and Joyce’s arrival compromises their security.
The inventor of the alligator serum is Dr. Sinclair, played by George Macready (years later he narrated Count Yorga, Vampire). Dr. Sinclair’s intentions were noble enough. He simply wanted to use the healing properties of alligator hormones to restore those who have been badly injured, crushed, or burned. Unfortunately, the serum not only heals people, it gives them scales and funny voices. Dr. Sinclair desperately searches for a method to undo his damage.
The most colorful character is Manon, played by horror legend Lon Chaney (The Wolf Man, The Mummy’s Tomb). Manon is a drunken hired hand who hates “gators” ever since losing a hand to one. Chaney genuinely seems to enjoy his role and hams it up like only an old horror star can. You can’t help but be amused when he disgustedly spits out lines like, “Dirty, stinkin’, slimy gators! ” Manon spends his free time shooting the reptiles and vows to “never stop killin’ gators,” which is bad news for alligator people.
One of the many flaws of The Alligator People is that the alligator men don’t pose any real threat to anyone. They are alligators only in appearance. Joyce’s husband possess all of his human faculties even when in advanced stages. He even plays the piano, though he does leave the keys wet and tracks muddy footprints on the carpet, the beast.
The make-up, though not bad while the alligator people are in mid-transformation, becomes ridiculous when the metamorphosis is complete. Just look at the image above and you’ll understand why Miss Garland had such a hard time keeping a straight face throughout this picture.
Though The Alligator People is primarily pure camp fodder, it still has the virtue of being entertaining. Garland’s portrayal of an able-bodied nurse (she not only faces down slimy gators, but takes a punch from Chaney, too) gives the story some creditability. The film quality also seems to be better than other movies of a similar budget.
I can’t recommend The Alligator People as a vehicle for suspense and thrills, but I definitely recommend it as a source of kitschy fun.
Directed by Roy Del Ruth (Phantom of the Rue Morgue).
Scene to watch for: Beverly Garland finds a crate labeled, “Caution: Radioactive Material,” and promptly sits down on it.
Line to listen for: “I’ll kill you Alligator Man! Just like I’d kill any four-legged gator!”
Mark’s Rating: ! ! ! out of 5.