Written by: Jon Hess
Directed by: Curt Allen
Starring: Joseph Bologna, Dee Wallace, and Richard Lynch
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman
The balance of nature has been tipped... to terror.
Producer Brandon Chase was bound and determine to capitalize on the success of Alligator, even if nearly a decade had passed and it wasn’t exactly the sort of film that begged for a sequel in the first place. Don’t get me wrong: the original film is a stone cold classic of the killer gator genre, but I’m not sure how many people were exactly clamoring for a follow-up. But Chase-and god love him for it—decided that didn’t matter and unleashed Alligator II: The Mutation on unsuspecting audiences across the country, satisfying their cravings for giant alligator creature features that also have a social conscience about wealth disparity.
Apparently, the filmmakers were seriously banking on folks having that very specific craving because The Mutation is less a sequel and more a half-ass retread. It’s essentially the same tale retold in a different city with a few embellishments, none of which make this a particularly vital experience. In this one, a corporation dumps a bunch of hazardous, experimental chemicals into a local lake, where an alligator feeds until it grows into an enormous size and begins to prey on the locals. Overworked cop David Hodges (Joseph Bologna) investigates the slayings and uncovers a conspiratorial plot between a local land developer (Steve Railsback) and town officials to push the city’s Hispanic population from their homes.
That’s right: Alligator II is the only movie that I can think of where a giant alligator also functions as a metaphor for gentrification. It’s actually quite in line with the original’s satirical bent, which similarly imagined the gator as a metaphor for America’s attempt to suppress its problems and pave over them with political and corporate corruption during the Yuppie era. You can’t really accuse The Mutation of having nothing to say—even if it is kind of the same damn thing that was said a decade earlier. Of course, you can look now—nearly three decades after this film’s release—and realize these problems are more toxic than ever before, so maybe there weren’t enough Alligator movies trying to warn us about the perils of wealth run amok.
Of course, it’s not like The Mutation articulates any of this particularly well, and it’s a clear step down from its predecessor. Instead of Robert Forster’s all-time great idiosyncratic performance, you get Joseph Bologna going through the motions of a story that was more swiftly executed the first time around. You also get another large alligator going through its motions (in some cases, the exact motions since footage from the original is sometimes reused) too. However, the PG-13 rating this time around tames the carnage significantly: some of the violence is off-screen, and what we do see is nearly bloodless, which largely defeats the purpose of a movie who’s main appeal involves a huge alligator tearing through most of the cast. Diminishing returns largely define Alligator II, a movie where just about every aspect feels like it’s a step down from the original.
One thing it does retain is the original’s sense of humor, even if I’m not so sure it’s all completely intended this time out. Its eccentricities are of a zanier sort, and none of it approaches the brilliance of the original film dedicating an entire subplot to Forster’s anxieties about balding. However, they’re also welcome flourishes that help Alligator II to leave an impression, if only a little bit. Little touches, like Railsback’s crooked operation conducting business at a professional wrestling show, give the film a little bit of charm. Clearly, nothing signals “evil land tycoon” like a couple of guys pretending to body slam each other in some sort of demented speakeasy atmosphere. It’s all very unassuming and disarming and in no way prepares you for the delirious climax, wherein Railsback becomes a reckless, homicidal maniac.
On the other end of the spectrum, Hodges’s rookie partner might be a little bit of a hothead, but an entire scene where he spills his guts about a troubled childhood with an absent father signals that he’s a well-intentioned fuck-up. It’s such an odd aside because, otherwise, The Mutation doesn’t really give a damn about its characters. Even a supposedly serious scene where a vagrant tearfully recounts watching the alligator eat his friend is punctuated with his insistence that the creature “used Otis like a toothpick—and Otis didn’t deserve to be a toothpick!” Pretty rude of that alligator when you put it that way--but also very funny. Sorry, Otis.
Anyway, speaking of absent fathers, Hodges’s introduction literally establishes him as a good but chronically busy father, so much so that his wife (Dee Wallace) and kid have to record a birthday message for him. While Wallace reappears a few times to provide an assist (she’s a biologist who determines they’re probably dealing with an alligator), the kid is hardly seen or heard from ever again. Given the opening scene, you might expect the little guy to do something worthwhile in the movie, and there’s even an opportunity to put him in peril when the alligator rampages through a carnival later in the movie. But nope—my dude doesn’t even reappear for a reunion with his dad at the end to put a bow on the film’s mega happy ending.
My absolute favorite gonzo flourish, however, is Richard Lynch rolling into the film as a southern-fried Cajun gator hunter with a pack of yokels that boasts Kane Hodder. Leading the greatest redneck posse this side of Halloween 4, Lynch dives headlong into a role that allows him to devour more scenery than the alligator itself. It’s a remarkable turn mostly because it almost manages to completely justify the existence of Alligator II by putting it on a deranged path towards a fairly wild ending that involves bazookas, a bomb, and lethal injection—but not in that order. For some reason, Hodges thinks it’d be a good idea to meet the gator on its turf, wrestle it, then stab it with a toxic compound instead of just, you know, shooting it from afar with a damn rocket. Alligator II really makes you sweat it out in this regard: once the beast swallows a bomb, you’re pretty sure it’s a harbinger for an explosive finale, but director John Hess teases out the possibility that it won’t play a factor at all until Hodges and his partner finally just brandish the bazookas. Call me crazy, but I would have started there.
Such are the dumb charms of Alligator II, a sequel that is lesser in every way to its predecessor yet still feels too harmless to inspire real anger. Any movie that turns both Richard Lynch and Steve Railsback (a terrific scumbag here) loose is doing something right, and you have to admire its well-meaning attempt to expose the threat of gentrification and income inequality. Most people may have produced a serious drama to make that point, but Brandon Chase clearly thought nobody would listen without the promise of giant alligators eating people. Unfortunately, even that hook didn’t work too well the second time around, as The Mutation played in a small number of theaters before being dumped onto video and TV, where it lingered throughout the 90s. While Lionsgate managed to release the original on DVD over a decade ago, the same cannot be said for the sequel, which remains trapped in VHS purgatory in the States. Barring some unforeseen developments, it looks to stay that way, too.
While most may not see this as some great loss, it’s a sobering reminder of how easily films can fall between the cracks as new formats emerge. Even something like this—which was a video store and television staple for a decade—is essentially lost to time and the whims of its rights holders. Somehow, a movie that felt pretty unasked for in the first place has become something of a rarity. Funny how that works, especially when it involves a mutated alligator using a hobo as a toothpick.
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