The Big Alligator River

Swingin' natives
Released:
1979

Director: Sergio Martino

Starring: Claudio Cassinelli, Barbara Back, Mel Ferrer, Romano Puppo

The Setup:

Giant crocodile / river god threatens opening of tourist resort.

Discussion:

I'm going through Netflix one day and suddenly this appears as 'related' to something I've seen, and since I like any animal attack movie, and haven't seen one in a while, to the top of my list it leapt. Then it arrived before I had a chance to have second thoughts. I was worried it might be a made for TV movie, but no: it's Italian! One of those Italian movies made in a tropical country and thrown out to a B audience. So let's go!

Now we run into confusion just from the title. Is it a big alligator? Or a big river? Then the movie itself is always talking about crocodiles--alligators are never mentioned--while the Italian title of the actual film references caiman. So even before it begins, it is shrouded in mystery. But a big deadly lizard is the bottom line. We meet our hero, Daniel, played by Claudio Cassinelli, who is not unpleasant to look at, flying in a helicopter to the Paradise House resort, which is about to open. He is a photographer there to take pictures to use in promotional materials, and has brought along a model, Sheena, who maintains a model's air of inscrutable affect. They pass over a group of natives they call the Kuna, who they say are friendly, and live across the river from the resort. We then have a sequence of resort workers blowing up trees to clear land, which is soon forgotten. I never quite got a fix on which country we're supposed to be in.

At the resort we meet Alice, played by Barbara Bach, who is kind of the social director or something. Daniel tours the area, seeing the crocodile bridge, where workers are fishing for crocodiles with live piglets, because tourists will want to see crocodiles at the crocodile bridge. There is also a large party raft, which we can tell will be a scene of future carnage, and a swimming lagoon enclosed with a fence we can tell is too flimsy to keep out real crocodiles. If you've seen Jaws 3, you'll probably have a good idea where things are headed with that. Daniel takes pictures of Sheena--who might make you wonder how amazing it would have been if she had been played by Grace Jones--while snapping photos of the alluring Alice on the sly. There is a scene of panic among the natives as they fear a crocodile attack, but it was just a floating log! The first group of tourists arrives the next day.

Now Sheena has been doing her model act, always amusing, which includes taking pictures of her dirty dancing with natives. That night, as Daniel makes an explicit play to share fluids with Alice, who politely declines, Sheena is out walking when she catches the eye of a Kuna man who has paddled his canoe over to check her out. I thought it was a bit odd to treat members of a native tribe as hot sex objects, and perhaps verging on racist that African-American Sheena would be turned on by the idea of hooking up with a tribal man, but the movie treats it as all part of a hot swingin' atmosphere. Sheena allows her native beau to give her a moonlight ride in his canoe, whereupon they pause on the riverbank and get romantic in the muck. One might think that she'd be a little upset about grinding her expensive designer dress into the mud, let alone reject a mucky riverbank as a trysting place, but she turns out to be much more open than you might think. Alas, they both get eaten, Sheena's screams heard by Daniel and Alice on the other shore.

The next day tourists arrive. I was hoping for a lot of horny, sleazy tourists as potential victims, but hopes were dashed as they arrive with a shortage of horny men and a surplus of horny middle-aged women. Also arriving is cute young girl Minou, who is disturbed by her mother's intent to pick up a hot man on this trip. The management, led by Jose Ferrer as Mr. Joshua, are unconcerned that Sheena is missing and, in classic Jaws fashion, don't want to hear about any threats that might delay the opening of their lucrative resort. Also in Jaws fashion, we have numerous underwater shots of river weeds, meant to be the view of the crocodile as it stalks the river bottom. Looking at weeds.

So the peaceful night of a the resort is broken by the jungle drums of the Kuna, who also seem to employ a funky bassist. These drums signal the presence of the Kruna, who is their fearsome mythical giant crocodile and river god. [Kuna=Natives, Kruna=Crocodile]. Daniel and Alice, neglecting her job duties, pay a visit to the Kuna, and are directed to a white hermit who lives up the river. They visit him in his cave, where he has a giant head of a crocodile, and has not been down to the water since a giant crocodile killed everyone in his company. He was a missionary, and Alice observes the irony that he came to spread his beliefs, but ended up a convert to the native beliefs. Then--Kruna attack!

This large, completely immobile plaster crocodile "attacks" their boat, complete with fast edits of its open, motionless jaw and utterly still feet. They survive, get back to the resort, and try to warn everyone, but are shut down by Mr. Joshua and henchmen. Daniel is to leave immediately, but--the Kruna has dragged the helicopter into the water! I was into the idea of a smart crocodile. They drag it out, but it's broken. They're trapped--trapped like rats!

Now if you know that this movie is from 1979, three years after the DeLaurentis King Kong, you won't be surprised to learn that Alice is kidnapped by natives and set out in a special raft to become the bride of the Kruna. Meanwhile a large group of tourists has gone out on the party raft. Daniel looks for Alice--he is considerably less perturbed by the cobra in her bed than I might be--and takes off in a motorboat to find her. He eventually does, tied, rather insecurely, to the sacrifice raft, and is busy untying her when--Kruna attack! They fend off the motionless invader as well as they can, but their efforts seem to be in vain when suddenly--

We cut away to the party boat. And suddenly the Kruna attacks THAT. So either it abruptly gave off its attack on Daniel and Alice, or there are two Kruna (Krunai?). The boat comes close to the encased lagoon and people start leaping into the water and trying to get over the fence. This is where you get those oh-so-tasty moments of groups of tourists in a panic. We rejoin Daniel and Alice as they return to the resort--guess they survived the attack, then--only to find... a scene of slaughter! It would seem that the Kuna people have invaded the resort and are killing everyone in sight. So not only to you get tourist slaughter via giant crocodile, you also get tourist slaughter via jungle tribe. That's two, TWO slaughters in one! Which can only be described as Movie value.

When we return to the scene at the party boat, we encounter mass panic and an angry, angry Kruna. It easily chews through the fence, as you always knew it would, and is munching tourists like Doritos. And, it would sadly seem, too many tourists are ignoring the foot-long spikes that top the lagoon fence and getting impaled for their carelessness. Blood flows freely but gore is not seen. Mr. Joshua makes it ashore only to receive a flaming arrow to his chest as a thank you. Then we have a shot of a rather sad model of the resort on fire.

Daniel and Alice hop into a van which just happens to be filled with... Grapefruit? Bacon? No, explosives! They drive across the bridge, the crocodile bridge, you will recall, but--the natives blow it, sending their van into the water! There they encounter either the same Kruna, who seems to be everywhere at once, or one of the other Krunai. Handy to have those explosives available at just such a time, n'est-ce pas? If you've seen Jaws, as it seems that Daniel has, you know that you just pop one of those suckers into your attacking beast's mouth, and away go troubles, down the drain.

Well, I can say that it exceeded expectations, but it must be understood that expectations were extremely low. It's just a lot more fun than you think it's going to be, making up for a lack of outrageous bad-movieness (though it does have that on a simmer throughout) by being somewhat, sort of, almost genuinely compelling. It has a momentum and maintains interest, and some of the attack scenes, while quite tame, are reasonably exciting, especially when you consider that you're watching people be attacked by a wooden carving. Our two leads are pleasant to look at, the story is energetic, if little else, and the climax is a lot more over-the-top than it needed to be. They went the extra mile.

Still, if you fail to see it, one can still expect to live a life of comparable richness with little to no demonstrable consequences.

Should you watch it?

If you like animal attack movies and you like 'em cheesy.

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