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Monday, October 19, 2015


Hook-handed alcoholic Cajun versus newly-minted human/alligator hybrid. That's entertainment!

Under the psychiatrist-supervised influence of pentathol, nurse Jane Marvin falls into a trance and recounts the last events of her original life as Joyce Webster (Beverly Garland), a newlywed whose husband mysteriously disappears during their honeymoon. Over the following months Joyce follows clues and ends up at the Cypress Plantation, an estate deep in the Louisiana swamps that was her husband's most recent address as recorded on his college paperwork. Once there she meets a number of people who claim to know nothing of her husband or his whereabouts, so she digs deeper and things escalate along a trail of radioactive materials, a hazardous trek through the 'gator-infested swamp in the driving rain, violence leading to a close brush with rape by a drunken hook-handed Cajun handyman in a swamp shack, well-intended mad science gone horribly wrong, mutation, and the unthinkable truth about her husband's fate. When Joyce's story is captured on tape for posterity (and evidence of her "delusions"), her psychiatrist opts to never let her hear her own confession out of concern it will cause a relapse, and a cheerful "Jane Marvin" returns to her new existence.

The handyman (Lon Chaney Jr.) attempts to get his drunken rape on.

Long considered a disappointment by genre addicts, I'd like to suggest that THE ALLIGATOR PEOPLE be reevaluated for what it is, rather than for what it is not. Instead of straight-up shocks, what the audience gets is an unexpected southern gothic fused with a mystery and a standard 1950's weird science yarn, sort of "Tennessee Williams writes an H.P. Lovecraft story." The swamp setting drips with hothouse atmosphere that's greatly enriched by the black & white photography, and imagery of live alligators swimming and strolling around the place lend a sense of foreboding to the proceedings. The fear of losing a loved one with no explanation is something that anyone could relate to, as is the frustration of being lied to by people whom one knows know full well what's really going on, and Chaney's hook-handed Cajun handyman is a movie creep of the first and most sleazy order. As for the story, it would have worked as an eerie piece even without the presence of its sole alligator-man (forget the title, there's only one full-on 'gator hybrid at hand), so his presence is gravy, even if he does look like a refugee from a Pertwee-era episode of DOCTOR WHO when finally seen.

Sometimes it's best for a lost hubby to stay missing.

And Beverly Garland's performance here is quite compelling. Joyce's dogged pursuit of her missing husband holds the audience's interest and embroils us in her curiosity and frustration, so when she finally discovers her beloved's fate and final loss of humanity, we understand why she went mad and we side with her shrink in his decision not to cure her of her trauma-induced amnesia.

Joyce's quest reaches its inevitable end.

THE ALLIGATOR PEOPLE is not deep stuff by any means but it's a fun twist on southern-set melodramas. And how can you not love the visual of a cheesy shirtless alligator-man in slacks?

Poster from the original theatrical release.

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