Alligator II: The Mutation (1991) and the Direct-to-VHS Destruction of a Legacy


I’m not too precious about the 1980 creature feature Alligator and the dismissive ways it’s been handled in the decades since its release. For all of the film’s wonderful bouts of grotesque violence & magical realism, it’s still at heart a cheap Jaws knockoff with the main selling point that it’s centered on an alligator, not a shark. I’m proud to have Alligator included here as a Movie of the Month selection, but it’s not the kind of movie I’d expect to be especially protective of when it comes to its sovereignty as an intellectual property. Imagine my surprise, then, when I found myself near-infuriated with the direct-to-VHS sequel Alligator II: The Mutation. There was something especially egregious & needless about the decade-late followup to Alligator that really rubbed me the wrong way, despite the futility of being upset by such a mundane slice of schlock media being obvious to me the entire time. This must be what it feels like for those dweebs who get up in arms about Paul Feig’s upcoming Ghostbusters adaptation.

As silly as it sounds I’m more upset by Alligator II‘s mishandling of the first film’s titular monster Ramón than of the movie property as a franchise. I know we’ve already covered this extensively this month, but Ramón was something of an epic badass. Flushed down the toilet as a tiny baby, Ramón grew to dinosaur-like proportions by feeding on the discarded corpses of animal test subjects that littered his home in the Chicago sewer system and eventually broke above ground to punish the wicked evil-doers who would treat animals so cruelly & heartlessly. The only reptile I know possibly named after a painter, he was a myth, a legend. Sure, Ramón might have chomped on an innocent child or a stray cop in the process, but he’s an alligator at heart, so it’s understandable that his murderous revenge mission might’ve been muddled by a mistake or three.

Alligator II: The Mutation completely unravels Ramón’s legacy. Ramón exploded at the conclusion of Alligator, but I figured that the modern presence of a dino-sized gator woudn’t be the kind of thing people would easily forget. I was wrong, apparently. Although Alligator II is billed as a sequel, no one in the film seems to be aware that Ramón ever existed. Surely, a monstrous gator terrorizing one of America’s largest cities into widespread panic would be the kind of thing that would at least make the papers, if not inspire documentaries & feature film adaptations. In The Mutation, however, the lead detective & his wife calmly discuss past examples of sewer gators possibly existing in New York City (as if urban legend were verifiable history), but they never make reference to the reptilian destruction of Chicago from the first Alligator film. In the sequel’s dull world Ramón’s legacy has been completely erased.

This slight might’ve been forgivable had Ramón been replaced by the new, exciting monster promised in The Mutation‘s title. Instead, our new gator villain is a much lesser, more forgettable breed. Instead of ingesting his toxic chemicals secondhand like Ramón, the nameless gator of The Mutation drinks his hooch straight from the barrel. Still, he’s a puny garden snake next to the mythical proportions of Ramón. Must be a weaker toxic waste formula. The camera does its best to obscure the gator in The Mutation‘s tiny stature (and to save money for that matter) by limiting the audience’s opportunities to get a full, clear look at the brute. He never feels big enough to excite as a result & often plays onscreen like a regular, run of the mill gator, which is an insult to both Ramón’s legacy & to this gator’s “mutation” moniker. The movie also softens the violence & cruelty  of its gator attacks and completely removes the revenge mission plot of the first film, thus erasing a lot of what made Ramón special as a nuanced antihero (as nuanced as a killer gator can be, anyway). The idea that the bargain bin gator of The Mutation shares a franchise with the legendary Ramón is an unforgivable discredit to the Alligator name.

There is exactly one scene where the name “Ramón” is uttered in Alligator II: The Mutation. In this scenario, however, Ramón is a professional wrestler, not a professional gator (at one point a character even says “I understand you’re professionals, but this is not a professional alligator”, whatever that means). The most entertaining thirty second stretch of this film involves cutting back & forth between the killer gator thrashing a homeless man with his tale & a pro wrestling event being greedily enjoyed by a corrupt mayor, a playful juxtaposition that conjures parallels between those particular acts of violence. I’ll admit to finding other stray moments amusing as well: the gator tearing up a local carnival, scuba divers exploring the crystal clear waters of a swamp, a laughable portrayal of kindhearted Latino street toughs, etc. All told, about 2 minutes of Alligator II are legitimately entertaining, leaving the other 90 for me to stew in Ramón’s ruined legacy.

For the most part, The Mutation is desperately lifeless. It’s not even satisfied limiting the cruelty of its gator action; it also takes to watering down the product a step further by mostly removing the gator from the city sewers & having it terrorize people at a lakeside resort, a change in locale that calls much more attention to its Jaws knockoff roots than necessary. Normally I’d brush a trifle like this decade-late creature feature sequel off without giving it much of a thought, but I’ve grown too fond of Ramón to feel that way. Instead, the film’s gray mush distortion of its predecessor felt like a cold-hearted betrayal. Ramón deserved so much better & everyone involved should feel ashamed for letting him down.

For more on June’s Movie of the Month, the 1980 creature feature Alligator, check out our Swampchat discussion of the film, this look at artist Ramón Santiago’s unlikely influence on its titular monster, and our roundup of five other must-see, sharkless Jaws (1975) knockoffs.

-Brandon Ledet

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