'The Alligator People' is a film rarely seen in the UK - for most of us, our only familiarity with it is a single still reproduced in Dennis Gifford's 1973 book 'A Pictorial History of Horror Movies', which was the most frequently reprinted chronology of the genre in the UK (staying in print up until the mid eighties at least). In short, if you've ever seen the famous 'Star Trek' episode entitled "Arena" (which features James T. Kirk up against a guy in a rubber suit with the head of a carnivorous dinosaur) and loved it, then you'll really get off on 'The Alligator People'.
Although it is relatively obscure, this is not exactly grade Z stuff, but it is solid - if not gold standard - b movie fare. It's short, black and white, competent up to a point and highly amusing. What distinguishes it from truly bad SF/Horror of the same vintage is that it's not a tedious narrative, although it can hardly be called pacy. So if you love the true classics of the era (such as 'Creature From The Black Lagoon', 'The Incredible Shrinking Man' and 'Forbidden Planet'), this won't bore you - you'll have fun with it. Possibly the best comparison is to say it's weaker than 'I Married A Monster From Outer Space', but still worth seeing.
The plot is relatively original and the southern states setting - complete with lots of great shots of the actors wandering about amongst real alligators (how they ended up not being bitten by the reptiles baffles me, but I suspect the 'gators who star in the film lived on an alligator farm - which is a bit upsetting and sad - as they seem to be used to people toddling around in their saurian midst) - reminds me of those sultry dramas Tennessee Williams used to write, But while he was big on things like homosexuality and cannabalism, this movie sticks to radical medical experimentation instead. But I won't tell you the plot...
If you're a fan of classic silver age Marvel comics, I think you'll probably agree with me that there's a strong probability that Stan Lee saw this film, as the central 'scientific' idea behind the action of the movie crops up in early issues of Spider-Man that featured a supervillain called The Lizard. In fact, if and when The Lizard makes his debut in a future spidey film (his alter ego, Dr Curt Connors, has already appeared in the Raimi/Maguire spider-man flicks), I have no doubt that the mis-en-scene will be very similar to 'The Alligator People'.
Overall, the picture on the DVD is good, nice clear black and white. Lon Chaney Jnr only overacts a bit and as ever makes me wonder why such a corpulent guy was ever considered to be the right sort of build for horror roles (he's neither very tall and broad or cadaverous, both ideal body shapes for the genre)...oh yeah, he luckily inherited his dad's kudos, when by comparison he was a non-starter. The other actors are workmanlike to very good, with the southern matriarch's accent noticably slipping from time to time while the female lead projects authentically despite the absurdity of the storyline. Extras include a superb trailer which encapsulates the film brilliantly (and yes, it's loaded with marvellous melodramatic spoilers). The trailer also features footage not in the film, showing the Alligator Man lurching about iconically in the swampy forest (source of that still I referred to above). Magic!
Will it make you laugh? Yes, of course, but not in a 'so bad it's good' way, but in a nostalgic 'they don't make 'em with such charm these days' manner, which is very welcome.