Great Alligator, The (4K UHD Review)

  • Reviewed by: Stephen Bjork
  • Review Date: Apr 23, 2024
  • Format: 4K Ultra HD
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Great Alligator, The (4K UHD Review)


Sergio Martino

Release Date(s)

1979 (May 28, 2024)


Dania Film/Medusa Distribuzione (Severin Films)
  • Film/Program Grade: B-
  • Video Grade: B+
  • Audio Grade: B-
  • Extras Grade: B

The Great Alligator (4K UHD)

Buy it Here!


The Great Alligator (aka Il fiume del grande caimano) was Sergio Martino’s contribution to the animal attack genre, and it was one of many such films that appeared in the wake of the blockbuster 1975 release of Jaws. While The Great Alligator definitely does share a few elements in common with its progenitor—the resort setting, for example—it throws enough different material into the mix to stay interesting. The story (from a witch’s brew of screenwriters, including Martino) has as much King Kong in it as it does Jaws. The twist is that instead of the monster going to New York, this film takes New York to the monster instead. The results are largely the same: appropriate levels of chaos, death, and destruction.

Kong was a god to his people, but the nature of the monster remains a bit ambiguous all throughout The Great Alligator. Despite the title, the creature in question is clearly a crocodile and is always referred to as such. There’s just one reference to alligators when the main characters encounter an ancient statue of one, but then they note that alligators are unknown in that area. That feeds into the mildly supernatural elements in the film, since the local natives worship their river monster as a god. A crocodile, an alligator, or something more sinister? The Great Alligator never resolves any of that, nor does it need to do so. Just like Jaws and King Kong, it’s really a giant monster movie at heart. While most animal attack films do try to come up with some sort of a plausible explanation for their killer beasts, in monster movies, all that really matters is that they exist. Any explanation is usually nothing more than a McGuffin—pure window dressing. (Yes, there are a few exceptions, but that’s still generally true.)

In any event, the fact that the natives worship the crocodile does end up having a major impact on the narrative, since the crocodile ends up being only one of the threats in The Great Alligator’s memorably over-the-top finale. In this take on Jaws, it’s as if the Amity Islanders had risen up against the tourists instead of the shark. Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water, now the beaches are as big of a threat as anything else. Of course, Martino was still cheeky enough to openly borrow the actual ending of Jaws as a way to deal with his own water-bound threat. Sometimes, you offer a spin on your inspirations, but other times you just have to name them and claim them.

Martino’s cast was adequate to the task at hand, with lead actor Claudio Cassinellii being suitably heroic, and Barbara Bach being Barbara Bach. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that, although for some inexplicable reason she was dubbed by Susan Spafford for the English language version.) Mel Ferrer does his bare minimum in the Larry Vaughan role, and Richard Johnson has genuinely strange cameo as a mad monk in a Monty Python wig and beard. Watch for Silvia Collatina as a young girl who was intended to serve as comic relief. She comes across as more creepy here than funny, but that quality would serve her well two years later in The House by the Cemetery.

The effects work in The Great Alligator is somewhat notorious, but that reputation isn’t quite fair. Some of the shots of the crocodile do work surprisingly well, especially when the full-sized replicas are involved. There are some effective underwater shots early in the film as the crocodile threatens swimmers from the other side of the resort’s safety fence. Everything is kept murky and shadowy, and that helps to disguise any flaws. The miniature work, on the other hand... well, let’s just say that while some of bad reputation for the special effects may be deserved, they still have their charms if you watch them in the right frame of mind. That’s true of The Great Alligator as a whole. It’s not Jaws, but it was never intended to be. Unreasonable expectations are always an obstacle to appreciating any film, but The Great Alligator offers the giant monster goods for those who are willing to meet it on its own terms.

Cinematographer Giancarlo Ferrando shot The Great Alligator on 35mm film in 2-perf Techniscope using spherical lenses, framed at 2.35:1 for its theatrical release. This version is based on a new 4K scan of the original camera negative, graded for High Dynamic Range in HDR10 only. Things don’t start out promisingly during the opening credits, with the dupe elements looking pretty rough, especially in the sky visible through the windows of the airplane. (Interestingly enough, they look a little cleaner in the older master that Code Red used for their 2017 and 2021 Blu-ray releases.) Once the credits are over, the footage scanned from the negative is in much better shape, although there are still scratches and other small damage marks sprinkled throughout the rest of the film. Given the Techniscope origination, the grain is fairly prominent, but the bitrate is robust and there are no encoding artifacts of note. The colors are nicely saturated, arguably a bit too much so in a few shots where the flesh tones veer overly reddish and/or bronzed, but on the whole they look quite good. The contrast range is excellent, with genuinely deep blacks but no issues with crushed detail. Opening credits aside, this is a definite improvement over the previous HD master of The Great Alligator, even it’s still less than perfect.

Audio is offered in English and Italian 2.0 mono DTS-HD Master Audio, with optional English SDH subtitles, plus English subtitles for the Italian audio. The audio is cleaner than the video, with minimal noise or distortion, although there is a bit of excessive sibilance in some of the dialogue. While the whole film was likely post-synced regardless of language, the English-language dialogue still sounds more natural and integrates better into the soundstage than the Italian dubbing does, which sounds close-miked and doesn’t have any natural reverberant tone to it. The choice is yours, but between that and the presence of familiar English-speaking actors like Mel Ferrer and Richard Johnson, the English track arguably has the edge.

Severin’s 4K Ultra HD release of The Great Alligator is a two-disc set that includes a Blu-ray with a 1080p copy of the film. The insert is reversible, featuring new artwork on one side and the original theatrical poster artwork on the other. There’s also slipcover available exclusively from Severin’s website. The following new and archival extras are included:


  • Theatrical Trailer (HD – 2:56)


  • Down by the River (HD – 10:42)
  • Minou (HD – 16:34)
  • Beware of the Gator (HD – 16:28)
  • Later Alligator (HD – 16:48)
  • Underwater (HD – 7:16)
  • 3 Friends and an Alligator (Upscaled SD – 16:32)
  • Paradise House: Christianity and the Natural World in The Great Alligator (HD – 18:15)
  • Alligator Land (HD – 6:12)
  • Theatrical Trailer (HD – 2:56)

The first two extras are new interviews that were conducted by Severin and Freak-o-Rama Productions. Down by the River is an interview with Sergio Martino, who admits that he was often considered a “trash” director, but there was a broad international market for the kind of inexpensive Italian exploitation films that he was making. He says that mixing with different cultures while shooting on location was good for him—he has wonderful memories of the indigenous peoples that he met. Minou is with Silvia Collatina, who explains how she was cast in The Great Alligator and discusses her adventures on location. She says that it was a pretty wild experience, but that she was essentially playing herself in the film, so she never felt self-conscious.

The next four extras are interviews that were originally included on the 2017 Blu-ray from Code Red, although they’ve been retitled and slightly reworked for this release. Beware of the Gator is with camera operator Claudio Morabito, who is openly critical of Sergio Martino and the quality of the special effects. He’s much kinder to the cast and some of the other crew members, but he’s clearly not a big fan of the film. He still tells some pretty entertaining stories, though. Later Alligator is with production designer Antonello Geleng, who starts by talking about the whole animal attack subgenre and where The Great Alligator fits into it. He then provides some practical information about the making of the film, like the location work, the underwater shooting, and the special effects. Underwater builds on that, offering underwater camera operator Gianlorenzo Battaglia to give a bit more detail about the underwater filming.

3 Friends and an Alligator was also originally included on the 2017 Blu-ray from Code Red (although the interview footage that it contains was actually shot back in 2006), and once again, it’s been slightly reworked here. It’s a chat between Antonello Geleng, effects artist Paolo Ricci, and cinematographer Giancarlo Ferrando. They show off the remaining miniature alligator from the film, then talk about working with Sergio Martino and making The Great Alligator with him.

Paradise House: Christianity and the Natural World in The Great Alligator is a new visual essay by Lee Gambin, author of Massacred by Mother Nature. He points out the references to Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden in The Great Alligator, and how it’s a demonstration that Christian philosophy has its roots in nature. He also talks about how that informs the complicated racial politics in the film—there’s a progressive attitude in how the indigenous people are more attuned to the nature order than are the colonial exploiters, but in the wild ending, they’re presented xenophobically as something to be feared. Finally, Alligator Land is a new collection of the wonderful production art from the film, narrated by Antonello Geleng.

The Great Alligator has had a variety of home video releases under different titles (including The Big Alligator River, Great Alligator River, and simply Alligator), and not all of the extras from those have been carried forward for this version. That includes a commentary by Troy Howarth that was recorded in 2018 for the Region B Blu-ray from X-Rated Kult in Germany. That release also included the German Super 8mm version of the film and a few promotional bits and bobs. Code Red’s Blu-ray included an interview with Sergio Martino (with appearances by Geleng) called In the Croc’s Nest, which was originally recorded for the 2005 DVD from No Shame. The Region 2 DVD from Neo Publishing in France also included a couple of different featurettes: Small Disorder Between Friends: Terzo Tempo and Sergio Martino on Il fiume del grande caimano. You’ll probably want to hang onto those any of those discs for the extras, but opening credits aside, in all other respects this Severin 4K Ultra HD release is the one to own. If you’ve never seen The Great Alligator, keep an open mind and its manifest charms will become evident. Just don’t expect Jaws (or King Kong, for that matter) and you’ll be fine.

- Stephen Bjork

(You can follow Stephen on Facebook at this link)