The Alligator People is a very silly B-movie from the 1950s that was put out by Twentieth Century Fox as a double feature with The Return of the Fly. Released in 1959 at the tail end of the trend for atomic-themed features, the film begins with Paul and Joyce, a pair of newlyweds, on the train. Paul flees after getting a mysterious telegram, and then Joyce tracks him down in the heart of Louisiana swamp country, in a spot so remote that there is only one train per day. When she arrives, she sits on a crate marked as containing radioactive cobalt—a sign of things to come—and meets Manon (Lon Cheney Jr.), who obligingly gives her a life to the Cypresses Plantation.
When she gets to the Cypresses she tells the woman in charge that her husband is from there, but is told it isn’t true. She has to stay the night, and spots an oddly familiar figure playing the piano who then runs away. There’s a mad scientist and alligators everywhere which Chaney’s character loves to shoot drunkenly. The ‘Alligator People’ of the title are locals who have lost limbs to the gators. The mad scientist has treated them with radioactive rays, but there is an unwanted side effect that they grow alligator limbs and eventually become alligator people…
Chaney has a very fake-looking hook hand. That is just one of many very cheesy special effects. It ends with a very unrealistic rubber alligator mask on the face of a person in the final transformation sequence.
The Alligator People was directed by Roy Del Ruth, who was doing something like his 65th film here but was still out of his depth. Ruth had begun in the silent movie days, directing the original 1931 The Maltese Falcon and quite a few musicals. but by this point his career had taken a nose dive. His last film before this one was an adaptation of Poe’s Murders in the Rue Morgue, and he had begun to do some TV. It was produced by Jack Leewood, who was something of a proto-Roger Corman and had gotten a deal with Fox to do a series of cheap B-movies.
Lon Cheney Jr. is certainly the best thing about the film. He’s clearly having a good time playing a drunken guy with a hook. The disc has no features but includes a replica poster for the film in the case. Interestingly, there was supposed to be an Atari 2600 video game based on the film. While never released, a prototype of the game surfaced some years later.