Alligator (1980) is so much better than you'd expect from a Jaws ripoff.
For one, it has all practical FX. They even mix in some real footage of alligators. Yes, this wasn't a big deal back then, but since we've now all been eye-raped by the awful CG alligators in Eraser, this is important to point out. I think Robert Forster is also a big reason why this film works so well. He doesn't seem like an actor at all. Just an everyday guy you can easily root for, and he helps ground the film by giving such a believable performance. You get some excellent bad guys too that are easy to hate. Maybe it's a cheap trick, but having your antagonists heartlessly kill a ton of dogs is a definite way to make your audience despise them. Then you get Henry Silva. A name we should all know, but not enough people do. He was Steven Seagal's nemesis in Above the Law. Of course, he has been in a lot of other films too, but here he plays a hunter (aka Quint's role), and he does a fantastic job with it. Alligator is well directed too with a fast pace to keep you entertained. Even the pre-credit sequence, which has the obligatory flushing an alligator down the toilet scene (yep, it's silly, but that's the old urban myth), manages to be effective thanks to the opening of a real alligator attacking a guy at a Florida gator show. Good thing they didn't try to make this PG-13 either since all of the blood really sells the opening. Alligator bites are always pretty gruesome anyway so it's smart they use that to set up the threat. This movie even has something I'm so sick of in horror films: nobody believes the protagonist about the giant alligator, but they even make that painless and move past it quickly to advance the story. I'm really surprised just how good this film is. I always remember seeing the VHS cover at video stores and wanting to check it out. It's such a shame you don't get any good cover art these days. Anyway, I'm glad I finally saw this. If you're looking for a good '80s flick you might have missed (or don't remember), this is one worth revisiting.