It begins where Herzog’s Caves of Forgotten Dreams later ended, a viscous reptilian eye gazing back at the jaded audience. Gator-wrestlin’ in Chicago sets up an easygoing joke played most wryly, urban rot and unease illuminated by a girl’s tiny pet that’s flushed down to the subterranean bowels where it grows mighty and ravenous. Dead pooches dumped into the sewers and severed human limbs fished out of the drain sludge, a circle of life that mystifies the detective (Robert Forster) almost as much as his own receding hairline. Dog-snatchers, tabloid crusaders and police rookies turn up dismembered in the lower depths, where a synthesizer riff on the Jaws theme announces a gargantuan pink maw. (He Walked by Night is possibly Lewis Teague’s visual model, with snapping mandibles added to compositions of dark blue streams and undulating searchlights.) A "synthetic form of testosterone" is behind the mutant, its previous owner is a scientist (Robin Riker) who now prefers snakes. Bring on then the SWAT team and the big-game hunter (Henry Silva), who hits on a reporter by imitating an alligator’s mating call: "If I couldn’t get killed chasing it, what fun would it be?" John Sayles’ screenplay is a rough-draft for his later environmental ensembles, knowingly referencing Freud’s "illicit desires" and Ramón Santiago’s canvases when the homegrown Godzilla isn’t poking its snout through the sidewalk. The subversive mayhem hits some sort of peak when City Hall (Jack Carter) and Big Pharma (Dean Jagger) get together for an al fresco wedding, only to have their limousine pummeled into the ground by the scaly animatronic. A dynamite purgation segues into a nod to The Third Man, and there you have an update of The Giant Gila Monster for a new decade in sore need of one. With Michael V. Gazzo, Sydney Lassick, Perry Lang, Bart Braverman, Angel Tompkins, and Sue Lyon.
--- Fernando F. Croce