After all these years, Gator is dead… again… kind of. The cheesy joke that became one of the biggest cult hits of recent memory has not had so much as a teaser image since the release of the franchise’s latest entry, Man 2: I Didn’t Man To, did horribly at the box office. In an interview after Man 2’s release, the series’ original creator, Charles Spitzner, reportedly stated “Y’all’ve taken this way too far. I’ve been saying that the joke died.”
With no new Gator or Man movie seeming to be in the works, and even with the original creator saying that it should end, it looks like after all this time the franchise as a whole may actually die. As such, now seems like the best time to look back at the franchise, both to remember where it came from and to try to analyze both what it did to gain such a large following as well as what went wrong and led it to today.
It all started with “Gator,” a joke among Spitzner and his friends. According to Spitzner, they found a movie called Gator, but it looked like it did not actually involve an alligator, so they wanted to make their own version. And they wanted it to be a riff on B-movies like Sharknado, even though they outright admitted it was “a stupid joke.”
So they made a movie.
It had terrible special effects, campy acting and a zero dollar budget. It was basically the original Evil Dead movie, but instead of the Necronomicon and demons, it was a large alligator trying to kill a stereotypical southern family.
And, somehow, it worked. Because the movie consisted simply of some friends drinking and having fun, the heart and effort was made clear. Sure, there was occasionally a flubbed take– like when lead actor Jay Shah got a little too drunk on set and fell down the slope into a nearby river– but the final product worked around the flaws and made a movie that, like the material it was trying to parody, was simply enjoying the process and did not care what people thought.
As a result, people only looked at the fun and ignored the flaws. It was easy, since so many of the flaws helped to build the idea that the family might just deserve to die for being so stupid.
Potentially more unexpectedly, Spitzner and the group kept going. The original movie only had a limited showing, mostly limited to whatever theaters employed people the group knew and could bribe to convince the manager to allow a showing, but still made enough money that they decided to make Gator 2: Son Of Gator.
Shah clarified in a later interview that the title was indeed a play on “Son Of The Mask,” however the consensus was that Son Of Gator did not make people wish for the sweet embrace of death to release them from the torture that is life, and so was a better movie.
Son Of Gator improved on the original in almost every way. Spitzner passed the directing over to Randall Waszynski, who had previously handled the finances of the first movie. All $20 of it. The sequel also needed a new cast since the family of the original died, and this time Waszynski brought in professional actors and actresses so that the cameraman did not need to work double duty on set.
Son Of Gator also set up the precedent that has helped keep the Gator franchise afloat ever since. With each addition, the series’ needed a new cast of heroes while keeping the film’s main antagonists relatively the same, the titular gators, while changing protagonists each movie. It also started the trend of changing directors each movie. Unfortunately, the lack of consistent cast and director may have helped stop the franchise from becoming too stale, but it also made the overall quality of the movies inconsistent.
For Son Of Gator the production had a little more money behind it thanks to the first movie. And everyone was a little more serious about making a good follow up to a silly B-movie, the production value is an order of magnitude better than the original’s. The effects are more realistic, the camerawork more dynamic, the acting more believable; there is less campy charm, but more, legitimately good, storytelling.
Then came Gator 3: Crocodile, the first of the films directed by someone who was not in the group that shot the original movie, newcomer Jordan Boyd. After the success of the second movie, the gators were nearing full control over the Mississippi river, each new clutch of eggs looked like it was going to hatch and migrate further inland, and a sequel seemed to be well set up. Then Boyd decided to drop crocodiles on them.
The idea in and of itself was not bad, monster fights and the government creating monsters are not new ideas and have been used to great effect. The main problem is that Boyd decided to focus on the crocodiles searching for the gators, ignoring that the gators should have been everywhere by that point, and in doing so removed the humans from the equation, since they were safely far away from the river. As a result, the majority of the movie is just watching a CGI crocodile angrily swimming in murky water. Not exactly a compelling story.
Because of how hard Crocodile bombed, Gator 4: Don’t Touch That ‘Dile! was the first direct-to-TV Gator movie. In an attempt to win back fans love, it was pieced together quickly, released in the same year as Crocodile. But apparently director Jed Hendrixson, a producer and beer transporter of the original movie, works well under pressure, because Don’t Touch That ‘Dile! has by general consensus the best story of the entire franchise, and managed to bring Gator back from the brink.
After the gators and crocodiles doubled crossed each other and infighting stopped humanity from being wiped out, it was Lindsay Andarakis’ turn as director. While she had been around for the first movie’s production, she reportedly just watched most of the shenanigans, only joining the group to drink or play cards.
Her lack of involvement showed when Crocs Inhabit Both Fresh and Salt Water came out as a TV documentary showing the making of the previous movies. However, it turned out that while the documentary was legitimately interesting, especially given how much the cast changed per movie, it was not the main focus.
Instead, it was hiding Man: Gator’s Arch Nemesis, the next installment of the franchise and first spin-off movie. Because the humans were the most interesting part of Crocodile, and because of the success of Don’t Touch That ‘Dile, leading to a full theatrical release, Waszynski came back as the first ever recurring director to make a movie about the humans of the Gator universe coping with the global invasion of reptiles.
The fans realized that each new Gator movie should probably keep to the tradition of having a new director. While not quite as boring or franchise-destroying as Crocodile, Gator’s Arch Nemesis is good enough to not be hated, but without garnering much support either.
The most positive feedback that Gator’s Arch Nemesis ever received was in an online thread talking about how it helped to expand the world by showing technology and cities in more detail than Crocodile had. However, the reception was largely variants of “expanding the Gatorverse has promise, but this movie was a huge waste of potential, and basically an hour and a half of sitting around and occasionally being worried that a gator might jump scare you.”
When the series split, so did the fanbase. Some fans claimed that Andarakis’ documentary ended the original canon and the Man spinoff was the beginning of a second phase. Others decided that Man was a full spin off, taking place either in an alternate universe (due to inconsistencies with the technology between the Manline and “Crocodile” technology) or at the same time but in completely separate stories. Spitzner remained silent on the matter.
Regardless of the state of the fanbase, the series continued. Gator 6: Guess Whose Comin’ To Dinner, directed by Frank Gargano, came up to widespread praise for taking a chance and trying to go back to the series’ roots of campy humor and low budget effects, and it worked. It also helped to show that an unproven director like Gargano could make a good Gator movie even though he was not part of the original group and was barely out of film school.
The movie also gained some infamy for two reasons. First, Gargano decided to make the occult canon in the Gatorverse by resurrecting the original gator. This pissed off some fans because death may have lost meaning by allowing things to come back to life. Second, the fanbase was further split on what exactly is canon. The Followers Of Man, as they started calling themselves, decided that Guess Whose Comin’ To Dinner was fully non-canon, simply a fun film that was at most a reboot. The Gatorites saw this as a literal second coming of the franchise, a return to form and proof that the spinoffs were likely just interesting “What ifs.”
Then came the final Gator movie… sort of. Gator 7: Jesus Allegory continued the Gator storyline with director Kyle Barr, who had supervised Spitzner and the rest of the group in the original production. Some felt that Barr is the main reason why Gator was campy and fun instead of outright terrible.
Jesus Allegory developed the occult side of the universe more, with both the revived gator and humans delving more into the occult in an arms race to find a way to use their newfound powers to defeat the other once and for all. Both humanity and reptility banded against each other in a total magical war for the fate of the world.
But the canonicity of Jesus Allegory is even more in question than that of Man. During the production of Jesus Allegory, someone leaked information about an alternate Gator movie called Gator 7: I’m Next, directed by Randall Waszynski again.
The fan response was so universally in favor of a story that dealt with a more psychological threat rather than physical gore that eventually the movie was actually made and released. However, to keep the marketing and hype consistent, the studio kept the name from the original information leak, and so two different Gator 7 movies exist.
I’m Next turned out to be one of the best Gator movies, nearly matching even Don’t Touch That ‘Dile in terms of storytelling while outright beating it in terms of effects and acting. I’m Next focused more on both gators and humans dealing with loss of loved ones, the fear of being wiped out and the overall psychological impact of a global war against an enemy that cannot flee and will fight to keep its home.
Unfortunately, I’m Next was not the end of the Gatorverse. Man 2: I Didn’t Man To, directed by newcomer Dalvin Aboagye, came out the following year. I Didn’t Man To had effectively the same problem as Crocodile with the same outcome. It focused on the humans cowering in a near-apocalyptic cities as half dead reptiles scavenged the area for food and prey.
The story was not quite as bad as Crocodile or the original Man movie, but the apocalypse tropes are so overdone now that it did not bring anything new and so was both somewhat boring and extremely predictable. No one wins, everything dies, end of movie.
While I Didn’t Man To was generally boring, the end of the movie gave some hope, showing panning shots of seemingly underground laboratories, and something large and cylindrical being constructed.
On its own this shows that there might be one or two more movies before the Gatorverse Earth itself dies, but fans again came to the rescue with an information leak.
Before I Didn’t Man To released, there was some speculation about the Gatorverse going to space. Screenshots and a few emails made their way online talking about Gator 8: Gators In Space, and showing a cast of humans looking down on Earth, accompanied by a robot companion labelled “M8-E.”
Spitzner reiterated that to him, the joke was dead, and that he should just let it end and go away. Fans disagreed, but no official statement has been made on the development of another Gatorverse movie.
In the end, Gator is a franchise of highs and lows. At its peaks, it is a B-grade horror movie with campy humor and a focus on good characters and gore rather than effects and drama. At its lows, it tends to take itself too seriously and focuses on underdeveloped parts of the lore.
But one thing is forever: Gator. After all, he forgot how to die.