I Am Alligator: Unchecked Medical Research

This summer I watched The Alligator People, a 1959 horror film directed by Roy Del Ruth. Paul Webster, a war hero, goes missing and his wife Joyce determines to track him down. It transpires that Paul had received a dose of reptilian hormones which a well-meaning doctor had given him and other injured servicemen because of alligators’ ability to regenerate missing limbs. Alas, the patients thus treated morphed into ‘alligator men’. There is a wonderful scene in which Paul’s final dose of treatment, using a classic 1950s ray gun, further accelerates his transformation into a reptile. Replete with hideous plastic mask, he runs off into the swamps to die. Twenty-first century sophisticates like me may smile at the primitive special effects but the story is horrifying enough: men too clever for their own good create medicines and treatments which they can neither understand nor control.

It follows a similar course to another of my favourite films: I Am Legend (2007). In this, most of the population has been eaten by zombies or become zombies themselves. An explanatory scene shows an interview with Dr Alice Crippen (a great choice of name: the real Dr Crippen was a Victorian murderer) who redesigns the measles virus. After 10009 clinical trials, she declares it a cure for cancer. In fact, she unleashes a deadly virus that brain-damages humans, rendering them insensible, afraid of light and unnaturally aggressive.

In these days of genetic modification and clinical meddling, I suspect we’ll not heed these films’ warnings, nor those in the Bible:

“You shall keep my statutes. You shall not let your cattle breed with a different kind. You shall not sow your field with two kinds of seed, nor shall you wear a garment of cloth made of two kinds of material.” (Lev. 19:19)