Monday, August 3, 2009
Eaten Alive (1976) review
EATEN ALIVE 1976 AKA STARLIGHT SLAUGHTER aka DEATH TRAP aka HORROR HOTEL aka LEGEND OF THE BAYOU
Neville Brand (Judd), Mel Ferrer (Harvey Wood), Carolyn Jones (Miss Hattie), Marilyn Burns (Faye), William Finley (Roy), Stuart Whitman (Sheriff Martin), Roberta Collins (Clara), Kyle Richards (Angie), Robert Englund (Buck)
Directed by Tobe Hooper
Before I begin this review, I want to give a plug to onlygoodmovies.com and their list of the Top 100 Movie Killers. They were kind enough to link my site for their entry on Tobe Hooper's EATEN ALIVE (1976). However, the review linked was for a different film that featured Neville Brand and merely mentioned that movie in passing. So here is a review for EATEN ALIVE, the 1976 hillbilly horror from Tobe Hooper. A big thank you to Caitlyn at onlygoodmovies.com for linking coolasscinema. Below is the link for the Top 100 Movie Killers....
***WARNING! This review contains pics of nudity and graphic violence***
A psychopathic old man manages a ramshackle hotel in the dense Louisiana swamplands. He slaughters his patrons and feeds their remains to a crocodile residing in the pond next to the derelict lodge.
Tobe Hooper, the director of the signature classic, THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (1974) returns to mine similar territory in this obscure and often maligned companion piece to his earlier slice of backwoods horror. Hooper turns on the sleaze this time out with the addition of sexual depravity. Whether it be the ogling from Brand's character, the deviant behavior of Buck, played by horror icon, Englund, or the carnality of the local yokels, there's a seething ambiance of seediness permeating the movie.
Hooper's tale of Blood on the Bayou strives hard to recapture that unnerving atmosphere of his previous masterpiece, but it seldom attains that level of insane brilliance. Nonetheless, irrationality runs rampant in this film, not just in Brand's character, but in some of the unlucky individuals that, for whatever reason, find themselves staying at the hotel of horror.
In keeping with THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE connection, Hooper even recasts Marilyn Burns as yet another victim who is bound and gagged and tortured not too much differently than she was in Hooper's previous film. The sometimes annoying music score is very similar to the one heard in TCM not to mention they both share the same composer. Both films are also loosely rooted in factual incidents involving real life murderers. There's also a familiarity in the look of both films although EATEN ALIVE has a grimly operatic look about it; the stage sets giving the film an otherworldly appearance. The lighting is the one defining factor that differentiates EATEN ALIVE from the cannibal clan classic.
Despite the notion that any normal person wouldn't step foot inside the Starlight Hotel, the grime and surrealism was intentional and some of the characters are just as batty and bizarre as the main murderer, Judd. Neville Brand really hammers home the role of the killer bringing him to life in a way that resembles the staunch interpretation by Joe Spinell of the serial killer in Bill Lustig's MANIAC (1980). Brand, being a highly decorated war veteran, brings a lot of that real life horror to the screen.
Brand's neolithic portrayal of the nutjob, Judd is an amalgamation of several sources. It would seem the character and the central locale is a redneck rendition of Norman Bates from PSYCHO (1960). Bates also killed those that stayed at his motel and he had an aversion towards women. Another PSYCHO similarity is the depiction of what is perceived to be the main character. Just as in PSYCHO, the audience is introduced to a female character whom we think is to carry the film. Unexpectedly, she is violently killed a short time into the film. In EATEN ALIVE (1976), we are introduced to a female character (a prostitute) who likewise is butchered in gruesome fashion not long after the opening of the film. Although not nearly as much time is devoted to the hooker as is given to Janet Leigh's character in PSYCHO, a small amount of sympathy is built for her just prior to her brutal and bloody death.
Brand's character also comes off as a combination of the three killers in THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (1974). His role emerges as equal parts the hitchhiker (his overzealous diatribes recall Edwin Neal's performance), the old cook (his mannerisms and Marilyn Burns gets slapped around yet again) and Leatherface (Brand chases women through the Bayou with a scythe in place of the chainsaw).
Hooper fills his movie with a number of familiar faces from many an exploitation movie. Mel Ferrer was a distinguished stage and Hollywood actor who occasionally dabbled in directing. He did appearances in many European productions after his divorce to Audrey Hepburn. Some of his credits among various Italian genre styles include THE ANTICHRIST (1974), the violent political crime thriller, SILENT ACTION (1975), BIG ALLIGATOR RIVER (1979), Lenzi's EATEN ALIVE! (1980) and NIGHTMARE CITY (1980). Some of these roles were bigger than others, but most were simply supporting parts which nonetheless enriched the film he was participating in.
Carolyn Jones has a couple of scenes as the madam of a whorehouse. She was the original Morticia Addams from the classically bizarre television series, THE ADDAMS FAMILY (1964-1966). Marilyn Burns encores for Hooper returning to play a similarly tortured young woman just as she had done in the previous THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (1974).
Burns plays the wife in a seriously twisted relationship with her husband played by William Finley (PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE 1974). This unstable husband and wife duo adds an even more eccentric edge to an already disturbing movie. Finley plays the husband, Roy and his role is possibly more insane than that of Judd.
What makes this dysfunctional couple even more peculiar is they have a little girl who gets terrorized by Judd during a tasteless sequence where Judd chases her wildly swinging his scythe in an attempt to kill the small child. Judd's preoccupation with the girls violent end makes up a good chunk of the films running time as she hides beneath the hotel and Judd tries several methods in an effort to get at her culminating in sicking the crocodile on her during the finale.
The great Stuart Whitman plays the sheriff here and he gets several good scenes although he doesn't get in on any serious action. It's just a pleasure to see one more excellent face to those familiar with genre movies. Whitman was an academy award nominated actor who has done his fair share of exploitation quickies among his more respectable outings. Whitman was originally signed for the lead role in THE LAND THAT TIME FORGOT (1975), but because the producer disliked him, he was unceremoniously removed and replaced by the similarly rugged Doug McClure. Whitman has appeared in all genres including such flicks as SHATTER (1974), the awful blaxploitation movie MEAN JOHNNY BARROWS (1976), the Italian crime sleaze classic BLAZING MAGNUM (1976), GUYANA: CRIME OF THE CENTURY (1979) and TREASURE OF THE AMAZON (1985).
Roberta Collins will be recognizable to trash movie fans from her roles in such drive in classics as THE BIG DOLL HOUSE (1971), UNHOLY ROLLERS (1972) starring Claudia Jennings, CAGED HEAT (1974) and in DEATHRACE 2000 (1975), Collins played driver, Matilda the Hun. She died in 2008 of an accidental drug overdose.
Robert Englund needs little introduction as he will forever be identified with the role of Freddy Krueger having played the villain in nine films as well as the television series that ran from 1988-1990. He also appeared as Willie, the friendly alien visitor in the successful V (1983) miniseries as well as its followup, V: THE FINAL BATTLE (1984) and the subsequently short lived tv series that lasted on season during 1985. Englund has worked in the horror genre for over three decades. His line from EATEN ALIVE (1976), "The name's Buck, and I'm rarin' to fuck", was later reused in Tarantino's average ode to kung fu movies, KILL BILL VOLUME 1 (2003).
What makes EATEN ALIVE a little more of interest to exploitation fans is the inclusion of a hungry crocodile that chows down on Judd's victims and even a small dog in one scene. The croc itself isn't the slight bit realistic, although some shots are effective in small doses. One great scene has Judd repeatedly slashing Roy with the scythe when suddenly, the crocodile bursts through the rails on the porch and snatches Roy by the head and pulls him into the murky pond.
Hooper later returned to the killer croc genre with the lousy direct to video crapfest, CROCODILE (2001). The crocodile aside, the film belongs to Neville Brand and he apparently enjoyed his role and remained in character the duration of the shoot according to director Tobe Hooper.
While it's far from a classic of the genre, EATEN ALIVE is a curious followup to Hooper's more famous scuzzy American Gothic. EATEN ALIVE is more akin to a sleazy and sadistic fairy tale that, despite being overlooked for years, is one of the more well known hixploitation pictures that are popular with a small number of drive in film fans. The recent 2 disc set from Dark Sky Films is the way to go and the disc is a must for fans of Hooper's previous foray into backwoods hillbilly horror.
This review is representative of the Dark Sky Films DVD.