Written by: Alvin L. Fast, Kim Henkel, and Mardi Rustam
Directed by: Tobe Hooper
Reviewed by: Brett G.
"My name is Buck, and I'm ready to fuck!"
Welcome to the world of Eaten Alive, ladies and gentlemen. These are the opening words of Tobe Hooperís often absurd and always bizarre follow-up to the iconic The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Delivered by genre legend Robert Englund (before he was Freddy, nonetheless), this opening line immediately establishes the filmís raunchy and unapologetic tone. While The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is thought of as a bit of schlock fest by the uninitiated, itís a reserved and refine piece of cinema compared to Eaten Alive, a film that is downright deranged at times. Though it shares many stylistic qualities with its predecessor, Eaten Alive is a completely different animal.
After the opening quote, we find our man Buck with a lady of ill repute named Clara. Wanting to get exactly what he paid for, Buck makes it clear that he wants to screw the young lady in a very uncomfortable place (and Iím not talking about the back of a Volkswagen). Horrified, she refuses, and she is promptly kicked out of the house. Luckily, the brothelís maid gives her directions to the nearby Starlight Hotel on the outskirts of town. The young lady is greeted by the hotelís owner, Judd, and itís apparent from the get-go that he has a few screws loose. Soon enough, he introduces Clara to his rake and his pet crocodile that he claims can outrun a horse.
From here, the plot doesnít exactly develop into anything complex, as a family of three arrives at the hotel with a dog in tow. Sure enough, the dog senses the crocodileís presence but gets too close to the water and is summarily eaten, much to the horror of the little girl who owned him (Kyle Richards, better known as Lindsay Wallace in Halloween). Weíre then treated to a sequence where the parents, Faye and Roy, argue with each other while Judd is downstairs muttering to himself and listening to country music. Before long, Roy has decided to shoot the crocodile with his shotgun, which doesnít please Judd much at all, who proceeds to terrorize the family along with whoever else is unfortunate to show up to this hotel of horrors.
This is a truly bizarre film. While itís got the familiar trappings and motifs of a slasher film, there is something just a bit off about it. It could be the somewhat lethargic and sprawling pace of the film, which often contains nonsensical and seemingly pointless scenes. Furthermore, the film seems to lose its focus as it juggles two parallel plots, and the balancing act just isnít successful. Stylistically speaking, itís very much like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre in that it attempts to replicate a documentary style of filmmaking. There are very few uses of unique editing and filming techniques, as Hooper chooses to show the carnage full-stop. The result is a film that looks and feels like his previous film, only it substitutes the back roads of Texas for the bayous of Louisiana.
Eaten Alive also recycles the deranged backwoods inhabitant motif from its predecessor, and the character of Judd is simply a manic character that often spews incoherent dialogue. As far as horror villains go, heís certainly somewhat interesting, even if heís not as memorable as anyone in the Sawyer clan. The addition of the crocodile to the plot achieves a blending of genres, as the film is like a slasher film starring a killer animal. It sounds strange, but it works because Juddís careless and reckless feeding of his victims to the crocodile reveals his derangement. Thereís even a scene where he lets the crocodile loose to chase the little girl thatís trapped beneath the hotel. In terms of gore, this is a little bit more gory than The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (which really isn't all that gory at all), as there's plenty of stabbings and impalements to get the blood flowing. We also get some gratuitous nudity here and there; interestingly enough, this feels much more like the splatter films of the 80s that supposedly draw their inspiration from Hooper's first film.
If the film has anything going for it, itís the atmosphere, as the photography especially captures the eeriness of the surrounding bayou. I especially enjoyed the scenes that were drenched in the red-tinted sundown, as it gave the film a nightmarish and ominous look. Simply put, it looks and feels like youíve been dropped into a corner in the middle of nowhere, so thereís no escape from the Starlight Hotel. Of course, I also enjoyed Englundís performance as the white trash Buck, who is really the most interesting and entertaining character in the entire film. If anything, genre fans will want to check out a fresh-faced Englund in his never-ending quest for anal sex. If you canít tell, Hooper had this white-trash horror film nailed down a good three decades before Rob Zombie arrived on the scene.
Overall, the nicest thing I can say about Eaten Alive is that itís absurdly interesting. Itís one of those films that has an unidentifiable charm that makes it watchable when it really shouldnít be. It could be that itís so outlandish and bizarre that itís hard not to like it at least a little bit. Then again, I have a soft spot for offbeat 1970s horror films like this one, so it might just be me. If you want to see a bunch of people get terrorized by a mentally disturbed, crocodile-owning psychopath, I think Eaten Alive has cornered the market. Believe it or not, if you want to check this out, you can do so by tracking down Dark Skyís DVD release that contains not just one, but two whole discs. The second disc is full of features that will give you more information than you ever wanted to know about Eaten Alive, including a fifteen minute interview with Robby Englund himself. Thereís also a commentary on the first disc as well to round out the supplements. As far as the presentation goes, itís more than adequate. The film is extremely grainy, and the print shows a bit of wear and tear, but I honestly wouldnít want to see a grimy film like Eaten Alive any other way. This release is the impetus for something my colleague Brett H. once said: ďif Eaten Alive can get a two disc special edition, anything can happen.Ē Buy it!
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