Sunday, June 6, 2010

Eaten Alive (1977, Tobe Hooper)

What do you do after creating one of the greatest, most horrific and influential horror films of all time?  You make another horror film using the same screenwriter and lead actress, of course.  That's what Tobe Hooper did after terrifying the world with his undisputed 1974 classic Texas Chainsaw Massacre.  It was a combination of Hooper being director, the crazy story (co-written by TCM screenwriter Kim Henkel) and a cast of horror/exploitation legends that made this a must-see film.  I first watched Eaten Alive a couple of years ago and was actually very disappointed.  Since then, I decided to give the movie, which by all rights should be a horror classic, a second chance.  The time is now.

Eaten Alive follows a young prostitute named Clara (Roberta Collins), who is kicked out of the brothel that she works for when she refuses to let young regular Buck (Robert Englund) do her in a bad place.  She seeks refuge at the local Starlight Hotel, which is run by Judd (Neville Brand), a drug addicted, puritanical maniac.  Once he realizes Clara is from the local whorehouse, he kills her in a psychotic rage and feeds her to his pet crocodile.  A couple (William Finley and Marilyn Burns) and their daughter stop by the Starlight for some R and R, but end up staying longer than anticipated when their dog is gobbled up by the croc, sending their daughter into hysterics.  They soon become targets of Judd's reign of terror, as do Clara's father (Mel Ferrer) and sister who stop by to find the missing girl.

On paper, Eaten Alive sounds like it can't fail.  Rarely will you find a better ensemble cast:  Robert (Freddy Krueger) Englund, Marilyn (Texas Chainsaw Massacre) Burns, Roberta (Death Race 2000) Collins, Mel (Nightmare City) Ferrer, Janus (Hills Have Eyes) Blythe, Neville (Ninth Configuration and many others) Brand, Carolyn (House of Wax) Jones, William (Phantom of the Paradise) Finley, Kyle (Halloween) Richards, Betty (Toolbox Murders) Cole....I'm sure there are more.  The film had a very psychedelic feel with lots of strange colors, but was also very dark and smoky.  It almost felt like a fever dream filmed on recycled film stock.  So what was wrong with the film?  The main flaw for me was pacing.  It started out great but the middle become redundant, non-sensical (what was up with William Finley's character going crazy?) and just slow.  Though not a waste of time by any means, Eaten Alive had all the elements to make it a horror classic but instead it turned out being an average film with a stellar cast.  I think this may actually be a film you need to watch several times before it clicks so I definitely plan to revisit it in the future.

Fun fact:  Mel Ferrer was in another film also titled Eaten Alive, an early 80s Umberto Lenzi Italian Cannibal flick.

RATING:  6/10

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