Director: Tobe Hooper
Starring: Neville Brand, Robert Englund & Marilyn Burns
Synopsis: Deep in the Louisiana bayou sits the ramshackle Starlight Hotel, destination of choice for those who like to check in but not check out! Presided over by the bumbling, mumbling Judd (and his pet croc which he keeps in a large pond out front), the patron of this particular establishment may seem like a good-natured ol’ Southern gent – but he has a mean temper on him, and a mighty large scythe to boot
Rating: 18 Run time: 91 minutes Release date: 21 September (UK)
Eaten Alive was the third film from director Tobe Hooper, and was his first film after directing horror classic The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Following up such a revered film would be difficult for any director, and so it proves with Eaten Alive. There are many similarities that can be drawn between both films, maybe a few too many at times, and Eaten Alive, with all its madness, comes across as a very loose, high intensity horror that will leave you wondering what on earth is happening.
Based loosely on American serial killer Joe Ball, Eaten Alive is the rather strange tale of seedy hotel owner Judd (Neville Brand) who feeds any guest that he doesn’t like to his pet crocodile that patrols the swamp surrounding the hotel. Various guests come and go throughout the films running time, and through one scenario or another end up regretting their decision to stay at the worst hotel since Psycho.
Eaten Alive has a very surreal quality going for it. The film is peculiarly lit, with a red hue that adds to the films nightmare-like state and helps create a bizarre atmosphere that is wholly unsettling. Eaten Alive manages to unnerve the audience in a way that is very reminiscent of Hooper’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre, yet doesn’t quite have the same desire to upset and disturb as its predecessor did. Yet with Neville Brand’s psychotic Judd, we perhaps have a villain as chilling as Massacre’s Leatherface.
Brand’s portrayal as the manic hotel owner is somewhere between madness and method. Stories that filter out from the film’s production appear to reveal that Brand was an unpredictable type, and it was hard for anyone to determine whether he was completely enamoured with the role, or whether he too was a little insane. Whichever it is, Brand certainly leaves his mark here, and all but steals the show.
Brand is supported by a more than able cast who take a certain delight in the Tobe Hooper’s directorial madness. Robert Englund’s horny Buck, William Finley’s soon to lose the plot Roy, Kyle Richards as poor young Angie, Stuart Whitmans’ no nonsense Sherriff and the great Marilyn Burns who gets to run around screaming just as manically as she did in Texas Chainsaw. They all add to the roles that, on paper, have little going for them. It’s just a shame that the film itself never adds up to anymore than a deranged journey into the dark heart of America.
In a way, that journey is not altogether a bad one, but it never quite comes off in the way that was maybe hoped. Sure the film is unsettling, and has a similar air to it that was successful in Hooper’s previous film. But it’s hard to get away from just how casual the madness feels here. Is it all a strategy by Hooper to disturb the audience, or is it an accidental approach that leaves you feeling confused by a film that hardly makes sense?
Whatever your reasoning, Eaten Alive is a hard film to like at times, and despite some enjoyable deaths, it is hard to really care what happens to any of the hotels patrons. Comparisons will undoubtedly be made between this and Hooper’s preceding film, a fact that is unfair yet inevitable, and you never quite escape the feeling that Eaten Alive could have been better.
Eaten Alive is a film well stacked in extras, and the films fans will no doubt be pleased with what Arrow has produced here. TV spots, trailers, galleries, alternate credits, interviews and a commentary track are all available and ensure that fans have more than enough information to indulge in.
The audio commentary features actors Roberta Collins, William Finley and Kyle Richards at alternate times talking about their various experiences on the film. While producer and co-writer Mardi Rustam provides insight from a creative point of view, as does make-up artist Craig Reardon.
New and archive interviews provide an excellent look at the film from the actors and the directors perspectives. Archive interviews are gathered from Tobe Hooper and Marilyn Burns, while Robert Englund offers some wonderful insight into his acting career and why he relinquished a career in theatre in favour of the silver screen. New interviews come from Craig Reardon, Janus Blythe and Tobe Hooper who recall their time on the film and how they overcame the challenges they faced creatively and from the industry.
As well as a series of fine interviews is the documentary The Butcher of Elmendorf. Here we find out the, supposed, true story of Joe Ball whom the film is loosely based upon. With recollections form his family we learn of the legend that helped create the film which adds another level of crazy to an already bizarre film.
In summary: Eaten Alive receives a high gloss audio and visual transfer from Arrow Video and is packed with enough extras to please any fan. Yet the film will unlikely find any new fans due to its utterly uncanny nature.