Released in 1977 "The Eaten Alive"is a Tobe Hooper films that he thought would capitalise of the success of 'The Texas Chainsaw Massacre'. Hooper has indeed interfered with production in the middle of filming due to artistic differences according to some people involved with production. The film was apparently not popular in its home land of the United States and this is why it often emerged under different titles ("Eaten alive, Legend of the Bayou" or "Starlight Slaughter"). At Fantastic Film Festival Paris, he won several awards. It includes Neville Brand (Judd), Mel Ferrer (Harvey Wood), Marilyn Burns who played Sally in the first "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" and Robert Englund "Freddy" for whom it was a first big role.
I'll be honest; Eaten Alive is a film I never 'got'. The film was banned in Australia and its first official release was the Umbrella DVD from back in the day. I remember watching the Umbrella disc (this may have been 2004), it was one of the only few Hooper films I had not seen. My memory is faint but I recall not being a fan, of course it had 'Chainsaw' to meet up with in terms of expectations. I watched it once, and did not think about it again. Over the years however I have come to appreciate Hooper more for his wackiness and ideas. Upon this second revisit I was pleasantly surprised by how enjoyable it really was.
A young prostitute fled a Louisiana brothel. It is night and she is looking for a place to sleep. There it is a hotel lost in the middle of nowhere (Starlight Hotel) is a large house almost ruined and very dirty. It is received by Judd (the hotelier) real maniac, former war hero and misaligned sex, in short a real insane one. His pleasure is chasing its customers, rushing into a pond where his hungry alligator that devours is located. This film although a little wobbly at the start, takes time to pick up and rest assured Tobe Hooper creates an excellent production of horror. It is bloody and the atmosphere is murky at will. I found that there were some lengths at times building up but also a lot of very intense scenes.
It clicked with me this time, upon watching it reminded myself of an episode of 'The Twilight Zone'. The film is structured in a way that 'guests' begin to show up at the Hotel one by one. Through this we follow their journey, whether it be a family who needs to use the rest room, or Robert England coming by to harass crazy old man Judd. Breaking it down, it feels like mini TV episodes, however by the end everything falls together. We follow these individual stories and see the horrible events that happen to them. The rich and vibrant colours add to this surreal atmosphere, with rich reds seeping through the windows, or the gothic purple vibe of the swamp. Upon his second visit I realised how insanely colourful it was, giving it one of the most unique distinct looks of 70's horror. The films pacing is good, leaving the viewer on the edge of their seat awaiting what will be next, when Judd snaps its moments of intensity that cause fear.
What makes "Eaten Alive" is the environment which is made of sticky swamp mist and fish reeks at the distance, the croaking amphibians. Judd is a character tortured by the most powerful madness that I could see in cinema history: it exceeds Spinell, Torrance, Ed Gein, Bates, with this inner fever like a tormented Vietnam that erupts in a paranoid schizophrenia in relation to his beast, pure hellish; and we must see this movie just to understand what agitates, tempted by sin, and full of character that contains symbols Hooper always inserts by innuendo willingly playing with a music that he himself made with Wayne Bell and graphic effects rather well brought in this fragmented universe that looks like a psychosis. A very good film, not so terrifying that it certainly, but one of the most fevered movies genre cinema could offer.
Eaten Alive comes recommended, being Hooper, it is well written, has amazing atmosphere, and suspense. Its a step above the average grindhouse film as Hooper himself is an intelligent hippy who makes films with underlying themes and concepts. Overall do yourself a favour and pick up this forgotten gem.
This new Blu-Ray from Glass Doll films is a revelation. The previous DVD release did not do it justice, in fact was probably one of the contributing factors to not liking the film upon first visit. The old transfer was dark, murky, had ghosting issues and so much grain to the point where it was unbearable. This new Blu-Ray is presented in its original aspect ration of 1.85:1. The film is incredibly clean with little to no traces of dirt or specs. The black levels are rich and there is no compression or artefact issues. The colours finally stand out, its like watching an entirely new film, reds and blues bleed on screen. The grain is there but a natural layer and blends in well providing us with detail not previously seen.
Presented in a Dolby Digital 2.0 mix, the film sounds great. Dialogue is clear, the previous DVD sounded very muffled at times with cracks and pops. None of that is found here, it is clean and precise. The films score really does blast too, making use of the mix.
Most Australian distributors will usually skimp out on the extras, giving us barebones releases. I have to give Glass doll films a round of applause as they have compiled an insane amount of extras into this release, creating the most definitive version of the film to date.
24 Page Booklet
Audio Commentary by Producer Mardi Rustam, Actors Roberta Collins, William Finley, Kyle Richards & Make-Up Artist Craig Reardon
Exclusive Audio Commentary from The Terror Transmission team Jason Andreasson & Matt G. Paradise
Blood on the Bayou – A Brand New Interview with Tobe Hooper
The Gator Creator - Archival Interview with Tobe Hooper
My Name is Buck – Archival Interview with Robert Englund
The Butcher of Elmendorf: The Legend Of Joe Ball
5ive minutes with Marilyn Burns - Jason Andreasson interviews Marilyn Burns
Special Tribute to Marilyn Burns: Short testimonials with Amy Steel (final girl in Friday the 13th Part 2), Brinke Stevens (90s Scream Queen par excellence), Camille Keaton (I Spit on Your Grave), Lynn Lowry (Shivers and Cat People), as well as Bill Johnson (longtime friend of Marilyn and Leatherface in TCM 2), R.A. Mihaloff (Leatherface in TCM 3) Gunnar Hansen, Bill Moseley, Linnea Quigley & Steve Railsback.
Extended interview with John Dugan (Grandpa in the original TCM)
Still Gallery Slideshow
Alternate Credits & Title Sequences
2 Radio spots
7 Theatrical Trailers