Eaten Alive Movie Review

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Often considered the "lost" Tobe Hooper film, 1976’s "Eaten Alive", which was also released under such titles as "Horror Hotel", "Starlight Slaughter" and "Murder on the Bayou" could just as easily have been called "Bayou Alligator and Scythe Massacre".  Starring Tobe Hooper’s heroine from "Texas Chainsaw Massacre", Marilyn Burns and her long blonde hair, this was Hooper’s first studio film after "Chainsaw " and, unfortunately, it loses a lot of the atmosphere which made "Chainsaw" so horrifying.  Shot on a soundstage by cinematographer Robert Caramico, instead of on location in the cinema verite style of "Chainsaw"’s Daniel Pearl, "Eaten Alive" has a bizarre, garish look to it.  But then, it is a bizarre, garish movie.

The story revolves around a psychotic hotel owner, Judd, played to perfection by Neville Brand, who also runs a small zoo on his property.  A denizen of that zoo just happens to be a monster alligator and anytime a visitor to Judd’s rundown Starlight Hotel runs afoul of the proprietor, they become alligator snacks.  After a former employee of Miss Hattie’s (an almost unrecognizable Carolyn "Morticia Addams" Jones) brothel disappears after incurring Judd’s religious wrath, the young lady’s father (Mel Ferrer) and sister come looking for her, with the assistance of the local sheriff (Stuart Whitman).  In the meantime, Judd has his hands full with a family comprised of Faye (Burns), her Crispin Glover-ish husband Roy (William Finley) and their handicapped daughter Angie (Kyle Richards, who would go on to play "Lindsey" in "Halloween" and eventually become the aunt of Paris Hilton). 

 Poor Judd also has the local redneck Buck (a very young Robert "Freddy Krueger" Englund) and Buck’s female friend du jour Lynette (Janus Blythe, who played "Ruby" in Wes Craven’s classic "The Hills Have Eyes") invading his hotel for some "quality time".  What is an overbooked psychotic hotelkeeper to do?  Well, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to guess what many of these guests have in store. Hooper does give us some warm and fuzzy memories from "Chainsaw" in having Lynette chased through some nearby woods by a scythe-wielding Judd as well as having a background score of country-western music playing throughout the film, much as it did at The Cook’s barbeque shack in "Chainsaw".  There is also a rather unsettling "chase" sequence involving Judd and little Angie UNDER his hotel.

"Eaten Alive" is a fun film to watch for Tobe Hooper fans although there are a lot of unanswered questions about some of the bizarre characters.  What IS Roy’s problem with his family?  Why does Faye show up at the hotel wearing a black wig which she promptly disposes of?  Is there some sort of "connection" between Judd’s prosthetic leg and Angie wearing a brace?  WHY do people go anywhere NEAR this seedy hotel on the outskirts of town?  And having the hotel bathed in blood red Dario Argento-like light – very un-"Chainsaw" but interesting nonetheless.

The film opens with a hilarious line from Buck and that sort of sets the tone for the film.  There is nudity, blood (which was mostly absent from "Chainsaw" despite its reputation) and profanity, most of which was probably ordered by the studio to appeal to audiences of 1976.  So if you’re going into "Eaten Alive" expecting something similar to "Chainsaw", for the most part, you will be disappointed.  The story is similar, co-written by "Chainsaw" co-writer Kim Henkel, but the look and the feel of the film are understandably different from the independent "Chainsaw".  I recommend it for the story, which just so happens to ALSO be inspired by a real life serial killer, Joe Ball of Elmendorf, Texas, like "Chainsaw" was inspired by the antics of Ed Gein of Plainfield, Wisconsin.  Give it a look and if you’re a Hooper fan, make sure it’s in your collection.  Weird and wacky.


Directed by Tobe Hooper
Written by Alvin Fast,
Kim Henkel and
Mardi Rustam

Review by Elaine



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