Sunday, May 2, 2010

Eaten Alive-Tobe Hooper's Twisted Fable of Savagery-Leza

A little girl risks being murdered by a man with a scythe and eaten by a crocodile just because she runs after her little fluffy white dog, Snoopy, who was just a tad too inquisitive for his own good.
A teenage runaway with a mass of golden curls that halo her young face, her soft lips, her frightened big blue eyes gets turned out into the wilderness of a backwoods little southern town, for not being sexually compliant.

This isn't Grimm's fairy tales. We are not in Russia or Transylvania. This is the American South, not so long ago.

A deranged war veteran runs a motel, and exists primarily in his own little corner of hell, with his monkey(who dies about 15 minutes into the movie) and his crocodile who ate his leg and he says will never die, is older than anything, and came all the way from Africa.

This town has much to offer. It's got a brothel called Miss Hattie's, run by Miss Hattie(Carolyn Jones aka. Morticia from tv's The Addams Family) the Starlight Motel, run by Judd, the vet with the crocodile who talks to himself and can't seem to go without killing someone for more than five minutes(especially them purty sinful girls), then there's the dive bar where everyone hangs out, and there's the perfunctory police station.

This is the world you enter when you watch Tobe Hooper's unsung masterpiece of mayhem and madness. It is a labyrinth where the center is a devouring man-eating crocodile. There is no safe haven. The most pleasant place, all things considered, is probably the whorehouse.
This perpetual hellscape is lit garishly and vibrantly in various shades of red, blue and green. At no moment does it seem like things have gone back to reality. The atmosphere is unhinged, claustrophobic, savage and primal throughout. Background noise is composed of a jungle sound wall of bestial grunts and calls, interspersed with unsettling dislocation at seemingly random junctures. Mournful country songs fill the air.

After a chilling and haunting shot of a very full moon, the film shifts to a closeup of a metallic sun on the silver belt buckle being unsnapped by the infamous Buck(Robert Englund). The first word you hear are "Name's Buck and I'm rarin' to fuck!", belted out eagerly. Next you see the frightened recipient of these words and advances. She looks lost, terrified and helpless. She wants to just get it over with. He assures her, he's in no rush, he's paid for a full hour. He wants to try something a little different and tells her to get on her knees. Once she realizes what he wants she struggles and begs him not to. He continues to try to force himself upon her, till her frantic screams attract the attention of the madam. Miss Hattie is really annoyed. Not with Buck(who is her best client) but with the girl. She apologizes to Buck and offers his two of her best ladies for free. The girl, she berates for her ungratefulness for her charity and calls her a slut because she won't work. She turns her away in utter disgust. This sets the moral precedent for the rest of the film.

Any feeling of initial relief you might feel for this girl, who has narrowly escaped a life of degradation and prostitution, is washed away the minute she sets out on her way to the Starlight Motel. She wades through what looks like a rampant jungle and, as she comes upon the brokendown sign to the Starlight Motel, you begin to see there is really no way out of this shithole town. She barely lasts five minutes in Judd's company. Once he realizes where she's coming from, his desires become inflamed, which in turn, sparks his rage, and she's dead and fed to the crocodile before you know it.

The next guests are dysfunctional family. A desperate mother(Marilyn Burns aka. survivor of TCM and world champion screamer) trying to keep them all together, a husband who seems stoned on something and is ranting nonsense and barking like a dog as their little girl cries her eyes out all night about her dog who gets eaten by the crocodile that lives in the swamp surrounding the motel almost the moment they arrive. Mother and daughter are both in agony and fighting for their life throughout most of the film. Mother is trying to break free, stripped down to her white underwear and tied to her bed, mouth taped shut with duct tape, and her daughter is crawling around under the motel, trying to hide from Judd and eventually the crocodile.

Next comes the sister of the teenage runaway, with her father. Being the only characters who seem at all normal, they seem strange and out of place. Almost like cardboard cutouts among a demented band of cirque de soleil rejects. Judd is truly nervous for the first time, and, reminiscent of Norman Bates being confronted by Marion's boyfriend, awkwardly avoids too much verbal exchange and eye contact with the distraught father of the young woman he's just murdered and fed to his croc after fondling.

Father and daughter resolve to go to the police station, which also seems rather absurd and useless in this town. Sure enough, you find the police chief is chummy with Miss Hattie, and, even though he's annoyed by the trouble Buck stirs up around him, treats him more like a drunken buddy than a threat to anyone's safety.

You feel like you are literally underground in this world of perpetual night and artificial light. It reminds me more of The Funhouse than TCM in its atmosphere, which is colorful, oddly humorous, permeated by the feelings that you have stepped onto the wrong side of the tracks. You have entered the realm of the freaks, the social regects, the perverts and the madmen. They all coexist in a sort of harmony that you will never understand. A brotherhood of depravity. They survive like animals, knowing that in this world, you either eat or you will be eaten alive no matter how pretty, innocent, pure, or noble you might be.


  1. It's duct tape, not "duck" tape.
    It's precedent, not presedent.
    It's truly, not trully.
    It's degradation, not degridation.

    Sorry-- details like that bother me.

  2. Thank you for the corrections. My spelling's atrocious. I'll have to be more vigilant in the future.

  3. Actually, duck tape might be correct. It does exist. I think that's what Fulci used on the set of NEW YORK RIPPER.