Monday, May 3, 2010

Scythes, Shotguns, Whores, and Crocodiles: The Face of Insanity in Tobe Hooper’s EATEN ALIVE

Garrett's and Leza's eloquent tributes to EATEN ALIVE are difficult acts to follow so please try to tolerate my scattershot appreciation for this film.

Okay, you Texas Chainsaw fanboy freaks, listen up and prepare to put me on your “to-be-chainsawed” list.

In many ways, EATEN ALIVE is better than TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE.

Holy shit. Did I really just say that?

Yeah, I did.

I’m not downplaying the influence of TCM or saying it’s not a great film. It is. But from an entertainment point of view, EATEN ALIVE delivers more bang for your buck, more mentally unstable creepiness, and more layers of perversity.

What TCM has going for it was its grittiness. It has a raw quality that makes you feel as if you might be watching real footage. EATEN ALIVE is similar yet it goes to the next level, reaching an almost supernatural quality of claustrophobic insanity until the movie ends and you are left in a state of curdled shock. There are no happy endings in Tobe Hooper’s world.

It starts off with a shot of the full moon accompanied by the opening credits and synth music that sounds like it was performed by lazy (but demented) circus monkeys. And just in case you’re wondering: Yes, there is a monkey in this film.

The star of this flick is Neville Brand, a veteran television actor, plays the role of whore-hating Judd who runs the Starlight Hotel. He throws himself into this role until you think he’s just about to burst. The movie wouldn’t have worked without him and thanks to Hooper’s direction, we have a film that’s pretty close to being a 70s masterpiece of horror.

We get a pretty close glimpse into Judd’s insanity, better than most horror movies give us. Brand’s scenes are so intense that it makes me think that it had originally been intended as a character study. Then maybe Hooper said, “Fuck it, let’s add a crocodile,” and chaos ensued.

Another star of this movie is Robert Englund (best known for his performance in 1975’s SLASHED DREAMS) in the role of Buck. He makes famous the line, “My name’s Buck….etc” which was stolen, uh, I mean, borrowed by Quentin Tarantino in Kill Bill. Anyway, it’s Englund at his finest.

The character of Miss Hattie is unintentionally creepy, dressed like some sort of mummified blackjack dealer. Just imagine one of those creepy old ladies who always want to give you some hard candy out of her purse and end up handing you one that was wrapped up in a used tissue. That’s the kind of chill she sends down my spine. I also thought it would turn out that she was a man in drag by the end of the movie. Much to my confusion, that wasn’t the case.


What holds EATEN ALIVE back from being a masterpiece are some of the interior scenes. A few of them (especially those in the whorehouse and police station) just look too cheap even for a low budget Hooper movie.

The best scenes are those outside Judd’s dilapidated hotel. The crazed discordant lighting and the overabundance of fog seem to be taken from a Mario Bava movie albeit one that was filmed on the cheap. When combined with the fucked-up synth soundtrack, things get unnerving to say the least especially when Judd’s chasing people with a giant scythe or feeding them to his crocodile.

I truly believe that this film does not get the appreciation it deserves and has been overshadowed by TCM which, though a great movie, lacks the vision of EATEN ALIVE.

Judd is a much more intriguing character than any of the clan from the first TCM. His insanity is real and three-dimensional. Even though we don’t necessarily relate to him, we do feel a level of sympathy. People might say that this detracts from Judd’s ability to scare us but that’s not the case. It allows us to feel tension on both ends. We want to tell the hopeless victims to get the hell out of the Starlight Hotel but we are also directing our concern to Judd until we find ourselves quietly talking to the television, “Come on, Judd, don’t do it. Don’t do it, this time, man, come on! You can control yourself!”

Oh and yeah, Judd feeds people to his pet crocodile. That’s probably what people remember most about this movie. I’m not going to lie to you: the crocodile looks pretty fake but come on, you have to respect Hooper’s integrity. He wanted do include a man-eating crocodile and by God he did it. He’d revisit similar themes in a movie he made more than 20 years later, 2000’s CROCODILE, a straight-to-video disappointment.

Though it lacks the realism of TCM, this movie is perfect example of horror that can be both creepy and fun. Sure, it’s as sloppy as a whorehouse floor but therein lies its charm and if you can’t appreciate that, well, then you should be fed to a horny crocodile.


  1. I find this film amusing and worthy of maybe one viewing, but in no way approaching the brilliance of TCM. I'm neither a fanboy nor a freak- I just prefer horror films that make an honest attempt to scare me, as opposed to ones who've already given up at the beginning, and go for "camp." There's nothing scary or even "creepy" in this film. It's just another of thousands of mediocre horror films that lack the conviction of believing in themselves. If demanding more than boredom from the films I watch means I should be fed to a crocodile, so be it.

  2. Then I shall be sending my crocodile to your house at 3pm today EST. Is that time okay with you?

  3. I've enjoyed all the reviews here for EATEN ALIVE (despite me thinking it's a horrendous film). I happen to like really bad films, so I can sympathize with you guys (j/k). Seriously, I've watched this one MANY times since first seeing it on VHS in the 80s---it just won't "take" with me for some reason. I think (for me) my expectancies were way too high after seeing TEXAS CHAINSAW in a 1981 re-release in the theater (I was in the 7th grade at the time and it scared the crap out of me). I actually have a hard time staying awake during EATEN ALIVE, even when I watch it on IFC (seems to be on every other week lately).
    BTW: "as sloppy as a whorehouse floor" --LMAO!!

  4. Eaten Alive has a lot going on that's easy to miss on the first viewing. Stuff that takes the themes and experience of Texas Chainsaw Massacre to the next level. I don't think it's all that campy either, to be honest. I think it's disorganized and maybe not as artistic as TCM, but it's a more grueling, uglier experience and you go to Hooper for grueling and ugly.

  5. Nick, thanks for being a good sport. I'm glad you have a sense of humor! : )