Eaten Alive (1976)
Meet the maniac & his friend. Together they make the greatest team in the history of mass slaughter in...
Year of Release: 1976
Also Known As: Horror Hotel, Horror Hotel Massacre, Legend of the Bayou, Murder on the Bayou, Starlight Slaughter, Death Trap, Slaughter Hotel
Running Time: 91 minutes (1:31)
Director: Tobe Hooper
Neville Brand ... Judd
Crystin Sinclaire ... Libby Wood
Mel Ferrer ... Harvey Wood
Marilyn Burns ... Faye
William Finley ... Roy
Kyle Richards ... Angie
Stuart Whitman ... Sheriff Martin
Robert Englund ... Buck
Janus Blythe ... Lynette
Carolyn Jones ... Miss Hattie
Roberta Collins ... Clara
The Starlight, a decrepit hotel run by Judd, receives few customers. Perhaps it's the owner's violent mood swings. Or perhaps it's the man-eating crocodile in the backyard. But one dark steamy night finds the Starlight visited by a runaway prostitute, a young couple and their child, a dying father and his daughter, and sex-obsessed Buck, all of whom will experience an unforgettable night of terror at the hands of Judd and his pet croc.
Eaten Alive, remindin' us that nothin' tanks your motel's Yelp ratin' quite like a crocodile eatin' the guests' obnoxious terrier. "Lovely atmosphere and comfortable rooms at an affordable price, but renegade crocodile ate family pet - would not stay again," that kinda thing can haunt ya for YEARS.
An speakin' of guys bein' railroaded, you'll hafta excuse me if I'm just a little bit P.O.'d this week, but I just found out that NBC "will no longer be producing" any more episodes of The Jerry Springer Show. You heard that right: no more Jerry Springer, he's gone, 86'd, history - the man has broken up his last transvestite kickboxin' match. The dream is over. Just when you think America couldn't possibly get any sicker - WHOOSH, another national treasure goes down the crapper like yesterday's Beanie Weenies, an for what? What's so all-fire important that an entire nation must now soldier on without its daily dose of octogenarian lesbo hookers bein' denied service at the Chick-Fil-A? There's only one Jerry Springer. Period. Oh sure, lots of talk shows've *tried* to be the Springer Show over the years, but let's face it: they couldn't commit to the lifestyle. Jenny Jones'd bring on women with hooters the size of Mount Rushmore an have their whiny husbands come out an complain about how their blood pressure shot up high enough to bust the veins in their eyeballs every time a guy crashed their Honda Accord into his maple tree after catchin' sight of the woman joggin' in the mornin', but that's kid's stuff. An ole Maury Povich, he *used* to try dazzlin' ya with married men who'd come on the show to tell their wives they were leavin' 'em for their prison pen pal named Steve once in a while, but he got hung up on that whole paternity test fad an hadn't been the same since. Montel an Sally Jesse thought they were above the fray, so they'd never "lower" themselves to our level, but the point is - America cannot afford to lose any more of its heroes. Shoot, half the point of skippin' work is to watch fat black women with bad weaves try shovin' confederate flags up the hinders of skinheads with prison tattoos that look like they were drawn by Mrs. Spivey's kindergarten class, so what'n the HELL're we supposed to do now?! I don't mean to scare anybody, but this might be the end of America as we know it - an for all you scoffers out there failin' to take this seriously, ask yourself this question: "if Jerry Springer can fall, who's next?" Oh sure, this week it's Jerry, but next week it could be Judge Judy, or The Price is Right, or even General Hospital, an THEN you'll be snickerin' out the other side of your face.
So in short, it seems to me that we've got two choices:
1) We remain complicit until we're left broken, sittin' around all day mutterin': "they came for Jerry Springer and I said nothing because I was a Divorce Court guy."
2) We call up our local NBC affiliate an scream at the jerkolas in programming until they restore Jerry's rightful place as the King of Daytime.
Accept no substitutes - Steve Wilkos can *never* fill Jerry's shoes an the whole world knows it. The time is NOW, people, so if you don't think you can find the motivation to roll off the sofa an grab that phone, just remember all the times Jerry was there for you when you needed an hour to be distracted from all the creditors ringin' your phone off the hook an stand up for him in his hour of need. Tell those 3-piece puke pails that we will not go quietly into the Walmart without a fight, an remind them that without us nobody's ever gonna apply Head-On directly to their foreheads - FOR JERRY!
I need to calm down here, this kinda stress ain't good for a man's heart; specially not one with arteries that're hardened enough to cut glass to begin with. Fortunately, this week we're gonna cool off in the swamp with Tobe Hooper's follow up to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre - Eaten Alive, which is probably the best maniac motelier flick ever made to feature a tug-o-war between man and beast over possession of a corpse. I'll tell ya more about that scene later, even though just readin' about it don't hardly do it justice, but in the meantime allow me to getcha in the correct frame of mind so you won't miss out on any of Tobe's twisted insight into the mind of the modern redneck. First, when you prostitute yourself at the behest of Morticia Addams, don't be surprised if her clientele is altogether ooky, an out to getcher booty. Second, Tobe Hooper an Creedence Clearwater Revival have very different ideas about what it means to be Born on the Bayou. An third, watchin' Freddy Krueger strut around in his tightie-whities kinda dampens the mystique of the Elm Street flicks.
The movie begins with a baby-faced Robert Englund inspectin' Madam Morticia Addams' wares at the local whorehouse, only he picks this jittery gal on 'er first assignment (Clara) an she ends up gettin' thrown out on 'er can by Morticia when she refuses to let Rob hump 'er dumper. I guess you could say she'll do anything for love, but she won't do *that*. Fortunately, the kindly old woman who artificially deseminates the laundry feels bad for 'er an gives 'er a few bucks to rent a room for the night. Unfortunately, the only place open is Neville Brand's Starlight Motel, an Neville can't help but notice the way Clara's tubular bells're trussed up like a missionary in cannibal country, an when he realizes she's one of the unhappy hookers from Morticia's Den of Sin he hasta pitchfork 'er through 'er manhandles an feed 'er to his pet crocagator. The next day, Marilyn Burns, her weenie husband (Roy), an their little girl (Angie) stop off at the Starlight to mooch Neville's toilet an get directions, only the loudmouthed daughter starts pokin' Neville's pet monkey through the holes in its cage an freaks out when she realizes it's done keeled over from a combination of the Southern heat an Neville's bi-annual shower schedule. Then the girl hears her ole hound dog barkin', chasin' down a hoodoo there - cept in this instance the hound dog's one of those little yappy sonsabitches that runs up an down its chain-link fence barkin' atcha even after you're six blocks away, an the hoodoo's a 15' crocodile, so Toto ends up more or less torn on the bayou right in front of the kid. Neville feels just terrible about all this, so he comps 'em a room to try minimizin' Angie's childhood trauma while he gives 'imself a good talkin' to, but next thing you know the parents decide now'd be the perfect time to hash out every marital conflict they'd had since Woodstock. As if Neville ain't got enough on his mind already, this's about the time Clara's Dad an Sis (Harvey an Libby) show up to ask if he's seen 'er, an he tells 'em he dunno nothin' about no hookers an that he resents the idea he'd frequent such a place an besides that some of those girls're chargin' $20 an he ain't made outta money.
So Harvey an Libby head down to the police station to yell at Stuart Whitman, only once they're gone Roy starts actin' like an autistic on an acid trip an grabs his double-barrel outta the back of the car an decides to go all Crocodile Hunter. Neville begs an pleads with 'im not to blast the croc an tells 'im about how he rescued it from a Cajun restaurant but Crocodile Gundee ain't havin' it, an so Neville hasta grab his harvestin' sickle an make like The Grim Reaper til Crocy Horror smashes through the deck railing an grabs a bowl of Meaties. As you can imagine Neville's just a little bit P.O.'d about this turn of events, specially since now he's gotta worry about those PETA assholes showin' up to question the nutritional content of the folks he's feedin' to his star attraction, so he decides to take care of business an goes bustin' in on Marilyn while she's gettin' into the bath, ties 'er up with the shower curtain, an leaves 'er rollin' around on the floor lookin' like the world's most pissed off condom. Trouble is, now Angie's gone an crawled under the house like a skunk lookin' for a spot to have kits, an between Neville's arthritis flarin' up on 'im an not wantin' to filthy up his only shirt, he decides to just lock 'er down there an tie Marilyn to 'er bed so he can force 'er to listen to stories about his grandchildren. Elsewhere, Sheriff Stuart Whitman's listenin' to Harvey whine about how the town's gone to heck in a hand basket cause he's actin' too much like Andy Griffith an not enough like Buford Pusser, an so Stuart drives 'em down to the Clamityville Whorer to see if they can pick Clara out of a daisy chain, but Morticia says she dunno nothin' about no blonde airheads an to go ask Yvonne De Carlo. Meanwhile, Neville's crawlin' around on his bum knees under the house tryin' to slice Angie into baby peases with his 9' farm implement, cept pretty quick Stuart shows up to drop Harvey off an Harvey can't get to sleep over the sounds of Angie screamin' for help an Neville's snarls every time he bangs his shins into the foundation pillars.
Harvey follows the noise until he ends up outside the doggie door that leads under the house, but when he looks up Neville's waitin' on 'im an rams his sickle clean through Harvey's neck an out the other side, causin' the guy to stumble too close to the pond where the Country Croc grabs ahold of his legs an has a little tug-o-war with Neville, who's tryin' like hell to get his sickle outta Harvey's neck. Eventually Neville secures his tool an breathes a scythe of relief when the body slips into the pond, but while that's goin' on Libby's in town with Stuart eatin' greasy diner food an tellin' 'im about how Harvey's dyin' of complications stemming from years of sportin' a pornstache until Stuart hasta go 86 Rob an his 16-year-old girlfriend (Lynette) for startin' fights an grinnin' outta the side of his face like Joe Camel. Then Rob takes his swamp donkey over to the Starlight an starts checkin' 'er for chiggers, an of course Neville's got Angie squealin' under the floorboards an Marilyn composin' a bed spring symphony upstairs fightin' 'er bindings, so he hasta crank the Country station up so high that it causes depression statistics to spike in Oklahoma in hopes of drownin' 'em out. Course Rob can't convince his broad to lay back an think of Englund with all this racket goin' on, so he goes lookin' for Neville an gets shoved into the pond an turned into jerkass jambalaya. Then Lynette spots Rob bobbin' face down in the swamp an next thing you know the chase is on, with Neville swingin' his sickle at 'er every step of the way until she manages to find the road an snag a ride into town while Neville threatens to decapitate the boom mic operator in a fit of rage. To make matters worse, there's nobody home when Libby returns to the motel, so it ain't long before she hears Marilyn rockin' the cradle of love in the next room an lets 'er loose while Neville's out back exercisin' the nuclear option an tearin' a hole in his crocodile security fence so it can get under the house to score a banquet of kiddie creole. I'm gonna cut this one off here so nobody gets spoilered on it, but if you think Tobe Hooper's above feedin' a sweet little girl to a rampagin' crocodile; you dunno Tobe Hooper.
Alright I admit it - Tobe's follow-up to Chainsaw doesn't exactly live up to the "from the director of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" hype plastered all over the promotional posters and trailers, but it's still decent. It's hard not to go into it thinkin' that because it was the first flick he made after Chainsaw it must have the most potential to repeat that once-in-a-lifetime magic, but if you haven't gotten around to this one yet and intend to check it out, take my advice and do not come at it from that angle. Admittedly, given the period in which it was produced, it's definitely the grittiest of all Tobe's follow-ups, but something seems to be missing. Truth be told, I think the man just happened to catch lightning in a bottle with Chainsaw, which was unfortunate for the rest of his career, because from that point on everyone was going to be comparing everything he ever did to it, and that's simply not fair because Chainsaw is the greatest Horror film of all time. He didn't realize it at the time, but because of Chainsaw's success, he could have done any genre title he chose for pretty much anyone, yet he opted to stick with the same writer and make a film produced very much in the same vein as his original outing. Eaten Alive not only re-pairs director, writer, and the star of Chainsaw, but also features several scenes and situations pulled directly from it, including Brand charging up the stairs, weapon held aloft, toward his would-be victims as they attempt to flee out the front door, the chase through the woods with his quarry escaping in a car after reaching the road, and of course Brand pacing about the house in a panic mumbling to himself as he's besieged on all floors by an ever-increasing number of guests who may uncover his secret. It's unclear whether Hooper was still just a little green and lacked the confidence necessary to move on from Chainsaw, or whether he simply didn't want to fix something that wasn't broken, but Eaten Alive is essentially Chainsaw meets Psycho, with Neville Brand embodying all three of the family members of the cannibal family in different scenes. That said, the general premise of the movie is based on a local Texas legend about a man named Joe Ball who came back from WWI with psychological trauma. After settling back into civilian life, he opened a bar in which he exhibited live alligators as a gimmick to bring in patrons, while also involving himself with several of his waitresses simultaneously. Two of the waitresses were ultimately shot and buried by Ball and his chauffeur, but because the bodies couldn't be immediately located there was speculation on the part of the locals that Ball may have fed the remains to the alligators to dispose of them. The two bodies were later found and Ball would commit suicide while being apprehended by the police, so at the end of the day the alligators hadn't really played any part in the murders, but it sure makes for a good movie plot.
In any event, what say we honor Tobe's memory by criticizing his every cinematic imperfection while simultaneously pining for the "good ole days," how 'bout it? The premise isn't really anything new and borrows liberally from flicks like Psycho and all the other maniac innkeeper titles that came before, but like any good exploitation title, it puts its own unique twist on an old idea and makes it feel fresh again. The crocodile in the pond behind the motel is both simple and brilliant, and gives the audience a glimpse into a time when society wasn't quite so bubble-wrapped, as it's not at all a stretch to imagine a highly dangerous arrangement like this existing in real life in the South in 1976. The acting is also essential to the film's success, and features an excellent performance by Neville Brand as the shell-shocked WWII vet on a personal quest to rid society of its sinners one guest at a time. Brand did several low budget Horror flicks in the twilight of his career, but this was far and away his best, as he pulls off the psychologically damaged and tormented Army veteran spectacularly, likely drawing upon some of his own experiences in WWII to bring authenticity to the part. We've also got Hooper alumna Marilyn Burns returning as the long-suffering wife of the semi-psychotic William Finley, seemingly at the breaking point after losing his job, and they're both excellent as well despite Finley's insanely over-the-top performance that plays like something out of Eraserhead. I won't run through the entire cast because it's a veritable smorgasbord of lovable character actors, but I did wanna mention Robert Englund as the shit-kicking redneck Buck (who delivers the "Name's Buck, and I'm rarin' to fuck" line, later homaged by Tarantino in Kill Bill) in his first Horror role, and he does a great job with the incredibly skeevy character. Rob wouldn't make another Horror flick until Dead and Buried in 1981, but I understand he did alright for himself after that.
Here's who matters and why (less Robert Englund and Marilyn Burns, and I better not hafta explain why): Neville Brand (Evils of the Night, The Return, The Ninth Configuration, Without Warning 1980, Psychic Killer, Killdozer), Mel Ferrer (The World the Flesh and the Devil, Nightmare City, The Great Alligator, The Visitor 1979, Screamers, The Amazing Captain Nemo, Eaten Alive! 1980, The Antichrist, Wait Until Dark, The Hands of Orlac 1960, Blood and Roses), Carolyn Jones (Invasion of the Body Snatchers 1956, House of Wax 1953, The War of the Worlds 1953), William Finley (Night Terrors, The Funhouse, The Fury, Phantom of the Paradise, Sisters 1972), Stuart Whitman (Sandman, Omega Cop, Deadly Intruder, Vultures, The Monster Club, Demonoid: Messenger of Death, Ruby, Night of the Lepus, City Beneath the Sea, The Day the Earth Stood Still 1951), Roberta Collins (School Spirit, Saturday the 14th, Whiskey Mountain, The Witch Who Came from the Sea, Death Race 2000), Kyle Richards (The Watcher in the Woods, The Car, Halloween 1978), Crystin Sinclaire (Ruby), Janus Blythe (The Hills Have Eyes 1977, The Hills Have Eyes Part 2, Phantom of the Paradise, Drive-In Massacre, Spine, The Incredible Melting Man), Betty Cole (The Toolbox Murders), David Hayward (Eve of Destruction, Delusion), David Carson (The Funhouse).
Tobe snuck a few mainstreamers in on us too, so if your morbid curiosity is gettin' the better of you and you've just gotta know, here are those roles: Neville Brand (Reese Bennett on Laredo), Mel Ferrer (Prince Andrei Bolonsky in War and Peace 1956, and Philip Erikson on Falcon Crest), Carolyn Jones (Morticia Addams on The Addams Family, and Julie Rawlings in How the West Was Won), Kyle Richards (Lissy Preston on Down to Earth, Alicia Sanderson on Little House on the Prairie, Nurse Dori Kerns on ER).
The special effects are definitely the flick's soft spot. Unfortunately, the crocodile just isn't up to snuff, and lacks the flexibility necessary to move like a living creature. For one thing, it was a life-sized representation that had to be puppeteered by divers working beneath it, making it both extremely cumbersome and difficult to operate while staying out of the shots. It's entirely likely that they didn't have the budget necessary to achieve it, but I think a model that encompassed only the front half of the croc that could be controlled via animatronics would have come across a lot better, but as I said, that may not have been possible given the resources available. There's a pretty funny story attached to the croc too, cause apparently it was made of an especially spongy material that would soak up water, and one night the crew left without pulling it out of the tank only to return the next mornin' to find it swollen up to several times its original size with the water level in the tank noticeably diminished, and in case that wasn't obnoxious enough - when they tried hauling it out they accidentally broke one of the walls holding the water in the tank and flooded part of the studio. Besides the crocodile there's really just a few scenes involving death by farm implement, ranging from a pitchforking death that looks extremely amateurish, to a shot of Neville jamming his scythe through Mel Ferrer's neck and getting it stuck, which is pretty well executed (and funny). That scene where the croc's pulling Ferrer's body into the pond while Neville's tugging desperately at the other end tryin' to get his scythe loose is really funny in the same way you'd laugh at a small child playin' tug with a good-sized dog, but at the end of the day, anytime the croc is moving, it doesn't look so hot.
The sets and cinematography are both superb, and looking at just the interior shots of the dilapidated motel you'd never know it wasn't a real building. The exterior and the lot on which it sits aren't quite as realistic, but they did a pretty good job of soiling the wallpaper and cluttering the place up with the kinda junk you'd expect to see in a building occupied by a man whose business doubles as his longtime residence. The set decoration isn't quite on the level of Chainsaw, but it's still very good. You've also got the brothel and the bar, both of which come across as very authentic, but the heart of the movie really is the grimy Starlight Motel, and it's got just the right amount of wear and crud to be believable without taking it so far that it's unreasonable to believe people would stay there. They also utilize a blood-red lighting system in a coupla shots that enhances the atmosphere and gives the movie a proto-Suspiria look, while also making good use of the fog machine. The soundtrack is really weird, but never quite clicks with the visuals the way the scoring on Chainsaw did - at least as far as the compositions go. Simply put - it's chaos, which to be fair isn't exactly a departure from the events of the flick, but nothing seems to jibe worth a damn. It's essentially just noise, with a little synth scoring and a lot of sound effects either tinkling or blaring over the top of it. Some of it works - particularly the stuff that plays over the quieter scenes and relies on animal sounds and wind-chime type noises, but generally speaking it's very raw, loud, and kinda obnoxious. Honestly, it sounds like somebody trying to emulate the "music" from Chainsaw, but cranked up to 11, which is precisely the opposite of what made the Chainsaw soundtrack so effective. The depressing Country music on the other hand fits the motif perfectly, and helps mitigate a bit of the damage caused by the acoustic stuff, but the soundtrack is definitely the second most damaging aspect of the movie. Overall, Eaten Alive is an above average piece of '70s exploitation with a good premise, acting, and shooting locations that help overcome the lackluster special effects and soundtrack, and proves reasonably entertaining. Just don't go into it expecting Chainsaw and you'll be fine.