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You can probably figure out from the title whether or not you're in the camp that can stomach a film like Eaten Alive!, Umberto Lenzi's 1980 cannibal horror film. With a religious commune and subsequent mass suicide inspired by Jim Jones and the People's Temple cult in Guyana, plus ample gore and unpleasant sexual assaults, Eaten Alive! is not for the casual viewer. Curiously, Lenzi does attempt to carry a story throughout, and the film maintains a brisk pace. Although not as graphic as other genre entries, including Lenzi's Cannibal Ferox, there is still plenty to disturb viewers, including the real on-screen deaths of several animals. Janet Agren is lovely as leading lady Sheila, and Robert Kerman and Ivan Rassimov both give capable performances. Cannibal horror is not my favorite sub-genre, but this one will likely appeal to fans of this sort of depravity.
The film opens with several unidentified men being clandestinely shot with poisoned darts by a mysterious figure. Cut to the home of Sheila Morris (Agren), whose sister Diana (Paola Senatore) has apparently gone off the grid to the jungle, either by choice or force. Morris takes some footage of her sister to a local expert (Mel Ferrer), who indicates it was shot in New Guinea and depicts a strange religious cult run by a man named Jonas (Rassimov). Morris travels to the jungle and, with the help of guide Mark (Kerman), she travels across dangerous terrain and into Jonas' grasp. There she finds her sister and discovers a whole lot wrong with the outwardly peaceful commune. Leaving might be the best reaction but for the tribe of blood-thirsty cannibals lurking outside the safety of camp. Those who disobey Jonas are cast out with a Bible, but never make it home alive.
This is not a pleasant or expertly shot movie, but I was surprised how entertaining Eaten Alive! is. The unnecessarily peppy score is almost humorous, as is the poor dubbing in some scenes. We get glimpses of the cannibal violence early on, as tribesmen kill and begin tearing the flesh from a young woman, opening her chest cavity and removing her heart. This is not real, obviously, but Lenzi used enough animal parts and convincing props to turn the stomach. Nastier still are real scenes of animal torture and death, which are sure to please the animal-rights activist in your family. There is also plenty of sex and nudity, most of it unpleasant, thanks to the cult's propensity for allowing the rape of its "unclean" members. The conflict is largely with Jonas, and the cannibals are sort of the barrier keeping Morris and company from ditching him. Of course some characters fall into the hands of the hungry, which allows for more graphic violence.
Agren is not shy about embracing the sex and violence, and Rassimov is especially entertaining as the cult leader. The movie does not do a great job explaining exactly why Jonas acts in the manner he does, but his sinister behavior is nonetheless commanding. I suspect this is Kerman's best performance outside of porn, and the cannibals seem to have fun as bit players. This is an absolutely ridiculous movie (what were you expecting?) but Lenzi does shoot what is largely a consistent story. I was mostly entertained during this 93-minute schlock-fest, but I cannot in good conscience recommend this to anyone but the most accepting horror fans. A synopsis of this movie should be enough to deter most viewers, but, for those who dive in, you get pretty much what you deserve.
Severin offers a 1.66:1/1080p/AVC-encoded transfer that is, according to the packaging, uncut, uncensored and restored. It looks about as good as I expected. The source used has moderate print damage and debris, but there are certainly benefits to this HD presentation. Grain is thick but manageable, and colors are fairly vivid, particularly blood reds. Clarity and detail vary but are usually decent. Fine-object details are prevalent in close-ups, and wide shots are reasonably steady. Moderate black crush is evident, and I noticed some blooming highlights. I did not notice any overt digital tinkering, which is a plus.
The 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio mono mix is OK, and delivers some expected issues with sync and dubbing. Dialogue is reasonably clear, and there are some decently spaced effects. The score is a bit harsh, causing some distortion during audible stingers. This is certainly a serviceable mix. Italian and Spanish 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio mixes are also included, as are English SDH subtitles.
PACKAGING AND EXTRAS:
Although there is a more elaborate edition with slipcover and soundtrack available, Severin sent over the single-disc release, which should include all the same on-disc content. The cover artwork is reversible and the case is black. Extras include Welcome to the Jungle: Interview with Director Umberto Lenzi (16:37/HD), which is particularly entertaining. Me Me Lai Bites Back: Feature Documentary on the Queen of Cannibal Films (1:19:55/HD) will appeal to horror fans, and provides a fun overview of the actress' career. The Sect of Purification: Interview with Production Designer Antonello Geleng (13:03/HD) offers a look at the sets. You also get Archive Interviews with Actors Ivan Rassimov and Robert Kerman (12:21/HD); a 2013 Q&A with Umberto Lenzi from the UK Festival of Fantastic Films (23:43/HD); and the Trailer (3:06/HD).
Nasty, absurd and entertaining, Eaten Alive! is neither the best nor the most offensive cannibal horror film in existence. Rent It unless you know this is your cup of tea. The Severin Blu-ray offers solid bonus features and decent A/V specs.
William lives in Burlington, North Carolina, and looks forward to a Friday-afternoon matinee.