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I'd be willing to bet that, following the success of his The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), director Tobe Hooper had his fair share of sophomore projects to pick through -- which makes the silliness and downright ineptitude of Eaten Alive so hard to swallow. Had this been the filmmaker's intitial film, it might be easier to dismiss as a first-timer's misstep. But Eaten Alive (aka Death Trap, aka Horror Hotel Massacre, aka Starlight Slaughter) is so outspokenly clueless, aimless, and meandering... One is tempted to wonder aloud if drugs and booze didn't actually direct this relatively woeful flick.
Horror is a genre in which even the gamiest little turkeys may find a few loyal fans, but when it comes to the lesser works of Tobe Hooper, not even the staunchest gorehounds can muster much enthusiasm. Hooper deserves a spot in the Hall of Horror Fame, to be sure, if only for directing Chainsaw, Poltergeist, and that amazingly wacky Lifeforce thing -- but when the guy turns out a stinker, he does so in rare form. Eaten Alive was his first and perhaps smelliest stink-bomb. (It's a close call between this one and Spontaneous Combustion.)
The plot synopsis goes like this: Deep in a swamp there is a gamey little hovel of a hotel. It's run by a proprietor who is clearly rather dangerously insane, an affliction that doesn't seem to bother his guests all that much. Swimming alongside the hotel is an allegedly massive crocodile. Apparently the plan is this: People show up at the hotel; the owner promptly stabs them with a rake and tosses 'em into the croc-swamp. This goes on for about an hour or so. Subplots include: a lady tied to a bed, a local sleazeball who trolls bars for whores, a little girl hiding under the hotel, and the clueless local cops who shuffle around confusedly.
Students of the genre will no doubt check out the cast list and muster up a few visions of B-movie bliss. Sad to say that's not the case, despite the combined (and collectively bizarre) talents of Neville Brand, Mel Ferrer, Marilyn Burns, Stuart Whitman, Roberta Collins, and a very young Robert Englund. Aside from the fun little game of "what the hell is s/he doing in dreck like this?" -- none of the actors can struggle through the dimly-lit tedium and mark any colorful territory.
Every so often a graphic (yet poorly-shot) dispatch will occur, thereby reminding you that what you're presently watching is supposed to be at least a little bit scary. Eaten Alive is a lot of things: very weird, unpleasant, amateurish, grungy, a little gross... Alas, "scary" never even rings the doorbell.
Video: The widescreen (1.85:1) transfer is about as good as you'll ever find for a flick of this age, vintage, and ... quality. The thing has a tacky sheen all over it, but it's not an authoring problem. Eaten Alive is just a dank little movie.
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono, with only slight volume fluctuations between the talking and the shrieking. This certainly isn't the loveliest soundtrack you'll ever hear, but the presentation is serviceable enough.
Extras: The main extra would probably be the audio commentary with writer/producer Mardi Rustam, make-up artist Craig Reardon and Eaten Alive actors Roberta Collins, William Finley, and Kyle Richards. The participants were recorded separately, and they all seem to look back on the film with a bemused sense of detachment -- as if they're not entirely sure what they were doing at the time.
My Name is Buck is a 15-minute sit-down with Robert Englund, one of horror-dom's most lovable and down-to-earth superstars.
The Butcher of Elmendorf: The Legend of Joe Ball is a 20-some minute interview with the nephew of a guy who, back in the '30s, killed a few women and owned a few alligators. Any relation is Hooper's film is tenuous at best.
You'll also find a photo/poster gallery and some trailers for Eaten Alive, Death Trap, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and The Devil's Rain, all coming soon to DVD from Dark Sky Films.
Like all low-budget horror obscurities from the 1970s and '80s, I'm sure Eaten Alive has a few ardent supporters out there. If you're among them, you should be suitably pleased with the flick's newest DVD package. Dark Sky dug up a silly old relic, dusted off the tech specs, and whittled together a few extra goodies. Solid DVD package, not so solid flick.
Rent It if you're a Hooper completist / diehard horror nut. Otherwise, just pass on by.