Review Date: October 20, 2007
Released by: Dark Sky Films
Release date: 09/25/2007
Region 1, NTSC
Widescreen 1.85:1 | 16x9: Yes
So what do you do after your debut film is heralded as a masterpiece? Probably make an inferior follow-up. When your first film is The Texas Chain Saw Massacre
, or Night of the Living Dead, or The Bird With the Crystal Plumage, there aren’t many places to go but down. Argento gave us the lackluster Cat o’ Nine Tails, Romero gave us the dramedy There’s Always Vanilla and Hooper gave us the cacophonous croc pic, Eaten Alive
. Last year Dark Sky Films planned to let Eaten Alive
play second fiddle to their premiere release, the amazing 30th anniversary DVD of Hooper’s debut. At the last moment, though, Dark Sky found new source material and pulled Eaten Alive
from release. Now, Eaten Alive
debuts finally, and strategically distanced from The Texas Chain Saw Massacre
, which has put several better films than Eaten Alive
to shame. On its own, how does Hooper’s gritty follow-up to the film that changed horror hold up? Let’s tread croc waters and find out!
“My name is Buck, and I’m rarin’ to fuck.”
Certainly the best opening line in the history of cinema, it’s spoken by none other than Robert Englund. With a line like that you’d think otherwise, but really, his Buck is only on the periphery, introducing instead Clara (Roberta Collins). She’s on the receiving end of his quote, and understandably decides moments later to put prostitution behind her for good. She heads down the Louisiana backwoods in search for a new beginning, but instead stumbles on the Starlight Hotel. A small little shack on the edge of a bayou, it certainly seems unimposing. Little does she know, though, that inside is the two screws loose Judd (Neville Brand), and not far from him is a big hungry crocodile.
Before she even gets settled in, Clara takes it first from a scythe, and then the jaws of Judd’s pet croc. Apparently the croc is a stray from Africa(?), and as long as he keeps living, Judd will keep feeding it. Presumably, the last time Judd neglected the beast, it bit off his leg. Definitely a busy night in the middle of nowhere, three other sets of patrons aim to shack up for the night in Judd’s cuckoos nest. There’s the dysfunctional family, with a wig-wearing Marilyn Burns, the Phantom from the Paradise, and the little girl from Halloween. Talk about disturbed. Then, there’s Buck and a new sexual conquest there to shake the walls a bit. As fate would have it too, Clara’s dad and sister (Mel Ferrer and Crystin Sinclaire, respectively) also wind up there searching for their beloved. They’ll meet her soon enough…in the croc’s mouth.
Clara’s dad brings the cops in on it too, when Judd not-so-subtly hints that he’s seen Clara before. Saying that you don’t accept prostitutes when you see a missing person’s photo is probably not the best way to be coy. So in comes Stuart Whitman, taking heed from call girl madame, Carolyn Jones. What transpires is a lot of deaths, a lot of incomprehensibly psychotic rambling, tits, grain and bad crocodile effects.
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre
was more than just a grindhouse picture. It took the time early on to develop the characters, the communal backdrop and the atmosphere. Before it became a tense parade of freaks, it was first and foremost a gritty and stylish critique of the culture, questioning how family values have changed in the era of the counterculture. Eaten Alive
jumps right into the freak show, never stepping back to give us any context. We know characters from the barest of indicators (husband, father, hotel managers, et cetera), to the point where the crocodile, with its indiscriminating appetite, becomes probably the most developed character. No, Eaten Alive
is no masterpiece, it goes for the grindhouse all the way. For a film with the same director, writer, composer and actor from The Texas Chain Saw Massacre
, that sort of affirmation is one of horror’s greatest disappointments.
Less a follow-up to Texas Chain Saw
than an outright rip-off, Eaten Alive
truly feels like it was a film made to cash in on Hooper’s visionary original, understanding nothing but the superficial aspects of his Texas terrifier. We have a crazy man muttering about and slapping his victims, using their bodies for (croc) food, punishing the promiscuous and doing so in the woods with a big shiny weapon. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre
was so much more than that, but based on this, and virtually the remainder of Hooper’s catalogue, its success seems product of some divine intervention. It’s fitting that the characters in Chain Saw
seem so indebted to astrology, since for that picture the stars really seemed to have lined up. Eaten Alive
is nothing more than a bottom feeder.
The film looks like shit. Hooper tried to utilize a moody color scheme, but it looks like it was shot entirely on a crummy set (it was) and it looks like it was shot on Super8 (it wasn’t). The grown-over landscapes and decayed decorations of Chain Saw
have been transposed with a barren set and plain walls. The camera is geriatric, sitting still and observing the colors, while in Chain Saw
it demanded the locations be seen from all directions and perspectives.
The film sounds like shit. Hooper again took credit for this, but rather than the unsettlement he evoked through ambient sounds in Chain Saw
, he instead upsets the ears with a cacophonous combination of synthesizers, crickets, lullabies and anything else that really doesn’t belong.
The story plays like shit. Every character is shallower than that five foot lagoon constructed on the set, and the ones that are developed are totally ludicrous. So what do you do when you are trying to find your sister and your father is suspiciously missing from his hotel room? You undress, walk around in the nude, and then put on another top. Don’t even get me started on what the hell Marilyn Burns and William Finley are supposed to be. Upon checking in she takes off an obviously fake black wig and comes her hair with a maniacal laugh. He does even dumber, holding an open palm out to her as his face goes into convulsions, as if he were a Scanner. The script is basically Psycho
on a bayou (which makes for Hooper’s second pillaging of Hitchcock after the Ed Gein-inspired Chain Saw
), but it doesn’t even have the mind to develop its Norman Bates. Judd runs around with a scythe, as if his being weird is all that’s needed.
It’s clear from this, and his next film, The Funhouse
, that Hooper is more entertained by mawkish freak shows than he is actual stories. He’d have been a carnie had a camera not landed on his lap in post-secondary. The jury was always out for me with Hooper, but Eaten Alive
seals the deal. He is a hack. I’ll give Chain Saw
to Robert A. Burns, to Daniel Pearl and to Gunnar Hansen. Eaten Alive
though, is all Hooper. It’s as deep and meaningful as a Google search for Elephantiasis.
Dark Sky Films held back their original transfer of the film for this newly discovered print, but one has to wonder, “Why bother?” No print in the world could save the fact that the cinematography is a gritty, murky mess, so dark and hazy that detail is a virtual nonentity here. Dark Sky has improved on the previous transfer though, increasing the punch of all those atmospheric lights, making the reds, blue, greens and oranges of the sunset (there must have been some crazy Aurora Borealis that night) nicely vibrant. Like their transfer for The Texas Chain Saw Massacre
, it cleans up the film without it losing its gritty roots, which is no doubt impressive. But Eaten Alive
was just shot poorly, and this nice transfer just reminds us of it even more.
It’s in mono, and thank god. I do not know if I’d be able to take Hooper’s score from all directions. It sounds surprisingly clean and clear, without any hiss or defects. The biggest fault is that most people sound like they were recorded on hollow sets, and that’s because they were.
The original Dark Sky release was to be single disc, but this one expands on that with two discs of quality supplements. The commentary, with producer Mardi Rustam, actors Roberta Collins, William Finley and Kyle Richards, and make-up artist Craig Reardon, is actually pretty scandalous. Rustam starts out talking about some of his shrewd business tactics, but then Collins chimes in with a disturbing anecdote about Neville Brand and how he once tried to rape her. Cheery stuff! The commentaries were recorded separately, so they don’t have the benefit of group fun, but there’s still plenty to enjoy.
Disc two has four weighty featurettes, one on Hooper, one on Robert Englund, one on Marilyn Burns, and a final one on the history of Joe Ball. Joe Ball was a prohibition bootlegger who apparently inspired the thread-bare story, since he supposedly fed his girlfriends to his pet croc. The 23-minute doc relies way too heavily on stock sounds and footage, but is still pretty informative in its interview with one of Ball’s relatives. The Hooper documentary is nearly as long at 20-minutes, and he talks about his career post Chain Saw
, how he was brought to Hollywood to make this, and would eventually sign on with Universal. He talks about the actors and the lighting used on the film, but considering how he wasted both, he probably should have kept his mouth shut.
Englund’s featurette is a fun watch, a sort of 15-minute monologue about his early career, and how he once aimed to be but a theater actor with integrity. He talks about working with some independent heavies in the early seventies, and then how he met Hooper and moved onto horror. The only fault of this piece is his declaration that Hooper must have an IQ of over 200. Did he see Crocodile
? The last featurette, “5ive Minutes with Marilyn Burns”, is a short and sweet bit with the actress. Let’s be honest, here, most time we watch supplements, we basically want to see how the actors we remember look and act today, and this one conveys that well. It also has a funny bit about how she got her mom and all her friends to see it and how they took to the opening line.
The disc is rounded off with a gallery of behind the scenes footage, trailers, TV and radio spots, a bunch of alternate title sequences and most enjoyably, a collection of comment cards from a screening. Most of the cards are really (justifiably) negative, with many of the people usurping the standard grading scale of fair, good, and excellent to include their own category, “poor”. There are a bunch of funny title suggestions too. You always hear about how these pre-screenings ruin movies, but it’s funny to see here just how shallow those things really are.
bites. It’s a superficial, obnoxious film without any of the tact, style or impact of Hooper’s previous Massacre. It’s a waste of talent in front of the screen, and it proves undoubtedly that Hooper never really had much talent behind it. Dark Sky deserves credit for the work on the DVD, for they’ve delivered two-discs of solid extras, and some noticeably cleaned up sound and visuals. Too bad the visuals are just so unflattering to begin with. Thank God Carpenter, Romero, Craven and Coscarelli took on the horror torch in the later seventies, for if the American Horror New Wave were to have rested solely on Hooper’s shoulders, it would have sunk with a huge splash in the blasé bayou of Eaten Alive
Movie - D
Image Quality - B+
Sound - B
Supplements - A-
- Running time - 1 hour 31 minutes
- 1 Disc
- Chapter Stops
- English mono
- English subtitles
- Feature-length audio commentary w/ producer Mardi Rustam, actors Roberta Collins, William Finley and Kyle Richards, & make-up artist Craig Reardon
- "The Gator Creator: Tobe Hooper"
- "My Name is Buck: Robert Englund
- "The Butcher of Elmendorf: The Legend of Joe Ball"
- "5ive Minutes with Marilyn Burns"
- Theatrical Trailers (x7)
- TV Spots (x2)
- Radio Spots (x2)
- Still Gallery Slideshow (motion)
- Alternate Credits and Title Sequences (x2)