Neville Brand - Judd
Mel Ferrer - Harvey Wood
Carolyn Jones - Miss Hattie
Marilyn Burns - Faye
William Finley - Roy
Stuart Whitman - Sheriff Martin
Kyle Richards - Angie
Robert Englund - Buck
Crystin Sinclaire - Libby Wood
Year - 1976
Score - 2.5 Howls Outta 4
I'm sure I've mentioned this a few times but I was born in the South. Being blessed with parents in the military, I was born in the state of Georgia. Certain members of my family won't let me forget that fact however as they call me "redneck", even though I was there until I was 10 months old and been living in New York ever since. It irritates me to no end, but that's a story for another time. Moving on...
Yes, I've always wanted to travel throughout the Southern United States. I have been on the entire East Coast, where some Southern states were hospitable and others were downright rude [North Carolina...]. But I've always wanted to go to Texas and see what the Lone Star state has to offer. I want to rope some bulls in a rodeo. I want to learn how to line dance. I want to go to a creepy motel in the middle of the backwoods to be chased by a crazed lunatic with a scythe who wants to feed me to his pet crocodile. You know, the usual?
However, Tobe Hooper hasn't really given me any reason to go to Texas. His first film, THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE (1974), scared the bejeezus out of me. Going to Texas to be slaughtered by a chainsaw weilding lunatic and being fed to the rest of his crazy relatives isn't such an incentive to pack my bags. Hooper's film after TCM, EATEN ALIVE, doesn't motivate me to go to Texas either. What is in the freakin' water down there!?
EATEN ALIVE begins at a whorehouse [not run by Dolly Parton but by Carolyn Jones of THE ADDAM'S FAMILY fame] where a new "escort" (Roberta Collins) is frightened off by Buck (Robert Englund) who likes to screw women anally [what is this - HBO's Oz?]. The newbie is kicked out of the whorehouse, eventually arriving at a broken-down motel in the middle of the woods. The motel is run by Judd (Neville Brand), who being crazy and good with a scythe, kills the girl and feeds her to his pet crocodile. After this incident, more people arrive at the motel for different reasons. Judd deals with each one personally in his own special way, including terrorizing a little girl (Kyle Richards). Why? Who in the hell knows?
With EATEN ALIVE, Tobe Hooper tries to recreate the magic that makes THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE such a classic horror film that's loved and appreciated by many. Unfortunately, it doesn't quite work here. The film isn't really scary, there are too
many characters - most of them we don't care about really, and the story is barely put together properly. However, there's something bizarrely appealing about EATEN ALIVE. Even though you know it's not the greatest film in the world [and believe me, it's far from it], you can't keep your eyes off of it.
Tobe Hooper does a good job directing the film. It's not as raw or as gritty as THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE [this film has a much larger budget], but the film is decently paced and shot well. We get a lot of red hues [representing blood, perhaps?], low-key lighting inside the motel, and some shaky camera work whenever Judd is chasing after people. Hooper also knows how to build tension and suspense, especially during the scenes where Judd chases little Angie underneath the motel. It's disturbing and uncomfortable to watch. Obviously, that's the point. The script, which was co-written by his TCM partner Kim Henkel, doesn't make a lick of sense even though Hooper tries his hardest to do it visually. What's more effective is the musical score Hooper wrote with Wayne Bell, which is really disturbing and weird to hear. Hooper knows how to create surreal situations in his films and this one is no exception.
What made this film work for me mostly was Neville Brand's protrayal of Judd. Every synonym of the word "crazy" is perfect to describe the character. He's dirty looking. He rambles on and on to himself about things that make no sense to anyone but himself. He giggles and has moments of clarity out of nowhere. He weilds a mean scythe and loves his crocodile. The man is a horror film in itself. Personally, I wasn't even sure if he was acting. The dude creeped me out big time. Apparently Judd's character was based on Texas Joe Ball, who was pretty famous for feeding his alligators cats and dogs to amuse people who would pass by. He also fed his gators a few women as well, which is pretty sick. Anyway, Brand is quite a spectacle and he's really disturbing in the role.
Robert Englund was also pretty good in his role as Buck, who loves to f*ck. An obviously inspiration for the Buck character Quentin Tarantino put in KILL BILL VOL. 1, Englund has a hoot playing a pervert who likes courting any woman in his path, attempting to give them each a personal anal probe. Charismatic and a presence, it's obvious he had a lot of potential to be a big star even before his Freddy Kruger days. I really liked him in this film. He was a pig, sure, but he's a cool pig.
Another good actor was Kyle Richards [Lindsay from HALLOWEEN and Paris Hilton's aunt] as Angie. Mainly she screamed, cried, and ran away from Judd. But the situations she was placed in were quite uncomfortable. Honestly, I have no idea how Hooper got away with treating a child actor the way this film protrays it. The girl is pretty much stuck underneath the m
otel most of the film, crawling on dirt, rock, and wood. There's also rats around, which I'm sure didn't create a safe environment. I'm sure Richards wasn't abused in the traditional sense, but I'm sure many people may see it that way. Every one of her scenes are tension filled and suspenseful since Brand goes after her with a sharp scythe and all. She doesn't have much characterization, but the fact that it's a little girl who's about to be killed, we have a lot of sympathy for her and want her to survive.
I wish the other actors made me sympathetic to their characters. Carolyn Jones, who's known as the original Morticia Addams, gives a very drugged up and sleepy performance as a whorehouse madame. I really don't know why she was even in the film to begin with because she didn't add much. I'm sure she'd rather hear Gomez speak French to her than be in this film. Marilyn Burns, Sally from THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, is back as a bickering wife and mother to Kyle Richard's Angie. All she does is scream and lay on a bed tied up and gag. Good acting, I guess? William Finley as Roy gives a really weird, manic performance. The guy looked weird and acted weird. And Mel Ferrer was very disappointing as the distraught father of the first victim. He was robotic and seemed like he didn't give a damn about the film he was in. I call this a "cash my check" performance. Disappointing.
There were also some things that bugged me. Like why was Marilyn Burns wearing a wig when she first appears? She takes it off and nothing is ever mentioned about why she was wearing the hairpiece in the first place. Speaking of Burns, why was her character and William Finley's character [they were married] suddenly bickering after the dog was eaten by the crocodile? It just seemed to come out of nowhere and didn't add up to much at the end. I was pretty much scratching my head at that.
Also, how can a crocodile eat so many people in a span of a couple of hours? Or how does a hotel manager kill so many people and not get caught? And what about that crocodile? Apparently the budget went to everything BUT the creature! It was so fake looking that I had to laugh. Gotta love these exploitation films.
THE FINAL HOWL
EATEN ALIVE isn't a Tobe Hooper masterpiece like THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE or POLTERGEIST, but it has its moments. It's kind of creepy, especially when Neville Brand is on screen, and the film is very surreal. But other than that, the film is nothing more than a rental unless you're a really big Tobe Hooper fan. It's not a bad film, but after THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE, EATEN ALIVE is a disappointing one. Still, it's worth watching just to see the early works of one Tobe Hooper.