It would be a lie to say that we've never seen a film quite as bad as Eaten Alive, but after watching Tobe Hooper's "follow up" film to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, it sure feels like the worst thing we've ever seen. Quite frankly, we feel as though we were eaten alive... by boredom.
As in Chainsaw, the main action here involves hapless passers-by and their summary slaughter by a raving lunatic. Unfortunately, the power-tool wielding family of cannibals from the earlier, superior film has been reduced to a lone innkeeper with a ridiculously out-of-place crocodile and a large gardening implement.
But let's not get ahead of ourselves.
We knew we were in trouble when the film's opening shot of a full moon dissolved into the sun-shaped belt buckle of a hillbilly. This isn't just any hillbilly though, this is Robert Englund in the pre-Nightmare on Elm Street role of Buck, the baby-faced hick who's having trouble with his hooker. You see, he paid for an hour, but she's not as accommodating as he'd like when he wants to screw her in an uncomfortable place. (Like the back seat of a Volkswagen? Ba-dum-dum!)
And you thought Robert
Englund was scary as Freddy.
This hooker is just starting out, we learn, and her reluctance with Buck has ended that career in a hurry. Thrown out of the brothel (talk about bein' on the skids!), she heads for the only place in town she can stay the night -- the Starlight Hotel. There she meets the film's resident crazy guy, Judd.
For the record, Judd (Neville Brand) can't hold a candle as a scary person to the world's most famous wacko concierge, Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates in Psycho. Bates was frightening because he looked like such a nice guy, even if he was a little weird -- when he turned on you, it was a real shock. There's no doubt that Judd is a lunatic, though. From his first appearance, his face in shadow, "dangerous loony" is practically stamped on his forehead. Even so, his pointless muttering and staring-into-space scenes make him the least interesting loony on film.
The hooker doesn't even get her bags in the door before Judd attacks her with a pitchfork and feeds her to the crocodile housed in a penned-in pool beside the hotel. Wow, what a feature for a hotel! Maybe it got him extra stars in the AAA guide; that's the only explanation we can find for the fact that Judd, backwoods landlord of a hotel in the deepest swamp, will have seven more hotel guests before the night is out.
"Hank? Do you ever feel evil?"
Like a twisted production of Our Town, almost all of the remaining action in Eaten Alive takes place on the hotel set. After the hooker is dispatched, it seems an inevitable plot development that her family would come looking for her. They do. Then there's the young couple who show up with their three year-old daughter (Kyle "Halloween" Richards). The daughter has a dog named Snoopy who runs into the croc's enclosure and is eaten while the little girl looks on. Inexplicably, they decide to comfort their daughter by taking her into the creepy hotel, and a little later the father turns out to be barking mad -- literally.
At least Texas Chainsaw Massacre seemed somewhat plausible. Hooper probably fooled some people with the narration at the beginning that claimed the whole thing was a true story. Eaten Alive is so ridiculous that it's tough not to be incredulous. At one point in the film, Judd has the little girl trapped in the crawlspace under the hotel, the girl's mother tied to the bed in one room, and Buck and his girlfriend engaging in some unwelcome sexual intercourse in another. And at that same point Judd has already fed three people to the croc, all in one night. Wow, we want to find out where Judd takes his time management classes.
Despite all that activity, Eaten Alive drags worse than Judd's wooden leg. The only even halfway exciting scene is the climatic one where all hell breaks loose. It's the kind of scene that Tobe Hooper does well: women are screaming and people are running around and the music reaches a fever pitch. Too bad that throughout the film, the crocodile is played by an unconvincing fake head that ruins the few scenes that might otherwise have been frightening. At least the animal rights people were pleased.
"I said I wanted to buy my sofa on the
installment plan, but this is ridiculous."