Director Tobe Hooper’s follow up to THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, EATEN ALIVE was one of the innumerable JAWS knock-offs that flooded Hollywood in the late 1970s, the shark stand-in here being a massive crocodile to which a loony old man feeds his enemies. Certain critics claim this film is as good as TCM. Don’t believe them!
This 1976 film (which is also known as DEATH TRAP, HORROR HOTEL, HORROR HOTEL MASSACRE, LEGEND OF THE BAYOU, MURDER ON THE BAYOU, STARLIGHT SLAUGHTER and THE DEVIL’S SWAMP) commenced the steady degeneration of Tobe Hooper’s post TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE filmography, with each succeeding film being worse than the last.
In its favor, EATEN ALIVE boasts a grindhouse maven’s dream cast, including TCM’S own Marilyn Burns, THE PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE‘S William Finley, THE BIG DOLL HOUSE’S Roberta Collins and a young Robert Englund, in addition to Hollywood veterans like Neville Brand, Carolyn Jones, Mel Ferrer and Stuart Whitman.
It also contains the immortal line “My name’s Buck and I’m rearin’ to fuck!,” which was famously appropriated by Quentin Tarantino.
One night Clara, a prostitute fleeing amoral brothel owners, turns up at the Starlight Hotel, a forbidding backwoods shithole. It’s bordered by a lake that, as the hotel’s creepy proprietor Judd gleefully informs Clara, contains a ravenous crocodile. Clara becomes that crocodile’s latest meal after Judd learns she’s a whore and pitches her into the lake.
Shortly thereafter the suburban couple Roy and Faye turn up at the hotel with their young daughter Angie and dog Snoopy in tow. Snoopy promptly jumps into the lake and gets eaten by the croc; the dog’s owners, who happen to be completely nuts, elect to stay the night. They’re followed by Clara’s father Harvey, who’s searching for his daughter together with the fetching Libby, Clara’s sister.
Harvey and Libby leave, after which Roy goes mad(der) and attempts to kill the crocodile—with predictable results. With Roy now out of the picture Judd ties up Faye in a hotel room bed and entraps Angie under the hotel.
Harvey returns to the hotel, and is followed in short order by the perpetually horny ruffian Buck, the latter’s underage conquest Lynette, Libby and a local cop, thus providing the croc with plenty of good eating.
The comparisons I’ll be making between this film and its predecessor may seem out of place, but EATEN ALIVE was evidently quite consciously patterned after THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (and also PSYCHO, whose similarities with EATEN ALIVE should be immediately evident). The stage-bound scenery (set in Texas but filmed on a Hollywood soundstage) and overdone atmosphere—marked by prominent shadows, distracting multi-hued lighting, mist-ridden exteriors, etc.–stand in stark contrast to the grimy realism of TCM. Also missing are the earlier film’s keenly wrought suspense and slow-building atmosphere of encroaching insanity; EATEN ALIVE, by contrast, is crazed from the get-go.
In keeping with the unsubtle nature of the enterprise the performers were evidently encouraged to overact shamelessly, with the scenery chewing honors going to William Finley as the apparently lobotomized Roy and Neville Brand as Judd the loony hotel proprietor.
Hooper also includes a fair amount of gratuitous nudity and gore, and doesn’t seem too concerned with the quality of the special effects; the crocodile that figures so prominently is an especially makeshift creation, being (in Robert Englund’s words) a “mock-up of a mold of” an actual crocodile.
Yet taken purely as an exercise in excess EATEN ALIVE works reasonably well, and, going by the each-film-worse-than-the-last rule, can be categorized as Tobe Hooper’s second-best film…but that’s really not saying much!
EATEN ALIVE (DEATH TRAP et al)
Mars Production Corp.
Director: Tobe Hooper
Producer: Mardi Rustam
Screenplay: Alvin L. Fast, Kim Henkel, Mardi Rustam
Cinematography: Robert Caramico
Editing: Michael Brown
Cast: Neville Brand, Mell Ferrer, Carolyn Jones, Marilyn Burns, William Findley, Stuart Whitman, Roberta Collins, Kyle Richards, Robert Englund