January 2, 2013

Netflix'ns: Eaten Alive

In 1974 a landmark film in horror history was released, that movie was The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, directed by Tobe Hooper and written by Kim Henkel. It is a movie that has stood the test of time and stands up as one of the scariest films ever made. It is one of those movies where everything works. The problem is how do you follow something like that up? Since filmmaking is a business and you are constantly being judged on your past work, it can be hard to love up to it. In any case, Hooper and Henkel reteamed for the 1977 film Eaten Alive, one of the legendary Video Nasties.

Now, Eaten Alive does not come close to the heights achieved with Texas Chainsaw. Granted, I am not sure anything would have been an acceptable follow up to that film. Still, that is not to discount what was achieved with his second gritty release. Eaten Alive is no slouch and helped continue what was the best era of Hooper's career.

Set in the Louisiana swamps, Eaten Alive stars off with a swerve. You are introduced to a young runaway working at a small brothel. An experience with local whacko Buck (an early Robert Englund role) teaches her that she wants out. She quits the job and goes to a nearby ramshackle hotel run by Judd (Neville Brand). It turns out that Judd is a little nuts and quite particular about his guests. Learning where she came from sets him off, he kills her with a spiked garden tool and tosses her body into the neighboring swamp. In this swamp is Judd's pet, a huge crocodile that is always hungry for whatever Judd tosses his way.

That sets it up right there. There are no secrets or mysteries to be uncovered, no masked killer to unveil, just a psycho with a pet croc. We, the audience are privy to his depravity, but his guests aren't. We watch as potential victims line up to check in... but never check out.

The movie takes place over the course of a single night and the non-killer cast is comprised of a young family looking to stay a night and the father and sister of the girl killed at the outset. There is no much story, it comes down to people trying to stay alive while Judd gets crazier.

This movie is pretty crazy. The further in you get, the more nuts it gets. Hooper goes for the throat with this tale of madness and crocodiles. He does nothing to disguise what is happening, there is no attempt to rationalize, we are given a front row seat to madness and murder. The camera doesn't look away, it wallows in the grit, forcing you to confront your own ability to look into the face of the insane.

It doesn't hurt that Neville Brand seems to be legitimately out of his gourd. Always incoherently mumbling to himself, keeping you off guard as to his motives, killing one woman while trapping another upstairs. Frankly, Judd is a pretty scary movie villain and a look into untreated mental illness.

What else is there to say? Eaten Alive does not seems to get the respect it deserves, based on the fact I don't often hear people talk about it the way I hear of other films. It is raw, visceral, at times comical, and it holds up as a good example of the indie horror aesthetic of the 70's. If you haven't seen this, you should.


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