Director Tobe Hooper has long been one of my favorite horror directors. In addition to directing possibly THE greatest horror film of all time (of course, I’m referring to THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE), Hooper has helped launch the careers of some of the genre’s biggest stars, including Robert Englund, Marily Burns, and Steve Railsback. EATEN ALIVE is one of his earlier titles, released a couple of years after CHAINSAW, and it packs just as much of a punch. Granted, this film is more of a surrealistic nightmare rather than an in-your-face terrorfest, but Hooper’s signature brand of demented horror is alive and well within it.
If you are not familiar with EATEN ALIVE, here is the plot synopsis courtesy of MVD Distribution:
MEET THE MANIAC & HIS FRIEND.
Nearly a decade before he donned Freddy Kruger’s famous red and green sweater, horror icon Robert Englund delivered a supremely sleazy performance in Eaten Alive – another essay in taut Southern terror from Tobe Hooper, director of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.
Deep in the Louisiana bayou sits the ramshackle Starlight Hotel, destination of choice for those who like to check in but not check out! Presided over by the bumbling, mumbling Judd (and his pet croc which he keeps in a large pond out front), the patron of this particular establishment may seem like a good-natured ol’ Southern gent – but he has a mean temper on him, and a mighty large scythe to boot…
Oozing atmosphere from its every pore (the entire film was shot on a sound-stage at the famous Raleigh Studios, which lends it a queasy, claustrophobic feel) Eaten Alive matches The Texas Chain Saw Massacre for sheer insanity – and even drafts in Chain Saw star Marilyn Burns as the terrorised woman-in-peril, alongside William Finley and Mel Ferrer.
I learned in one of the featurettes that this movie is actually based on a true story. It is very loosely based on a man known as “The Butcher of Elmendorf” a.k.a. Joe Ball, who killed a couple of women he was seeing back in the 30s. This fascinating aspect made the film even more engrossing for me.
EATEN ALIVE looks very much like CHAINSAW in the way it is shot; the cinematography captures well the dark atmosphere that hangs in the air throughout the film. I would label this as Hooper’s signature style, however his later films do not have this foreboding sense of dread.
The acting is superb, with Neville Brand in the lead role as the demented hotel owner, Judd. Brand gives an amazing performance, and I never once had any problem believing he was crazy. The film also boasts a very talented supporting cast that includes Mel Ferrer, Carolyn Jones, Marily Burns, Robert Englund (yes, “Freddy” himself!), and Stuart Whitman.
The story is dark and bizarre. Although Judd does feed several victims to his croc, the main gist of the plot is Judd terrorizing several sets of people, including a couple with a little girl, both in and outside the hotel. If he’s not choking a woman with a shower curtain liner, he’s trying to chop up the little girl as she crawls around underneath the building. I found myself watching all of this unfold in awe, and I kept wondering what in the world he would do next.
EATEN ALIVE is a huge win for me, and I highly recommend it. The fine folks at Arrow Video and MVD have restored this horror classic in HD, and the result is amazing. The picture is near-perfect HD, while the sound is phenomenal. Do yourself a favor, and grab this on Blu-ray today. It has a load of Special Features that include:
* Brand new 2K transfer from the original camera negative
* High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentations
* Optional English SDH subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
* Audio commentary with co-writer and producer Mardi Rustam, make-up artist Craig Reardon and stars Roberta Collins, William Finley and Kyle Richards
* New introduction to the film by director Tobe Hooper
* Brand new interview with Hooper
* My Name is Buck: Star Robert Englund discusses his acting career
* The Butcher of Elmendorf: The Legend of Joe Ball – The story of the South Texas bar owner on whom Eaten Alive is loosely based
* 5ive Minutes with Marilyn Burns – The star of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre talks about working on Eaten Alive
* The Gator Creator: archival interview with Hooper
* Original theatrical trailers for the film under its various titles Eaten Alive, Death Trap, Starlight Slaughter and Horror Hotel
* US TV and Radio Spots
* Alternate credits sequence
* Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Gary Pullin
* Collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film, illustrated with original archive stills and posters
The film is available today, so get your copy now.