The Film (5/5)
Buck (Robert Englund - A Nightmare On Elm Street) makes a not so kosher request (more like a demand) of fresh faced, naive prostitute Clara (Roberta Collins - The Big Doll House). Clara refuses and is kicked out of the brothel by madam Miss Hattie (Carolyn Jones - The Addams Family). Clara goes to the Starlight Hotel, situated in a swamp, to seek refuge. As soon as unbalanced hotel owner Judd (Neville Brand - That Darn Cat!) realizes Clara is a prostitute, he goes crazy, kills her, and feeds her remains to the crocodile that lives in the swamp beside the hotel. This sets off a chain reaction of mayhem.
Faye (Marilyn Burns - The Texas Chain Saw Massacre) and her husband Roy (William Finley - Sisters, The Phantom Of The Paradise) along with daughter Angie (Kyle Richards - Halloween) stop by to use the restroom and Angie's dog gets eaten (alive!) by the crocodile. They take Angie into the hotel to comfort her and we soon discover that the married couple have other issues to contend with, namely that Roy is mentally disturbed.
Not long after that Harvey Wood (Mel Ferrer) and his daughter Libby show up looking for Clara, who turns out to be Harvey's daughter. They get the sheriff (Stuart Whitman - Welcome To Arrow Beach) involved and soon the whole ball of wax comes tumbling down on Judd. That's as much as I want to say about the plot. Spoiler alert: if you haven't seen Eaten Alive, you should.
The cast is a who's who of 70's (and beyond) exploitation/horror film goodness. Roberta Collins was in several women in prison films. Carolyn Jones was in The Addams Family. Robert Englund of course made a name for himself as an all time horror icon Freddy Kruger less than a decade later. Marilyn Burns had been in Tobe Hooper's previous film the infinitely better known classic The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. Kyle Richards went on to Halloween and reality show notoriety as well as appearing in The Car and The Watcher In The Woods. Mel Ferrer was in a ton of things including everyone's favorite infected (they are zombies dammit!) film Nightmare City from Umberto Lenzi. William Finley was a DePalma regular. I could go on but you get the point.
My friend (and horror film expert) Simon Wright said that Eaten Alive is a sort of American Inferno (Dario Argento) and I can't disagree with him in that the gel lighting, mostly blue and red is superb. It being filmed on a soundstage also lends it an artifice that Argento would surely approve. The first time I saw Eaten Alive I was struck by how odd of a choice it seemed to be coming on the heels of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. Chain Saw plays like a documentary, albeit a nightmarish one. Eaten Alive goes to the opposite end of the spectrum. You can pretty clearly see that it's all shot in a studio, and that isn't a bad thing. Hooper made great use of the atmosphere you can conjure under controlled sets. And really, folks are just wandering into Judd's orbit much the same way they wandered into Leatherface's house. Judd replicates a bit of Leatherface's childlike sensibilities in that one murder begats another and another in a spiraling snowball of death.
Tobe Hooper always seems to get the short end of the stick when compared to his horror contemporaries like Carpenter, Romero, Craven and Cronenberg. I think it's his ability to shift his sensibilities in somewhat of a workmanlike way that is the root cause. With Chain Saw he is doing a documentarian style, here, an artificial, studio bound film. 'Salem's Lot has a tv film feel (perhaps because it was), Poltergeist feels Spielbergian because no matter what Spielberg's level of involvement was, it's supposed to feel Spielbergian. Lifeforce is sci-fi horror on a grand scale while The Texas Chain Saw Massacre 2 brings out more of the comedy that Hooper has always claimed was in the first film (cloaked in absolute terror.) Even his film The Funhouse from 1981 is a slasher of it's time albeit mixed with a classic monster film. My point to all this is to say that Hooper has been constrained critically I think by his willingness to bend and adapt to each project. It's true that he fell off in the late 80's and hasn't really recovered but from my perspective Eaten Alive has always been a bit overlooked and I believe this Arrow bluray/dvd set goes a long way to change that.
Arrow presents Eaten Alive in a new, Tobe Hooper approved restored 2K transfer in 1080p with it's proper aspect ratio of 1:85.1. It looks outstanding. Great grain structure and the gel lighting is out of this world. Top notch as usual from Arrow.
Arrow presents the audio in an uncompressed PCM mono track which sounded excellent as well. Both soundtrack and dialogue came through well. English subtitles are included.
Arrow packs the disc with a new introduction to the film by Tobe Hooper, an audio commentary with producer Marti Rustam, actors Roberta Collins, William Finley, Kyle Richards and make up artist Craig Reardon, a new interview with Hooper, an interview with actor Janus Blythe, an interview with make up artist Craig Reardon, an archive interview with Hooper, an archive interview with Robert Englund, a featurette with Marilyn Burns discussing her role, a featurette titled The Butcher Of Elmendorf: The Legend Of Joe Ball, which Eaten Alive is loosely based on, theatrical trailers, tv and radio spots, alternate opening titles, behind the scenes slideshow, stills and promo gallery, audience comment cards, a reversible sleeve and a booklet featuring new writing on the film by Brad Stevens. Whew! That's a lot Arrow.
Arrow knocks it out of the park again. At this point it would be far more surprising to find that they had dropped the ball in some way. This isn't fanboy love, this is my sincere appreciation at the consistently excellent work they do. Eaten Alive has never looked better and they did a fine job restoring an underrated exploitation film from a director that I find to be underrated. Here you have the killer combination of unexpectedly violent and unexpectedly crazy. It deserves a fresh look from Texas Chain Saw fans as well as the general horror community (they may be the same people?) and Arrow delivers it up in a package that is more than worth owning.