EATEN ALIVE (2 DISC SE)
Reviewed by: Dave Murray
What's it about
Old Judd's got himself a rundown hotel, a mean huge old croc, and some guests for the night. I guess it doesn't help that Judd makes the shit house rat look like the picture of mental health! One by one, the hapless travelers, a local runaway prostitute, a yappy little dog and a guy named Buck who likes to f*ck, they all fall under Judd's scythe or become food for the crocodile. From legendary director Tobe Hooper comes this trippy tale of murder and madness.
Is it good movie?
Wait a second, there was a movie here? There wasn't much to this flick, which looks worse than Hooper's Chainsaw and is about one tenth as fun. What the movie consists of, mostly, is Judd (Neville Brand) acting all crazy and talking to himself, Marilyn Burns tied to a bed for about an hour, a little girl hiding under the hotel, and a young Robert Englund before Freddy had even been dreamed of (pun intended). Brand is quite good (what can I say, he does crazy well), as is Englund (despite his short screen time), but the rest of the cast are clearly slumming, because there's not an interesting performance from any of them (including the crocodile). This isn't the most well known of the killer croc movies, but from what I can tell it is well known for being a horrible movie. Not horrible in a good way, mind you, as in horrific, gory or terrifying, but rather in the sense that it's not very good and way below par for what Hooper showed us he's capable of, both before and after.
Lack of story structure aside, Hooper's directing seems to be all over the place, and the movie is edited together with about as much skill as a three year old with a glue stick would have done. There are jumpy cuts and missing pieces, despite this "restored" edition. The special features in this 2 Disc set are actually more interesting than the movie itself, and that's pretty sad. I can see the elements of this that would make it a cult classic, but for me, there was nothing classic nor entertaining about it. Maybe I was expecting more because of Hooper's other work, but it is true that all good or great directors have creative flops on their resumes. This just seems like it could have been one hell of a good movie, but a few balls were dropped (or cut off, or kicked soundly in the Hollywood business sense) and the finished movie couldn't decide what it wanted to be. It was a confused and plodding movie, as evidenced by the many titles that were considered and the jumble that became the marketing campaign. The producers scrambled to get a marketable hit out of this lame duck, but it looks like they failed miserably because it really is a terrible movie.
But it's not all sour milk here. It was great to see that damn dog get eaten by the crocodile, and some of the kills were bloody and nicely done. I just wish the movie had had more of those crazy, gory moments. There was too much in between, filled with Brand acting to the camera and Burns writhing half naked on a bed (not that I'm complaining about that). Structurally, narratively and historically this is an oddity of a film. But bringing these forgotten screen schlock flicks back to life on DVD (even the ones that are better left buried and forgotten) is what Dark Sky Films does best. However, even out of their impressive release history of B grade camp and quality horror fare, this one has to rank as one of the worst. I think it also falls prey to the director's sophomore curse. There were huge expectations for Hooper to deliver after the horrific force of nature that Texas Chainsaw Massacre was. It's too bad really that he failed to deliver a decent follow up with this one. Like I said, it's better left forgotten.
With that said, this really is a nice DVD edition, and will sit on the shelf of a few collectors with the other weird Dark Sky releases. The features are worth it, but I'm sad to say the movie is less than what you would expect considering the talent involved. But as an oddity of film history (and for the early performance by Englund), it could be considered a must-have by some folks out there.
Video / Audio
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen - 1.85:1. The flick looked cheap and grainy, but for some I guess that is part of its charm.
Audio: English (Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono) and English Subtitles. A bad mono audio transfer detracts from the movie even further.
Dark Sky Films once again releases a pretty full Special Edition, even if the movie is nothing special to begin with. On the first disc there is an Audio Commentary by producer Mardi Rustam, B-string stars Roberta Collins, William Finley and the little girl grown up Kyle Richards, along with effects guy Craig Reardon. It's a pretty standard commentary, offering some insights, but it would have been nicer to have one with the main stars of the film, or even Hooper himself. I'd love to know more about how he felt towards this movie that suffered heavily from confused marketing and producer intervention. We also get a Still Gallery that shows us some of the alternate titles this flick went by, and the many different posters.
Disc 2 is where the meat is, and here's the breakdown:
The Gator Creator (19:37): This is a short look at the films and career of Tobe Hooper, courtesy of Dark Sky. I enjoyed it, because personally I did not know much about the man other than what I had seen of his work.
My Name Is Buck (15:03): A look at Robert Englund's memorable character (and the inspiration for Tarantino's coma patient pimp in Kill Bill, Vol. I), with recent interviews with Englund, which are always a blast. The dude's a horror icon, and he's got charm and wit coming out of his arse.
5ive Minutes With Marilyn (5:18): A short interview with Marilyn Burns today, who remains just as infamous as some of her movies. She reflects on her role and her life. A little too short, but not bad.
The Butcher of Elmendorf (23:02): This is an oddity. It's an A&E/History Channel type short documentary about small time killer Joe Ball, whose exploits were the inspiration for Judd. Interesting and a creepy look into the whole kidnap/croc/scythe angle.
As well there are seven Trailers, including both red and green band trailers bearing the different titles of the movie (Eaten Alive, Death Trap, Starlight Slaughter and Horror Hotel), as well as two TV spots for Starlight Slaughter, and two radio spots for Eaten Alive. There is a Slideshow (8:07), showing production stills and behind the scenes stuff, two bits of Alternate Credits (2:32), again with the different names the movie went by, and a series of Comment Cards from a test screening of the movie. These are hilarious, as they almost all agree that the movie is terrible. They even offer up alternate titles for the movie (some of which were actually used!). I wish we could see these cards for more movies!
Eaten Alive is a movie with a killer premise, but no real story and poor execution. While Neville Brand is convincingly creepy as the psycho Judd, the other players are pretty weak, and the crocodile is very poorly done as well. The gore is nothing to rave about, and the pacing is limp. Robert Englund is great in one of his earlier roles, but the whole affair kind of feels like a grindhouse style picture that failed to come together. Almost like there are pieces missing from the movie that would have made it better. As such, I'd say that unless you are a collector of movies like this, don't bother. Tobe Hooper has much better stuff out there. However, for the completists, this special edition is worth getting, for the features alone. Interesting watching there, it's just too bad the movie isn't as entertaining.