Eaten Alive (1976)

Tobe Hooper had a drive-in hit with The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, which became one of the most revered, and reviled, horror films of all time.  The movie was a visceral, though rather bloodless, descent into murder and madness, and remains effective to this day.  Watching it is something one has to plan for as it can be an exhausting experience.  

It was a while before a follow-up happened and, when it did, Hooper and Kim Henkel, who had co-written Chain Saw, set up in a Hollywood soundstage to make a backwoods exploitation film based on a man named Joe Ball who murdered a number of people at his motel in the 1930s and was said to have fed them to his alligators out back.  This time they didn't hold back on the blood, but at the same time Hooper seemed to have forgotten what made Chain Saw so popular.

Judd (Neville Brand) owns the Starlight Motel next to a swamp in East Texas.  He also has set up a sketchy zoo, the star of which is a Nile Crocodile that he keeps out back.  The crocodile serves double duty, both as an attraction and as a way to get rid of a number of Judd's guests.  

Those include a former prostitute (Marilyn Burns) from a nearby establishment run by Miss Hattie (Carolyn Jones).  Shortly after it seems like a busy day for Judd, as a dysfunctional family consisting of  Roy (William Finley), wife Clara (Roberta Collins) and daughter Angie (Kyle Richards) show up, only to have their dog eaten by the croc.  Roy goes into shock and tries to kill the animal, only to be overtaken by Judd, who then tries to kill the rest of the family to avoid witnesses.  Next, Harvey Wood (Mel Ferrer) shows up looking for the prostitute Judd killed with her sister Libby (Crystin Sinclaire) in tow.  On top of that he has to deal with local reprobate Buck (Robert Englund) who likes to use his hotel for his time with the ladies.  

When I first saw Eaten Alive I realized why no one talked about it.  For all intents and purposes Hooper's career went from Chain Saw to Salem's Lot, but I was curious since this sat in between the two.  The thing that threw me off was that it was obvious that it was made on a soundstage, with no location shooting, so it had an artificial, stagey look about it that just didn't work the same way as the movie before it.  This was also a more traditional horror film that didn't surprise too much.

I still do not like it as much as some of his better films, but Neville Brand's performance as Judd stands out as one of the better horror villain roles.  There is little background on him and, to add to the feeling that this is a play, everything that happens when we meet him is within a 24-hour period.  The other big name, Carolyn Jones, is pretty much caked in bad makeup and wasted in what amounts to a cameo role as Miss Hattie.

Carolyn Burns also isn't in it long and Roberta Collins spends most of her time tied to a bed.  The latter are some of the more harrowing scenes as Judd plays twisted nursemaid to Clara.  We get a bit of a hint of a romantic subplot between Libby and Sheriff Martin (Stuart Whitman), and a satisfying ending as Libby attempts to save Angie from both the crocodile and Judd.  Robert Englund, in one of his first roles, plays a sleazy playboy whose opening line Quentin Tarantino co-opted for Kill Bill: Vol. 1

Upon a second watch I did find Eaten Alive to be a lot more entertaining, fake Crocodile and all, but mainly for Neville Brand.  His performance is unique enough to keep what is cheap but competent horror film from just falling into tedium.  

Eaten Alive (1976)
Time: 91 minutes
Starring: Neville Brand, Mel Ferrer, Robert Englund, Crystin Sinclaire, Roberta Collins, Kyle Richards, Stuart Whitman
Director: Tobe Hooper



  1. It was probably growing pains for Hooper to go from something fairly amateur like Texas Chainsaw to a more Hollywood movie. But it probably helped him prepare for Salem's Lot.


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