Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Eaten Alive

Tobe Hooper?  Check.  Crazy-ass redneck in Louisiana?  Check.  A man-eating crocodile/  Check.  Country music playing from a crappy radio?  Check.  Bare breasts?  Check.  It must be Eaten Alive.  It's had about 800 different names.  Regardless, it's an underrated film that apparently has a fan in Quentin Tarantino (compare the dialogue in Kill Bill Vol. 1 that Tarantino has his would-be rapist say with Robert Englund's character's dialogue in Hooper's film).

This is, of course, not my favorite Hooper film.  That would be The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.  Both films do have similar themes, though Eaten Alive is nowhere near as nihilistic as the classic.  (Marilyn Burns stars in both films, too, and both were loosely inspired by real people.)  Texas ..., it should be noted, has won a place not only in horror film history, but has also earned its place in cinema history.  Eaten Alive, however, never got the same amount of respect.  That doesn't mean it should be dismissed.

Texas ..., as anyone who has seen it knows, is a brutal, nihilistic (there's that word again) ride where the tension builds until the film's terrifying conclusion -- the cinematic equivalent of being beaten.  It is infamous for its depravity and gore, though those who have seen it know there is very little gore to be found. 

Eaten Alive tries to capture lightning in a bottle a second time, but it doesn't quite work.  There is more humor. The screen's villain isn't anywhere near as menacing as the family in Texas, and the depravity doesn't come close to what Hooper's audience was used to based on his previous film.

There is a creep factor to the film, though, that can't be denied, and when a little girl is terrorized you can see some of that Hooper sensibility come out.  It's not quite as bad as the cannibalistic dinner scene from Texas ..., which came out in 1974 (three years prior to Eaten Alive), but it is still a nail biter. 

When you think about it, Eaten Alive could only disappoint fans of Hooper's first film.  There was no way it could really be on par with it.  What film could?  Whatever he could've created could only be met with a shrug.  Considering that, it's actually quite surprising that Eaten Alive isn't a total failure.

I used to question whether or not anyone would even care about or remember this film if Hooper's name weren't attached.  Watching with an objective eye, however, reveals a work that serves as a nice transition piece between the director's first film and some of the stuff that followed (The Funhouse and Poltergeist are two that come to mind that are far from the savagery of Texas ... but still share some common bonds with Eaten Alive like children in danger and villains from the outskirts of mainstream culture).  It will never be as influential as Texas ..., but it is respectable in its own right.

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