31 Screams in October, Vol. 4, #16: Eaten Alive (1977)

Posted: October 16, 2018 in Movie Review

16. Eaten Alive (1977)

Director: Tobe Hooper

Starring: Neville Brand, Mel Ferrer, Carolyn Jones, Marilyn Burns, William Finley, Stuart Whitman

Tobe Hooper created his share of horror classics. “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” has stood the test of time in the more than four decades since its release. “Poltergeist,” while arguably more of a Steven Spielberg creation, likewise is just as powerful now as it was in 1982. One could cite other, less popular Hooper films as being no less entertaining. 1977’s “Eaten Alive” desperately wants to be included in the conversation. Under the right circumstances, it could have been. But where Hooper’s more well-known projects succeeded, “Eaten Alive” falls short in one critical area: giving the audience anyone worth caring about.

A prostitute is kicked out of her brothel after a rough customer freaks her out. With nowhere else to go, she finds her way to a motel that looks pretty run down and deserted. It is here that we’ve found our main setting for the film. The Starlight Motel sits on a swamp in the middle-of-nowhere Texas, and is run by a creepy character named Judd (Neville Brand). Recognizing that this girl has come from the brothel, Judd shows just how unhinged he is first by assaulting the poor girl, murdering her when she resists, and then feeding her dead body to his pet crocodile.

Competing with Judd for the title of craziest character in the movie are Faye (Marilyn Burns) and husband Roy (William Finley). I don’t know which mental asylum Roy must have escaped from, and Faye’s problem seems to be that she needs less meds rather than more (judging from the pharmacy inside her purse). Faye also starts the film wearing a short dark wig for no apparent reason whatsoever, as she removes it almost as soon as she settles into the motel room. Somehow, their daughter Angie (Kyle Richards) ends up the sanest member of the family despite the trauma of witnessing her dog being eaten by the crocodile!

After Judd murders Roy and straps Faye to a bed (where she’ll remain until the film’s climax), the motel is next visited by Harvey (Mel Ferrer) and Libby Wood (Crystin Sinclaire), the father and sister of the dead prostitute. All they know is she ran away from home and has been missing for some time. The owner of the brothel has feigned ignorance, and Judd isn’t much help either. Libby’s our “final girl.” Harvey’s just there to be extra persistent in his search and stumble upon the bound and gagged Faye. You can guess what becomes of poor Harvey.

The above characters are all too short-lived, too bland, or too insane to be worth getting behind. The only one who is interesting enough, Buck, is also the only one who actually deserves to be fed to the crocodile. He’s the forceful customer from the brothel, later showing up at the motel with a different sexual partner, much Judd’s chagrin. Suffice to say, the two do not like each other. Buck is played by Robert Englund, relatively unknown at the time and almost a decade away from his career-making role as Freddy Krueger in the “Nightmare on Elm Street” franchise. Despite being a relatively minor role, Buck ends up being the scene-stealer of “Eaten Alive.” Side note: Quentin Tarantino repurposed Englund’s “My name is Buck…” line for “Kill Bill Vol. 1.”

“Eaten Alive” should be a much better movie than it is. Neville Brand, Robert Englund and Marilyn Burns all do the best they can. Burns’ screams in this movie are as blood-curdling as they were in “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.” But the movie does not have the same balance of dark humor and horror present in Hooper’s earlier work and Judd is no Leatherface. Certainly, there is more to horror than just eye-catching gore and iconic characters, but “Eaten Alive” does not possess the proper ingredients to make the movie stand out.

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Comments
  1. Sylvia Williams says:

    Sounds like we should skip this one!

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