I’ve always said that If you want nihilism and unabashed filmic carnage, you need to look no further than “Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” but Tobe Hooper’s “Eaten Alive” as a follow up almost reaches the heights of pure carnage that his first outing did, but “Eaten Alive” is a film that will properly divide audiences. “Eaten Alive” has a definite potential to it that’s never quite realized what with an irritating uneven pace, and a nonsensical story not to mention that unnerving feeling that this may as well be touted as a sequel to the former. The main downfall is that itching feeling you get that Hooper originally intended this as a follow up and that’s what keeps “Eaten Alive” from ever getting off the ground.
A hybrid of “Psycho” teamed with the psychobilly trash aesthetic Hooper approaches “Eaten Alive” with the tale of Judd, a hotel owner that’s hidden away in the depths of the swamps. Judd, played with an unnerving erratic tick by Neville Brand, is a murderer that’s tucked away in his room surrounded by trinkets and sports a crocodile in his backyard that lives in the water eating anything that comes in its path. This sense of volatile tension is matched by Hooper’s injection of a nightmarish setting all draped in a thick red shade that constantly shines down on the hotel and the bayou only inches away from the back of the residence. There’s a great injection of lunacy in the film as well, as Hooper once again gives us a fish out of water tale with Judd looming over his new guests and mumbling to himself angrily.
Judd, perched in the Starlight Hotel, simply can’t handle the burden of customers even though he opens his arms to them. The rooms are so hollow he can hear them talking to one another and arguing, and inevitably feels he has to extinguish them once the burden becomes too great, especially when one of them begins hunting the croc. One of the problems with “Eaten Alive” is that it seems much too similar to “Massacre” with a lunatic in his own residence, inviting guests and murdering them with his own specialized weapon, even chasing a little girl through his yard and under his house with his scythe. There are also moments of pure carnage as screams emerge every minute, while Hooper revels in the women in peril aspect of his previous horror film. All the while, the writers consistently meander from sub-plot to sub-plot playing them with a sense of importance and then abruptly ending what we assume will play a big role in the finale.
There’s the father and daughter team looking for a woman murdered by Judd in the opening (another allusion to “Psycho”), and the husband and wife who seem to exist only to up the body count. Most of the time “Eaten Alive” is just incredibly silly, with some awfully repetitive dialogue from Judd, no real reason for Judd’s penchant for murder, and a plot that’s just based around the simple and crude hack and slash method. When all is said and done though, Neville Brand gives a strong performance and his rambling madman of a character makes up for the film’s basic shortcomings. Robert Englund is also a stand out as the amoral sex fiend Buck. “Eaten Alive” is a bizarre and largely flawed little beast, but I was pleased with the injected anarchy and direction from Hooper. However, it’s clear from this that Hooper really wasn’t destined for big things after “Massacre.”