[Prime Cuts] 'Eaten Alive' Was Tobe Hooper's Spiritual Sequel to 'Chain Saw' - Bloody Disgusting
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The motor in the Black & Decker had barely cooled when Tobe Hooper, fresh off the success of his debut hit The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, hopped back into the grimy, dust-laden saddle for the equally outrageous follow-up, Eaten Alive (aka Death Trap, aka Brutes and Savages, aka Horror Hotel, aka Starlight Slaughter), a neon-soaked quasi-Southern Gothic tale about a batshit crazy motel proprietor who feeds his unsuspecting guests to a massive crocodile which he keeps in a swamp alongside the inn. Despite being new to the film business, Hooper knew one thing for sure: when your first movie out of the gate is about a family of cannibals and is titled The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, you either go big or go home on your next picture – and he clearly had no intention of going home.

Eaten Alive doesn’t waste any time setting the sleazy, feel-bad tone: detuned synthesizers tinkle like broken glass as we open on Tobe’s trademark Texan moon, cloaked in ominous clouds, which hangs above a lively whorehouse somewhere in town. As the buzzing synths fade (provided once again by Hooper, and TCM score collaborator, Wayne Bell), the camera cranes down so that we can get a peek inside the brothel. A young stud – named Buck, naturally (a baby-faced Robert Englund) – gets rough with a none-too-enthused girl who’s clearly new to the industry. The madam of the house (played by a heavily made-up Carolyn Jones, TV’s own Morticia Addams), realizes the girl won’t be earning the house money anytime soon, so she has Buck drop her off at a nearby motel. Not long after that the girl is attacked by the owner of the motel, Judd (a brilliant and scene-stealing Neville Brand) – a Norman Bates for the ’70s – and fed to his pet croc out back. This all happens within the first 10 minutes of the movie, effectively letting the viewer know just what to expect for the remaining run time.

Hooper doesn’t stray too far from the sandbox with Eaten Alive. Squint hard enough and the whole thing plays out like a spiritual sequel to TCM. Judd, the war-torn backwoods weirdo struggling to make a living, sex-averse and mumbling ominous warnings, clad in a beige work uniform, could be a long lost brother of world-weary Drayton Sawyer. Instead of the imposing Leatherface jumping out from behind a sliding kitchen door, trapping his unsuspecting prey, we get a giant crocodile bursting forth from the water, attacking any tourists and trespassers who get too close to his territory. (And much like the demented family dynamic of the Sawyers, Judd beats the hell out of the croc whenever the mood strikes.)

And then there’s Marilyn Burns, essentially playing her Sally Hardesty role one more time. Here, she’s named “Faye”, but she’s still tied up and beaten by our main antagonist just the same. She screams for a good chunk of the film, and tries to escape, but not before being thrown around a bit. (There’s even a scene where our lead maniac, big sharp weapon in hand, chases a screaming girl through the Texas woods at night, only for her to be rescued by a passing motorist – resulting in him doing a frustrated dance with his instrument of death.)

The noticeable difference in Hooper’s follow-up is the toneTCM was great at teasing imagery, making your imagination do the work. (TCM was originally slapped with an X rating, despite there being very little blood in the final product.) But what Hooper teased in his debut he makes sure to put on full display in Eaten Alive, and then some. The unsettling sexuality and T&A that was missing from TCM flows at a steady pace here. The violence, previously achieved with cutaways and sound effects, is bright and brutal and gruesome at Judd’s motel; his weapon of choice is a scythe, which he uses to stab, hook, and slice away with gape-mouthed glee. It’s almost as if Hooper wants to earn the X rating his prior film had unjustly been given.

Even with it being mostly off-putting and strange, Eaten Alive is an admirable second effort from the then-tenderfooted Hooper. The bizarre performances (the great William Finley making the most of his brief screen time) and unique lighting choices (half of the film is bathed in stark red light, making it look as if it was shot in a darkroom) are the weirdly creative results from being a newcomer behind the camera who has more heart than budget – and part of what makes the final product so enjoyable. You don’t see that too often anymore, with even first-time independent horror film directors turning in pristine works of art.

Full of filth and blood, and creepy hillbillies ogling nubile and unsuspecting young women, obtuse death tools, and bizarre performances: Eaten Alive is pure Tobe.


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