Wednesday, April 27, 2016

EATEN ALIVE ! 1976

Good time 'ol sweaty bayou horror from Tobe Hooper featuring a mumbling & 
psychotic Neville Brand along with a giant man eating croc and Roberta Collins !!

*After a bit of a break (spent mostly sitting around watching movies !), I'll be back to regular posting here and reading my fellow bloggers posts. Thanks to everyone for sticking around and a thanks & welcome to my new followers !*


"Meet the maniac and his friend...Together they make they make
 the greatest duo in the history of mass slaughter...."


"You Check In Alive...But Check Out Dead !"





     Tobe Hooper's followup to his 1974 masterpiece THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE touches on the same basic theme (a group of folks stumbling into a claustrophobic isolated location with dire results - a theme Hooper would again explore in 1981's THE FUNHOUSE.), along with the presence of SAW's final girl Marilyn Burns (who once again is put through hell here) and takes the very black comedy that lurked beneath CHAINSAW even more to the forefront. With much of the same feel and atmosphere of CHAINSAW (although here amping up the blood & nudity quota) EATEN ALIVE while not the straight up drive horror classic of it's predecessor still has much to recommend it. There's an interesting cast comprised of former Hollywood A -listers looking to make the monthly mortgage payment, a couple of familiar and attractive 70's drive-in faces, some nice 70's horror non-pc content as both a cute pet dog (named Snoopy !) and a precocious little crippled girl are set up as either real or potential victims -  and best of all a totally deranged performance by craggy faced character actor Neville Brand.
    Brand plays Judd a mumbling and most likely psychotic proprietor of the Starlight Hotel, a ramshackle clapboard establishment nestled over a dank bayou swamp, which is home to a large African crocodile to whom he feeds (sometimes mistakenly - other times on purpose) a seemingly non-stop smorgasbord of victims. We're never given any pretext to how long this has been going or to what Judd's purpose is in doing it. By the looks of various bric-brac (both male & female oriented - including a creepy mannequin) scattered about his hovel there's clues that its been going on a while and while it's never specifically addressed there's allusions to Judd's wartime service and impotency (perhaps the two are linked ?) as to his motives.


  

     The film opens with runaway and newbie prostitute Clara (the very wonderful Roberta Collins from THE BIG DOLL HOUSE, DEATH RACE 2000 and THE ROOMMATES) who after refusing to indulge in customer Buck's (a pre Freddy Krueger Robert Englund) requests is thrown out of the "home" by "Madame" Miss Hattie (an almost unrecognizable Carolyn Jones from THE ADDAMS FAMILY under a ton of grey greasepaint). Trudging down the road she checks into Judd's hotel for the night and with the expected result being an encounter with the croc (and the homicidal Judd).
      Soon more potential croc and/or Judd fodder (seems Judd is pretty handy with a sickle) shows up in the form of Harvey Wood (Mel Ferrer) and his daughter Libby (the very beautiful Crystin Sinclaire  aka Lynda/Linda Gold from CAGED HEAT, RUBY and HUSTLER SQUAD) who are the father and sister of runaway (and ex- prostitute and now croc lunch meat Roberta Collins) and are in the process of trying to locate her. Also arriving is a dysfunctional family consisting of creepy father William Finley (SISTERS and PHANTOM OF PARADISE) and mother Marilyn Burns (THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE and HELTER SKELTER - here sporting a black perm wig) and their spunky kid played by Kyle Richards (HALLOWEEN). Stuart Whitman from DEMONOID : MESSENGER OF DEATH and GUYANA :CULT OF THE DAMNED (and who was just beginning to be quite a fixture in 70's low budget exploitation) is the somewhat dim bulb local sheriff.
      The presence of a huge Nile crocodile loose in swamps of the U.S. is explained by Judd having a mangy "zoo" as a tourist attraction on the porch of his hotel (early in the film there's a grim scene as we see a small monkey knell over and die with the small girl discovering the body) with the croc being brought back from Africa by a friend and subsequently let loose. Most everybody will quickly surmise how the thing plays out and the plot seems simply there to set up various victims as they rather randomly show up at the hotel (the basic story is straight out of a 1950's EC horror comic).




     The inside studio shooting locations add a cramped claustrophobic atmosphere (along with swirling fog and the constant buzz of insects) which actually helps immensely and Hooper along with cinematographer Robert Caramico (LEMORA : A CHILD'S TALE OF THE SUPERNATURAL) uses the opportunity to create some dreamlike lighting effects including a hellish red tint that looms over some sequences. Hooper also seems to revel in the grungier aspects of the movie as one the first shots we see is a close-up of Robert Englund's blue jeans crotch followed by Roberta Collin's breasts. As mentioned  the sequence with the small girl being pursued under the hotel all the while being menaced by rats, Judd and the croc is a highlight (along with the fate of her small dog !). Much like the shark in JAWS, the huge rubber mechanical crocodile caused many problems during shooting and ended being mostly seen gliding through the water or quickly glimpsed as it shoots out of the water to grab the wildly flailing victims.
     The film would go out under various titles including DEATH TRAP, HORROR HOTEL and STARLIGHT SLAUGHTER. The production was somewhat troubled as Hooper squabbled with the producers on the tone of the climax with a result being cinematographer Caramico shot some footage that was later added to the film. The entire cast is quite good with Whitman and Ferrer both lending a some old time Hollywood gravitas to the proceedings and Brand (a highly decorated WWII vet) is a hoot here - alternately scary and darkly humorous as he mumbles and paces about, all the while puttering around the dilapidated hotel.




      Roberta Collins was always a welcome addition to 70's drive-in cinema and makes the most of her small (but important) role in the film's opening sequences. She appeared in numerous films including the classics THE BIG DOLL HOUSE, CAGED HEAT, THE ROOMMATES,  DEATH RACE 2000 and the interesting THE WITCH WHO CAME FROM THE SEA (just released by Arrow as part of their American Horror Project box set), roller skated along side Claudia Jennings in UNHOLY ROLLERS, showed up in Gordon Park's THREE THE HARD WAY (playing Jim Brown's gal friday !) and the criminally under seen SPEED TRAP (which really cries out for a DVD release). She sadly passed away in 2008.
      Slender, willowy blond Crystin Sinclaire (who supplies some requisite nudity here) appeared with Roberta in Jonathan Demme's CAGED HEAT along with the Filipino female style DIRTY DOZEN inspired THE HUSTLER SQUAD (aka THE DIRTY HALF DOZEN) and DIRTY O'NEILL. Like many a 70's drive-in/TV actress she faded from view as the 80's dawned.
       EATEN ALIVE is based upon the real life Joe Ball, the so called "Butcher of Elmendrof ", who lived in Texas during the 1930's and had several wives and/or girlfriends disappear while working as waitresses at his roadhouse (which happened to have a live alligator pit out back !!).








ALL ABOVE SCREEN CAPS ARE TAKEN FROM THE ARROW Blu-Ray






   Roberta Collins  Nov. 17 1944 -  Aug. 16 2008
            

5 comments:

  1. Great to see you back! Been checking in a lot. The Blogverse just isnt the same.

    Great article too. I saw this one, sorta, at the theater when I was a child in the early 80s. It was one of the few movies my mom made me leave. Which was odd, cause we saw so many exploitation films. I never did get to see the rest of it.

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    1. Thanks Rob ! Just wanted to take a bit of time off - watched a bunch of movies without having to think what I was going to write about them. Do you remember what sequence made her leave ?

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    2. I dont. But the only scene I can recall was the hooker. So I guess it was shortly after that. So not far into the film.

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  2. I'm fairly certain that pretty much anyone who's watched this all too overlooked & criminally under-seen classic, fondly recalls England's opening line "My name is Buck & I love to fuck". LOL.
    I was 13 or 14 the first time that I saw TCM during it's original theatrical run ( paired as part of a double bill with Bruce Lee's RETURN OF THE DRAGON in my neck of the woods ) & after becoming an instant Tobe Hooper fan, I spent years desperately wanting to see EATEN ALIVE but it never played at any of my area's drive ins or grindhouses, so I have to wait until I came across it in some random "mom & pop" video rental shop toward the mid '80s.
    Of course, it proved to be worth all my anticipation & it remains to this very day, one of my top three fav Hooper films.
    Great stuff & I very much enjoyed seeing this little retrospective here today. Cheers!
    - Jim

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    1. Thanks very much ! I saw TCM at the drive-in on a dbl. bill with TORSO and like you never saw EATEN ALIVE until the video store days. Thanks again !

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