Wednesday, April 27, 2016


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 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 and 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 are clues that it's been going on a while and while it's never specifically addressed there are 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 DEATHTRAP, 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 the 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 alongside Claudia Jennings in UNHOLY ROLLERS, showed up in Gordon Park's THREE THE HARD WAY (playing Jim Brown's gal Friday !) and the criminally underseen 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 !!).


   Roberta Collins  Nov. 17 1944 -  Aug. 16 2008