I’ve seen a handful of Tobe Hooper films; Poltergeist, Salem’s Lot, Lifeforce, none of which have come close to equaling the surreal discomfort of the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre. What makes TCM so great is the fact that it feels so fresh, raw, it has a young director brimming with morbid inspiration. By that logic you would assume Hooper’s sophomore effort would be his closest to matching that energy and inspiration. Sorry logic. Eaten Alive is probably the worst Tobe Hooper movie I’ve seen. What happened? Let’s try and find out.
Like TCM, Eaten Alive is centered around murderous backwoods folk living in the deep south. In place of Leatherface and the Sawyer family we have Judd, a fairly stereotypical inbred redneck played by cowboy actor Neville Brand. Judd is the proprietor of a hotel where he lures in lost travelers, attacks them with a scythe and feeds them to his pet crocodile. Not a terrible setup, it has the potential to be intriguing but there’s never any real creativity to the kills. Whereas the Sawyer family tortured travelers for amusement and killed them for barbecue, Judd just kills because it’s what the script tells him to do. I don’t blame Neville Brand, who is occasionally amusing, I blame the script.
The film has some hints of inspiration but it’s often overshadowed by buckets of senseless blood. I was intrigued by the fact that there was a nearby brothel that Judd seemed to disapprove of but of course that despise is never explored. Aside from Judd there are a handful of other guests in a constant state of danger. TCM’s Marilyn Burns returns as a woman constantly quarreling with her demented husband (William Finley). There’s also a man (Mel Ferrer) and his daughter (Crystin Sinclaire) in search of his other daughter who is killed at the beginning of the film. Some of these people die and some live with very few twists and turns.
I often praise TCM for its lack of actual gore and emphasis on psychological horror. Eaten Alive is all gore. There are a few nice camera shots, musical stings, and character quirks but it all feels like a poor imitation of TCM. Luckily, Tobe Hooper moved onto better films than this one and carved out a respectable career in the genre.
Recognize that guy? It’s Robert Englund playing, “Generic-Redneck-Who-Doesn’t-Like-to-Be-Eaten-By-Crocodiles”.