Thursday, October 29, 2009

Review: Eaten Alive

Synopsis: Guests who come to stay at the Louisiana motel of a mentally unstable inn keeper, soon find themselves being served up as the main course to his large pet crocodile.

Review: As a bit of a horror film buff, I'm always looking to check out some of the older b-movie horrors of the past, both to learn more about what makes for a good scare, as well as to get interesting insights into exactly how and why those things have changed over the decades. And I can safely say that "Eaten Alive" provided none of that for me.

This is the third film from Director Tobe Hooper (known mainly for his cult classic "The Texas Chain Saw Massacre"). Once again, the film revolves around a mentally disturbed person, living within the southern part of the United States. This time around, the story is about a deranged inn keeper who, for reasons never explained, keeps killing the guests who come to his motel and feeding them to the large crocodile in the swamp next to it.

Those who are familiar with Hooper's style, will see a lot of similarities between this film and his most famous work, "The Texas Chain Saw Massacre", which was the film he made directly preceding this one. It is filled with the kind of strange and oddball cinematography, with weird neon lighting and close-up focusing shots on weird images throughout. But unlike the previous work, it doesn't really gel here. What once might have been directorial excess, is simply pointless and unintelligible nonsense. It is obvious he's trying to set an eerie and creepy atmosphere, but it is just so poorly crafted and lacking in any sense of commonality, that what is meant to feel bizarre and surreal, feels completely unbelievable instead. The script for this must have been about one page long, as that is how bad the plot and storytelling here is.

The acting is, also, very much below par, even by low budget horror film standards. It is shown that the inn keeper (played by Neville Brand) is out-of-his-mind, but we never come to understand why or what it is the guests do that sets him off. This lack of context makes it almost impossible to be scared by his crazy (re)actions and leaves you more inclined to scratch your head in puzzlement, than to feel any sense of dread or menace. None of the other characters really gets enough development for you to care about them, save that of Buck (played by a then unknown Robert Englund). His performance is the only one to have any real resonance at all and even that isn't very much.

Perhaps Hooper thought he could capture lightning in a bottle for a second time, like he did with "The Texas Chain Saw Massacre" a couple years earlier (even going so far as to bring back Marilyn Burns to play the part of a victim once more). But as this film shows, it isn't something you can force or easily recreate. As a result, "Eaten Alive" never really comes to life or finds it's own voice (a point only belabored, by the fact this film has been renamed many different times). It just stagnates and meanders, providing no real thrills, scares, or even the macabre tone of TCM. If you are a Hooper completist, you might derive some kind of enjoyment or interest from this outing. Otherwise, you are best just to skip on this uninteresting and plotless bomb. The reason this film is highly overlooked, isn't because it was ahead of it's time. It is because efforts this poor are better off being forgotten.

Rating: 1 Star (out of 4)

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