Eaten Alive

Bill Gibron

A cinematic catastrophe -- a shameful delight.

Eaten Alive

Director: Tobe Hooper
Cast: Neville Brand, Robert Englund, Carolyn Jones, Stuart Whitman, Mel Ferrer
Distributor: Dark Skys Films
MPAA rating: N/A
Studio: Mars Production Corporation
First date: 1977
US Release Date: 2006-09-26
Director website

Eaten Alive is bad. Not so bad that it’s good, however. No, this film is so undeniably inept, so horrendously hobbled, so gosh-darn god awful that it’s friggin’ great! Now, before you think this critic has lost his macabre marbles, let’s look at the evidence. What we have here is the second film by Texas Chainsaw Massacre maker, the already career tumbling Tobe Hooper. It stars stalwart b-movie actors like Neville Brand, Carolyn Jones, Stuart Whitman, and Robert Englund. It features those three requirements of a classic drive-in delight (at least according to expert Joe Bob Briggs): boobs, beasts and blood, and it functions within a frighteningly freaked-out world of dead monkeys, man-eating alligators, and bumpkin bordellos.

Obviously riding the reputation he gained from his horrifying journey into the heart of the American scream, Hooper chose to make a virtual carbon copy of his initial classic. Instead of Texas, we are somewhere in the heart of steamy swamp country, where a young lady tries her hand at prostitution. She fails miserably. Her unsatisfied client, a local dope named Buck (Robert Englund) gets cathouse madam Miss Hattie (Carolyn Jones) to give him a two-for-one discount, and the whore wrangler sends the unsuccessful strumpet to the bog-side Starlight Hotel. There, she meets decidedly deranged innkeeper Judd (Neville Brand), and ends up becoming part of his pet alligator’s nightly feedings.

Not long after, a bickering couple (William Finley and Marilyn Burns) and their highly-strung daughter stop for a pee break. Before you know it, the reptile has snacked on the little girl’s dog, devastating the sheltered brat. Of course, the family decides to take a room. Judd dispenses a little misguided justice on our insane husband, chases the child into the crawlspace, and ties up the mom for further evaluation. Without warning, another car shows up. This one contains a father (Mel Ferrer) and daughter duo looking for their lost kin. Turns out it’s the ersatz streetwalker from the opening. Judd sends them to the sheriff (Stuart Whitman) who sends them back to the hotel. There, they have to avoid Judd’s ever-present scythe as well as his desire to have his customers consumed by his marsh monster.

Granted, none of this makes a lick of sense. Hooper handles the sloppy script by buddy Kim Henkel and grindhouse giants Mardi Rustam (Psychic Killer) and Alvin L. Fast (Satan’s Cheerleaders) like he’s permanently on peyote, avoiding clarifying cinematic concepts like natural light, plot logic, and acting nuance. In their place are surreal, primary color sunsets, nonsensical narrative turns, and the typical Hooper villain histrionics. Neville Brand, more or less channeling a combination of Massacre’s Hitchhiker and Massacre 2’s Cook, has long, meandering conversations with himself, riffing on military protocol, his own loathing of hookers, and various forms of the word "git". Add in a tendency to switch mindsets at will and you might as well have called this film Mood Swing Manor.

Adding to the confusion is the oddball collection of victims that keep streaming to old Judd's bed and alligator breakfast. Marilyn Burns is back, apparently failing to learn her lesson as Leatherface’s lunch of choice in Massacre. Here, she once again gets her scream queen on as she's beaten and bound by Brand. Instead of sitting in a chair and having an onscreen nervous breakdown as before however, this time she’s lying in a bed. Mel Ferrer shows up as a dying dad looking for his delinquent daughter. He's dispatched in one of the movie's more gruesome moments. Indeed, for anyone who thought his previous power tool effort was light on the arterial spray, there is tons of blood and gore in Eaten Alive.

Even more shocking, little Kyle Richards gets to see her dog become a swamp side dish before spending the rest of the film skittering around the hotel's crawlspace, trying to avoid Brand's grim reaping tendencies. Child endangerment is a big taboo in films even today, yet Hooper continuously hints that Richards is about to buy the farm, up and through the flaying finale. With Stuart Whitman as a relatively normal police officer, and a caked in crappy age make-up Carolyn Jones as the local madam Miss Hattie, the cast is capable. Still, Hooper can’t keep them in check. Instead, they often appear completely out of sync with his attempts at terror.

Unlike Massacre, which tried to say something meaningful about the clash of cultures occurring all throughout a protest plagued United States, Eaten Alive has no other agenda than to be a psychedelic slaughter party. It does such a jaw droppingly bad job of it, however, that you’re dislike almost immediately turns to delight. You start to notice little laughable things, like how the movie resembles a Hustler Magazine take on Manos: The Hands of Fate, or the distinctly dopey set design that has brand new banisters accenting moldy, fungus stained stairwells. You find yourself lost in Hooper's head logic, almost understanding the disconnected relation between Brand and his scaly swamp garbage disposal.

When Burns and her bizarre husband (the incredibly weird William Finley) have a fight, you marvel at how insane his responses are. First he clenches his fist, then sulks like a little girl, then grabs a shotgun and starts shooting. In any other film, this would be a deal breaking bit of bedlam, but in Eaten Alive, it's a welcome reminder of the narrative's other nonsensical components. If viewed as a mystifying mess from one of horrors most unfortunate auteurs (his career never matched Massacre’s level of fear artistry) it's an inopportune train wreck of an experience. But for those of us looky-loos who can't resist such cinematic catastrophes, Eaten Alive is one shameful delight.

Truth is, it does takes a certain stunted mindset to appreciate the addled pleasures of this half-assed cinematic slop job, and whatever talent Tobe Hooper once displayed has long since been siphoned away on absolute dreck like The Mangler, Spontaneous Combustion, and last year's Mortuary. Indeed, Eaten Alive is the true transition flick, the moment when a potential horror hero began turning into a fright film flop.


If space is time—and space is literally time in the comics form—the world of the novel is a temporal cage. Manuele Fior pushes at the formal qualities of that cage to tell his story.

Manuele Fior's 5,000 Km Per Second was originally published in 2009 and, after winning the Angouléme and Lucca comics festivals awards in 2010 and 2011, was translated and published in English for the first time in 2016. As suggested by its title, the graphic novel explores the effects of distance across continents and decades. Its love triangle begins when the teenaged Piero and his best friend Nicola ogle Lucia as she moves into an apartment across the street and concludes 20 estranged years later on that same street. The intervening years include multiple heartbreaks and the one second phone delay Lucia in Norway and Piero in Egypt experience as they speak while 5,000 kilometers apart.

Keep reading... Show less

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less

To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.

Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less

Gallagher's work often suffers unfairly beside famous husband's Raymond Carver. The Man from Kinvara should permanently remedy this.

Many years ago—it had to be 1989—my sister and I attended a poetry reading given by Tess Gallagher at California State University, Northridge's Little Playhouse. We were students, new to California and poetry. My sister had a paperback copy of Raymond Carver's Cathedral, which we'd both read with youthful admiration. We knew vaguely that he'd died, but didn't really understand the full force of his fame or talent until we unwittingly went to see his widow read.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.