Sunday, 20 September 2015

eaten alive

in a new introduction filmed for this release, director tobe hooper tells the audience to 'enjoy the colours'. in many ways this is the perfect prologue to the film, because eaten alive is death, murder and gore at it's most colourful and by extension at it's most frenetic and insane.

the plot of eaten alive is tough to describe because it doesn't really have a protagonist, other than the motel owner, judd (neville brand), who links the other characters together and i suppose goes on the biggest journey. he's a murdering psychopath very much in the vein of the leatherface and co. except he works alone, unless you count the giant crocodile he feeds his victims to, and the film takes place on the worst night of his life. people keep turning up at the motel and though you get the impression he doesn't intend to kill all of them, that's pretty much how the story progresses.

my failed attempt at a plot synopsis raises the first real flaw with the film, in that it doesn't really have a sympathetic character. sure, the kids in texas chainsaw massacre weren't exactly saints but it was clear we were supposed to be on their side. here, everyone seems to be working through some kind of exaggerated trauma and as a result they all come across as borderline insane. even marilyn burns' character, who arrives at the hotel with her deranged husband and disabled daughter, appears to be hiding something. in fact, the disabled daughter character may be the only person we truly sympathise with, and all she does is scream a lot and run away, slowly (similar to the wheelchair-bound character in chainsaw). but is this really a flaw? is it so bad that in a horror film hooper doesn't care if we give a fuck about any of the characters? normally, yes, but in this case i'm not so sure.

hooper's films, particularly the early ones, seem more concerned with atmosphere than character and dialogue, and that's never been more evident than in eaten alive. the first fifteen minutes play like a documentary filmed in hell. the colours are spectacular, but only in that they are disorientating and at times rather sickening. hooper creates this claustophobic, stylised and almost cartoonish version of reality that never feels real but it doesn't matter because this is an assault on the senses. hooper doesn't want us to care about anyone because he doesn't care about his audience. unlike the screaming, bleeding bedlam that texas chainsaw devolves into over 90 minutes, eaten alive hits an unsypmathetic, maddening high-note early on and stays there for the whole film. once the bodies start piling up we're never really given a reprieve. and why should we be given a reprieve? this is horror at it's most raw and it's what hooper does best.

if i'm not selling this to you with the above description, there are some other interesting elements to mention. robert englund turns up as an extremely sleazy local and does a great job at making you hate his character. marilyn burns plays a similar role to the screaming victim she played in hooper's earlier film, but at least here she gets a bit more to do at the end. and without wanting to spoil it, it's nice to see a very early slasher film go against a convention that had not yet been established and avoid the final girl trope. there's also potentially something interesting to be written on the way the film treats sex and women although i'm not sure i have the academic vocabulary to do it. there is interesting stuff here, though, and that raises it above the level of most slashers.

i'll be honest, i had a hard time watching this film, it's an intentionally tough watch and certainly doesn't cater to the whims of the audience. that said, it's a fascinating example of a director who wants his audience to suffer for the sake of his art and the fascinating dvd extras reveal that not everyone was a supporter of hooper on this. i think it's a film that opens up a lot of discussions and is perhaps a failed attempt at something truly unique, which makes it all the more fascinating. i only wish they they'd had the budget for an animatronic crocodile...

arrow video release eaten alive on blu-ray and dvd on 21st september 2015


  1. Well done! I couldn't agree more about the movie (or Hooper's) pitfalls yet EATEN ALIVE's staying power.

  2. thanks for reading, yes it's a really interesting film in that sense, kind of a paradox!

  3. It certainly is. But whenever I come across the movie, I just have to look...