Blu-ray review: Eaten Alive

Starring: Neville Brand, Marilyn Burns, Robert Englund
Director: Tobe Hooper

Tobe Hooper’s second feature – about the owner of a backwoods motel who has the bad habit of murdering his guests before they even get up the stairs, then throwing their bodies to his pet alligator – has often been written off as the first of a long line of missteps in a career that never fulfilled its promise. But you could argue that its darkly comic Grand Guignol simply picks up where the second half of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (especially those scenes at the dinner table with Grandpa) left off. And as with Leatherface, Old Judd’s crimes seem less like acts of evil that a bewildered last line of defence against the onslaught of the outside world.

Another thing Eaten Alive (aka Death Trap) shares with Texas Chainsaw is the way that it unfolds in a dreamlike manner, with the minimum of conventional plot apparatus. The key difference, of course, is that where the earlier movie was shot on location, Eaten Alive was filmed entirely on a sound stage, with lurid, blood-red colour washes and swathes of studio smoke which revel in an alienating artificiality (an artistic decision that seems entirely vindicated when you see how good the results look on this Blu-ray).

Eventually, the fact that Judd (who spends much of the time muttering unintelligibly to himself) is such an impenetrable character takes its toll on the film, and this coincides with a couple of rather dull, earnest scenes involving the local sheriff (Stuart Whitman) which put a brake on the movie’s momentum. But even with these problems (some of which may have been caused by the director being taken off the movie before completion), Eaten Alive is memorable for its unique visuals and its delirious, anything-can-happen vibe, and in many ways it’s a more sheerly enjoyable film than Texas Chain Saw, moving restlessly from one gory, unhinged moment to the next. 7/10

Just a very occasional touch of grain, but on the whole a very crisp transfer, and some of the set-ups using directional lighting and colour washes look outstanding. For example, the early scene in the foyer of Miss Hattie’s whorehouse looks extremely real and present, and all of the sequences which take place in the red-tinged motel forecourt come up with crystalline detail. 9/10

The extras offer a mix of new and archive interviews, and highlights include: 14-min interview with Tobe Hooper – the director makes a few veiled references to interference from the producers, and also mentions that the tank at Raleigh Studios used for the alligator swamp was also used to shoot William Holden’s pool scene in Sunset Boulevard. ~ A really nice 11-min interview with fast-talking Janus Blythe (who plays the girl Buck brings back to the motel), who explains that Hooper was already off the film by the time she came on set and that her scenes were shot by one of the producers, before going on to paint a colourful picture of life as a jobbing actress. ~ 20-min archive interview with Hooper, in which he speaks very articulately about topics such as Neville Brand’s erratic behaviour on set and problems with the alligator (apparently it would soak up water if left in the tank overnight, which perhaps explains it’s rather bloated appearance in the scene where it attacks Buck). ~ A lovely, witty 15-min interview with Robert Englund, who talks about his early years and the way he instantly fell in love with horror when he first walked onto the Eaten Alive set. ~ Audio commentary with producer Mardi Rustam, very welcome as its offers a different perspective on the making of the film. 9/10


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