Eaten Alive is also known as Horror Hotel, Death Trap, Horror Hotel Massacre, Starlight Massacre, Murder on the Bayou & Legend of the Bayou. It is the "ideal" example of 1970s exploitation gore films.
That is not to say it is a particularly good or intelligent film; it's anything but. Yet it conveys perfectly a type of experience many horror fans sought & found in the Drive-in theaters of the mid-70s.
Since exploitation is the name of the game, it has as much sex as could be legally gotten away with at the time. Imagine the year 1976 or '77, you're driving down Highway Wherever through the early night, & suddenly there springs up on the horizon an outdoor movie screen upon which there are close-ups of the biggest damned boobies ever seen. "What's that mommy?" asks one of the little kids.
Part of Eaten Alive takes place at a white trash whorehouse where Caroline Jones (Morticia of the Addam's Family) turns in an odd but unsatisfying & incomplete performance as the aging whorehouse madame with a face that looks burned for no stated reason.
She lords over the girls & keeps the hillbillies pretty munch in line. One girl (Roberta Collins) has only been in the whorehouse for one day, & can't adjust to it.
After refusing to do it up the rear end with "Buck, ready to fuck" played by Robert Englund (later famed as Freddy of Nightmare on Elm Street), the madame kicks the girl out into the night.
She walks down the road apiece & tries to check into a cheap hotel built alongside the gator-infested swamp. The hotel is run by a psychopath who has soon fed her to "no ordinary alligator," but a crocodile from Africa.
In the next hour or so, three more visitors to the hotel will go down the crock's bottomless pit of a tummy. During that same long night, before the psycho is likewise eaten, he tortures three women who don't get eaten but do allow for a few more T & A thrown up on the giant outdoor screen.
Plus a small screaming child is forced to crawl around under the house dragging her legbrace. How do you beat that?
So never mind that no croc could eat four people plus a dog in one night.
Never mind that if some hillbilly hotel manager had been killing three or four people a night & torturing three or four more -- he wouldn't last even a week uncaught (unless Judd only just that day turned psycho but was a normal hillbilly with a big croc the day before, which we're never led to believe).
None of it has to make a lick of sense because it's an exploitation film gawdamn it. And on some level the ridiculousness of it helps keep it from being emotionally harrowing, but quite a bit of fun.
Within its own sphere of intent, it's damnably entertaining. Misogynist? Sure, but it's interesting that it is mostly the women who survive.
The audience will be really happy to see only one character eaten, a goggly-eyed asshole played by William Finley; & no death is more gruesome than that of Mel Ferrer (former big-budget star down on his luck for good roles) who gets a huge scythe rammed sideways through his neck & staggers around gurglingly until the croc gets him.
There are really two stars in this film. First is the psychopath Judd played by Neville Brand. When he speaks sweet & soft, he really does seem potentially harmless & kind of gentle.
But it never lasts, for soon again he'll be raving & ranting maniacally & going for the scythe & talking to the voices in his head & boasting about how much his crocodile can eat. He puts on a real show; he's one hell of a marvel as a psychopath.
The other star is the child (Kyle Richards, also in Halloween) crawling around under the house. These scenes are photographed better than most of this jackshit cheapy-ass film.
If it's surprising that in 1976 it was legal to project naked titties fifty feet tall in outdoor cinemas visible for a mile, it's even more surprising that such a lot of child torture could get distributed on the exploitation circuit.
It's tense & suspensful, & even the most heartless filmgoer who only came to see people get hacked up by a psycho & eaten by a crocodile are on the edge of their seat hoping the little girl gets away.
The cheaply made rubber crocodile is almost a star too, being so phony its a hoot. And the set, though very stagily unreal, is an expressionistic work of art.
Tobe Hooper has all the recognition in the world for having all but creating this genre with his first film Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but his second outing Eaten Alive is always underrated if not outright condemned.
Some aspects of it are better than Chainsaw, especially the over-the-top performance by Neville.
This character was rather thinly based on the historical murderer Texas Joe Ball who was notorious for feeding kittens & puppies to his gators to thrill onlookers, & who turned out to have killed a couple women on the side (legend turns that into a great many women).
Many horror fans dismiss or hate this film; others praise it as an unjustly derided classic. There are reasons to take either attitude, but the main thing to bare in mind, if you're in the mood to sample what exploitation horror was preferentially like in this time-period, Eaten Alive is a worthwhile example. For the child-under-the-hotel crawl sequence alone I'd rank it pretty high as this sort of thing goes.
Tobe Hooper's Crocodile (2000)
copyright © by Paghat the Ratgirl