Saturday, May 2, 2009

Eaten Alive

While a great many people have seen and loved Tobe Hooper’s first film, a little ditty known as the Texas Chain Saw Massacre (well, not counting some weird hippie movie he made in the 60s that all of five people have seen), surprisingly few have seen or even know about his second film, Eaten Alive. One could argue that this is because it’s not as good, but that kind of argument would then require us to watch only the single greatest film by each director and ignore all of their other films. I don’t think I want to live in a world where I’d be missing out on films like Creepshow (Romero), Last House on the Left (Craven), or Chopping Mall (Wynorski) just because they weren’t the top films of their filmmakers.

The film centers around Judd (Neville Brand), the owner of a small Texas hotel that, much like the Bates Motel, has its own swamp in the back. Even better than the Bates Motel, though, this swamp has its own crocodile, to which he feeds his more troublesome guests. It’s a nice way for him to expand from Texas Chain Saw, keeping things somewhat similar while taking them in a completely new direction. This would be pretty much the only time Hooper would ever do this, as almost every other film he’s ever made has been wildly different stylistically from all his others, leaving it very difficult to fit him into any kind of auteur theory. But I digress.

Even if it’s not on the level of Chain Saw (and honestly, that is kind of a tough act to follow), there’s still quite a lot to like about the movie. First is the quality acting of the film, headlined both by Brand and by a very young Robert Englund, who before becoming Freddy Krueger and Willie plays here a charmingly violent yokel that always enjoys plugging girls from behind. Also, while not an actual sequel, this does still follow the formula somewhat of ratcheting up the sex and violence to compensate for not being able to be the first film all over again. Not only does the croc kill people, but Brand takes a pitchfork and a scythe to his enemies, and a dog gets eaten too, something I always appreciate in a film. Also, following the simple understanding that everything is scarier (or at least creepier) at night, every single scene in the entire film is at night. Watching this, one would have no idea such a thing as the sun exists. It’s that kind of genius thinking that leads a man to make a movie about a house cursed from being built on an Indian burial ground, and then deciding to use actual corpses as props in the movie.

This is a true grindhouse film – nasty, vicious, and ugly. It’s also quite a lot of fun. If you want to see the kind of film that people reminisce fondly about when they complain about the dullness of present day movies, give this one a viewing.

Rating: ***

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