Eaten Alive, also known in the UK as Death Trap, was Tobe Hooper’s first effort after the iconic and game-changing The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974). To put it frankly, Eaten Alive is an archetypal exploitation film, and it slots in with the prominent wave of exploitative gore films in the 1970s. Pretty much all the death in the film seems gratuitous and it comes as no surprise that the film was banned as part of the ‘video nasties’ fiasco.
The film’s opening screams ‘B-MOVIE!’ loudly in your face as we see genre icon Robert Englund, attempting to get a little too frisky with a young prostitute named Clara (Collins). She escapes his prying hands and flees to the dilapidated local ‘Starlight Hotel’ that is owned and operated by an unsettling man named Judd (Brand). Now, ‘The Starlight Hotel’ isn’t your run-of-the-mill establishment. For starters, Judd keeps a pet alligator (or is it a crocodile? It’s referred to as both in the film) outside. To add to this peculiar pet-choice, Judd himself is suggested to be suffering from post-traumatic stress and is evidently missing a few proverbial screws. In short, this results in him being less than courteous to his patrons. This aspect of the narrative, combined with Brand’s performance as the visibly unstable Judd, is one of the saving graces of the plot, because if you grasp at straws enough, it could be suggested that there is a subtle cultural context to justify the madness.
The plot is pretty much what you’d expect from a horror film that involves a disturbed hotel worker who keeps an alligator for a pet… Lots of people get killed and/or eaten. If we were reviewing the hotel on trip advisor, we’d probably only give it two stars and that’s because it’d be kind of cool to have a gator swimming around outside. Minus the maiming of course.
In the new, albeit brief introduction to this Blu-ray release, Tobe Hooper says “hope you like the colours”. It sort of speaks volumes that this is one of the only things he has to say about the picture. To be fair to Tobe though, it is actually visually interesting. The film was shot entirely on a sound stage (the same used in 1950 for Sunset Boulevard) and has a constrictive, claustrophobic feel that compliments the Deep South Louisiana narrative setting. The most alluring aspect of the mise-en-scène is the expressionistic crimson lighting that is cast upon the hotel. In the special features interview, Tobe states he wanted to evoke the feeling of a ‘surrealistic, twilight world’ and in this he succeeds. A hotel run by a psychotic owner, with a flesh-eating gator outside, cast in an ominous red light, is pretty bloody surreal. Ultimately though, it isn’t quite enough.
If you know Tobe Hooper for his genre classics The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and Poltergeist (1982), then unfortunately you might be a little disheartened by his second feature. Eaten Alive is kind of like opening an awaited Christmas present that actually turns out to be socks. You can appreciate that at some point you might wear them, but did you really want them?
Extras: Interviews (new and archive) / The Butcher of Elmendorf (Feature Documentary) / Theatrical Trailers / TV & Radio Spots /Alternate Credits / Galleries /Audio Commentary
EATEN ALIVE / CERT: 18 / DIRECTOR: TOBE HOOPER / SCREENPLAY: KIM HENKEL / STARRING: NEVILLE BRAND, MEL FERRER, CAROLYN JONES, ROBERTA COLLINS, MARILYN BURNS, ROBERT ENGLUND / RELEASE DATE: SEPTEMBER 21ST