Eaten Alive DVD Review
Written by Sham
DVD released by Dark Sky Films
Directed by Tobe Hooper
Written by Alvin L. Fast, Kim Henkel, & Mardi Rustam
1977, Region 1 (NTSC), 91 minutes, Unrated
DVD released on September 25th, 2007
Neville Brand as Judd
Marilyn Burns as Faye
Robert Englund as Buck
Carolyn Jones as Miss Hattie
Stuart Whitman as Sheriff Martin
Janus Blythe as Lynette
Betty Cole as Ruby
Kyle Richards as Angie
Roberta Collins as Clara
William Finley as Roy
Mel Ferrer as Harvey Wood
Crystin Sinclaire as Libby Wood
One of the hardest things about being a successful filmmaker is keeping up with your own aptitude.
John Carpenter hit it big in 1978 with his independent film Halloween. Realizing he could make a buck, Carpenter immediately directed The Fog in 1979, an inferior production that, although enjoyable, was neither as successful as Halloween nor as well received.
Filmmaker Tobe Hooper was in the same position back in the mid-‘70s. In 1974, with the huge success of his horror movie, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Hooper knew he could scare an audience and bring in a decent box office, so the best thing for everyone was for Hooper to make another horror film — and fast.
Eaten Alive, released in 1977, was Tobe Hooper’s sophomore project. Along with Hooper, writer Kim Henkel and actress Marilyn Burns returned as their former positions from The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. Like that movie, the script also centered on another alleged true story — serial killer Joe Ball, a war-veteran-turned-saloon-owner who killed his clients and fed their remains to his pet alligators.
It’s no surprise that Eaten Alive didn’t make the profit of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, and it’s not astonishing that people were disappointed by it thirty years ago, considering what it had to live up to. What is amazing is how much of a cult status it’s earned over the years. It’s developed over six pseudonyms, and it was even paid homage to in Quentin Tarantino’s two-part epic, Kill Bill.
Eaten Alive stars Neville Brand as murderous Judd, a reclusive WWII veteran who runs and operates the Starlight Hotel. The hotel, which resides in a swampy Louisiana bayou within walking distance of a hooker establishment, is equal parts daunting and disgusting, but that doesn’t stop passersby from staying the night. Nor does the ferocious crocodile in the backyard, in which Judd feeds his guests to when he doesn’t take care of them himself with his trusty scythe. Contenders for a night in the Starlight include a dirt-poor hooker, an estranged family, a demanding father looking for his missing daughter, and a young redneck pervert played by Robert Englund, otherwise known as Freddy Krueger from the A Nightmare on Elm Street series.
Other than Englund, Eaten Alive is full of cameos. Carolyn Jones from “The Addams Family” fame makes an appearance as the boss of a whore house. Kyle Richards, who played little Lindsey in Halloween, shows up as a girl whose dog is gobbled up by the crocodile. And William Finley, who most recently starred in The Black Dahlia, gives a memorable performance as Marilyn Burns’ psychotic husband.
Eaten Alive has a bad screenplay with an ample amount of plot holes, but the characters are genuine enough to carry the film, especially with so many over-the-top performances. The best character in the movie, unfortunately enough, is the first to die, but that shows courage on Hooper’s part, especially considering how graphically shot the murder is.
Gore fans will be satisfied by what Hooper and his team have accomplished. The death scenes are swift and violent, the standout being a nasty sequence where a character gets a scythe in their neck. The special effects are cheesy, but practical. There is a suspenseful and well-crafted scene where a character is trapped underneath the floorboards of the hotel, only to be pursued by a scythe-wielding Judd and his hungry crocodile.
Comparing Eaten Alive to The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, or any other significant horror film, is a lost cause. The purpose of a movie like Eaten Alive is to entertain, which it does, and it doesn’t get any further than that.
Video and Audio:
Elite Entertainment originally released Eaten Alive on DVD a few years back, but the picture and sound quality were absolutely dreadful, not to mention fans of the film were disappointed by the lack of special features. For starters, the restored picture on this new release looks excellent. Unlike the Elite Entertainment release, this DVD’s picture quality is much more focused. The colors don’t bleed (as often), and the scratch marks and grain are at a minimum. Although it could still use some improvement, I imagine this release to please fans for the next ten years. Dark Sky Films have outdone themselves on this one.
Equally impressive is the 2.0 Mono, which, compared to the previous release, is a major improvement. The score, dialogue, screams, and sound cues are all impeccably balanced, so you don’t have to hang on to your remote. With a scream-a-thon like Eaten Alive, that’s all that matters.
- Audio commentary with producer/co-writer Mardi Rustam, actors Roberta Collins, William Finley, and Kyle Richards, and make-up artist Craig Reardon.
- “My Name is Buck” Robert Englund featurette
- “The Butcher of Elmendorf: The Legend of Joe Ball”
- Theatrical trailers
- Still gallery
In 2005, I accused Dark Sky Films of being lazy for not including any special features with its DVD release of Wet Asphalt.
Eaten Alive, as well as any other DVD they’ve released this year, has proved to me this company is anything but indolent. Like their renditions of Trilogy of Terror and Magic, Eaten Alive has just about everything any fan could possibly want.
Starting the special features is the standard commentary, featuring five unique talents. Of them are producer/co-writer Mardi Rustam, actors Roberta Collins, William Finley and Kyle Richards, and make-up artist Craig Reardon, who has also done makeup for Thir13en Ghosts, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and The Goonies.
The commentary can be boring. Very boring. I admit to pausing the movie just to take an intermission to try and keep myself awake. However, the commentary also has its moments, and those moments (although scarce) are extremely interesting. For a movie nearly thirty years old, I’m impressed at how much the cast and crew remember about the filmmaking process. Kyle Richards, who played Angie in the movie, was certainly traumatized by many scenes at such a young age. There’s also an interesting tidbit that Craig Reardon had not only never heard of Tobe Hooper when he got the call to do the project, but he had never heard of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.
Certainly the most engaging special feature on the disc is “The Butcher of Elmendorf: The Legend of Joe Ball.” The segment details the life (and death) of a 1930s serial killer, Joe Ball, who ran a tavern in Texas with a bizarre attraction – an alligator pit that customers often cruelly fed stray dogs and cats. (The alligators were also believed to be the method of disposal for Joe’s victims.) Joe’s nephew details how Joe spent his days running the saloon, and what happened with him and his many girlfriends. If there’s one special feature on the disc to watch, this is it.
“My Name is Buck” is next. It features Robert Englund as he discusses his role in the film, past experiences and remembrances. It’s simple and interesting.
Concluding the bonus material are theatrical trailers and a still gallery.
|Movie:||– A cheesy, entertaining gem.|
|Video:||– Infinitely superior to the Elite Entertainment version.|
|Audio:||– The 2.0 Mono sounds good.|
|Features:||– The featurettes are great, but the commentary dragged.|
|Overall:||– An excellent package boasting one of the lost classics of the ‘70s.|
Eaten Alive is an atmospheric B-movie made with gruesome pizzazz and boggy style.
Dark Sky Films have released the superior incarnation of this lost cult movie.
(Tools of the Trade: Sony KF-60WE610 60" Grand Wega TV, Harman/Kardon AVR 330 receiver with Bose speakers and an Emerson DVD player.)