(1977) director Tobe Hooper
Tobe Hooper’s first follow-up feature film after his legendary The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), Eaten Alive dips its proverbial toe back into psycho killer waters, this time with a giant crocodile to nibble on it. Actually “inspired” by a true life serial killer named Joe Ball, who ran a saloon that featured an alligator pond (to which he was rumored to have fed his victims), Eaten Alive is sort of a Southern Fried version of Psycho (1960) and to some extent a less-potent retread of elements of Hooper’s more successful earlier film.
The film stars Neville Brand as the scythe-wielding proprietor of a backwoods hotel who talks to himself in rambling, semi-nonsensical monologues about the nature of the beast, his “pet” crocodile (from Africa) who gobbles up numerous members of the cast, including a young buck named Buck, A Nightmare on Elm Street‘s (1984) Robert Englund. The cast also includes Mel Ferrer and Carolyn Jones (Morticia of television’s The Addams Family).
The story follows a teenage runaway, who is fired from the local cathouse, which is run by Jones, and ends up as Brand’s first victim. When her sister and father come looking for her, and another little family drops in to the misbegotten hotel, the body count goes up, up, up, either by scythe or crocodile, or in most cases, a combination of the two.
The film’s primary strengths are in its Southern-ness, the swampy backwater, populated by many an oddball, though Brand is the oddball deluxe. The soundtrack features an ongoing litany of country music, with a couple of the tunes taking the foreground as they are “turned up” while Brand fidgets about the downstairs lounge.
There are some weird elements, like the little family with their daughter and pet dog that stop by the hotel. The father has this very strange scene with his wife that doesn’t make a lot of sense, but is sort of mondo-weirdness indulgence. Why the wife is wearing a wig is never explained. And the father’s aggression and psychosis is just hard to explain. But there is some perverse humor when the dog, Snoopy, is eaten by the croc. Perhaps most odd, Brand has a pet monkey that just curls up and dies.
When the film begins, it feels like classic exploitation stuff, but Hooper’s characters, while hardly fleshed out, are given quirkiness and oddity that feel almost like David Lynch creations. Eaten Alive doesn’t begin to capture the visceral thrills of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but it does stick with a portrayal of the South as a freakshow and does offer a unique heap of campy weirdness.