a Primal Root written review
I’ve spent a lifetime tracking down and viewing the strangest, nastiest, weirdest films that have ever been made. Years I’ve spend renting, sitting in theaters and even buying movies for my collection before ever having viewed them in the hope of tracking down a little nugget of dirty trash cinema gold. And in all those years, few have reached the levels of sick, disturbing, nasty southern fried exploitation sleaze and depravity as Tobe Hooper’s 1976 bargain basement horror flick, Eaten Alive (aka: Legend of the Bayou aka: Death Trap aka: Horror Hotel aka: Murder on the Bayou aka: Starlight Slaughter). This flick is about as seedy, filthy and low brow as horror cinema gets. It’s garish, lurid, ultra cheap and is missing so much of the artistic flourishes which made Tobe Hooper 1974 The Texas Chainsaw Massacre not only a massive success with audiences but critics too, so much so that it is considered an American classic and even has it’s original negatives housed at The American Film Archive.
You will never find Eaten Alive being lauded over and put in a film preservation vault. Not, this is the kind of movie main stream critics use to wipe the turd crusted asses with. This is the ultimate deglamorization of the horror genre. The colors are thick and heavy, the sets rudimentary, ramshackle, and worn down, totally caked in dust, dirt and filth. And the first lines we ever hear are during a close up shot of a huge belt buckle coming undone as a young Robert (don’t call me Freddy) Englund exclaims, is a raspy southern accent “My name’s Buck and I’m rarin’ to FUCK!” He makes this exclamation as he bends a young prostitute over and attempts to ass fuck her, which she is less than willing to do. Eaten Alive begins…with a man trying to stick his cock up a woman’s ass… Sophie’s Choice, this is not.
It all gets even more dark and mean spirited from there, as the madame of this particular Pussy Shack, Miss Hattie (Morticia herself, Carolyn Jones) boots the young prostitute , Clara (Roberta Collins), out on the street for refusing to let young Buck savage her inexperienced poop chute with his throbbing, eager, member. She ends up heading deep into the bayou to stay at the run down, once thriving, now absolutely disgusting and grotesque Starlight Hotel. It’s a shanty out in the middle of the swamp and houses not only the disturbed, one legged, bespectacled, murderous proprietor… Judd (Neville Brand), but also is the domain of Judd’s behemoth per crocodile, a crocodile he claims he got directly from The Nile, which stays in a fenced in portion of the swamp right beside the front porch of The Starlight Hotel.
Clara is chopped to pieces and tossed to the crocodile within minutes of arriving when Judd realizes she used to sling leg for cold hard cash back in town. He flips his shit, tucks his scythe into her young, lovely flesh several good times and tosses her still breathing body off the porch, into the swamp to spend her last gasping breaths chocking on her own blood as she is torn to pieces by the resident devourer of anything made of meat. It’s a pretty nasty, unapologetic and fucking cruel way for this character to meat her end. It’s like Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho…only set in Florida Man’s South. Where these sorts of things are still shocking, but not necessarily surprising and everything is much more gruesome.
Eaten Alive is a horror movie with no exits, no easy way out from the grueling, unrelentingly malicious story and it’s schlocky tone. From the get go, the audience knows that their emotions, their nerves, will not be spared and, as my close, personal friend, Joe Bob Briggs once said, the key to a good Drive-In movie is that anyone can die at any moment. Tobe Hooper keeps this rule close to his heart in Eaten Alive, as many kind hearted, well meaning characters are introduced and then have scythes rammed through their skulls and an enormous gator tugs at their flailing legs and pulls them in half. It’s that kind of ride. Innocent family pets are shown being bitten into and dragged to their watery deaths while their adolescent owner screams in horror. So, be warned, this movie is for the sicker of us who respect films that can show just how unlikable and horrifying the human condition can be.
There’s an outstanding sequence where a little nuclear family stops by The Starlight Hotel to stay the night and collect bed bugs. The married couple, Faye and Roy are played by none other than two of my favorite character actors, Marilyn Burns (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre) and William Finley (Phantom of the Paradise). Their marriage is obviously a slow burn downward spiral into permanent psychosis and Roy apologizes constantly, fantasies about his wife using his eyeball as an ash tray and barks all night. It’s a tense, wholly bizarre marriage filled with passive aggressive behavior and absolute batshit crazy behavior. I’m not sure what the fuck is exactly going on here with these two when they’re alone together, but I do feel for their little daughter Angie (Kyle Richards) who spends her time screaming in despair with her hands clasped over her ears as her parents act like complete nutty bars. It’s one of those scenes that I;m so happy exists, because it’s so much fun to watch these two actors go tow to tow and go crazy on one another, but the implications are disheartening to say the least.
Soon, Clara’s sick and slowly dying Father, Harvey (Mel Ferrer), and his blonde, well stacked daughter, Libby show up in town looking for Clara. Harvey knows he will be gone soon and wants to find her so he can make good with her before his imminent demise. Things ended on a sour note and he wants to be the bigger man and is desperate to track her down. Where do they end up staying? You guessed it! The Starlight Hotel! The two begin to investigate her disappearance which gets the local Sheriff Martin (Stuart Whitman). All the while, Buck (Robert Englund) takes his curvy young girlfriend, Lynette (Janus Blythe) up to The Starlight Hotel for a little consensual sodomy which all leads to a collision course with absolute horror at the dank, gross and inexplicably popular hellhole of a hotel. There’s gotta be a Motel 6 nearby, right?
One of the more disturbing aspects of Eaten Alive is the film’s distinct lack of anyone to really root for, it’s lack of humanity and likable characters. There’s not much to distinguish the villain of the piece, Judd, from the rest of the stories inhabitants. We can;t root for Buck, he’s a rapist, a drug dealer and a fucking bully. Sheriff Martin is totally incompetent and impotent as a lawman or any kind of hero. Roy is a failure, a whimpering loser on the verge of a psychotic break down…even Clara’s Dad is so obsessed beyond reason with finding her and comes off as a total jerk. Still, you see these poor sacks of flesh getting filleted by Judd and then ripped to pieces by the voracious crocodile and you genuinely feel bad for these poor, fucked fuckers. It’s like a treatise against having faith in humanity. Possibly even life itself. Did I mention this movie is dark?
Some of the women fair a little bit better and are able to save themselves most of the time and work together to overcome the blood thirsty men who happen to be coming after them intent of sinking as much blade into their young soft bodies as possible. But, possibly the only totally sane character in the whole film is Roy and Faye’s young daughter, who is certain to be scarred for life after her long weekend witnessing horror after horror and narrowly escaping being stabbed to death and Eaten Alive… Yeah, I foresee many hefty therapy bills for the rest of this poor child’s life…
There’s a lot of joy to be had, also, in watching a young pre A Nightmare on Elm Street Robert Englund playing a pretty nasty piece of white trash dirtbag named Buck in Eaten Alive. He gives his all in what could have been a pretty forgettable character, but that Englund personae pulls through and makes Buck a pretty memorable piece of shit. You can’t help but see the shadow of Freddy in so many of this characters posses and mannerisms. I often like to imagine that Buck is possibly Freddy Krueger’s cousin.
All this being said, Eaten Alive is a kind of harrowing masterpiece of deep Southern sleaze cinema. The gore is gnarly, the kills palpably unpleasant, the effects all bargain basement which, in it’s own way, adds to the sticky, morbidity of the piece AND there is a plentiful helping of gratuitous tits and ass, which is kind of the sugar that helps this dirty little pill go down. The sleaze on display here is authentic. One walks away from a viewing of Eaten alive feeling dirty and in need of a shower. There’s no deeper meaning to be found in this head first dive into depravity, murder and insanity. It’s a film totally preoccupied in the grimy, the dirty and the disturbing and offers no apologies. There is no light at the end of this tunnel. Only blood, chaos, death and darkness. And what could be more terrifying than that?
I award Eaten Alive 4 out of 5 Dumpster Nuggets!