EATEN ALIVE (aka: DEATH TRAP) (aka: STARLIGHT SLAUGHTER)(director: Tobe Hooper; screenwriters: Alvin L. Fast/Kim Henkel/Mardi Rustam; cinematographer: Robert Caramico; editor: Michael Brown; music: Wayne Bell/Tobe Hooper; cast: Neville Brand (Judd), Mel Ferrer (Harvey Wood), Carolyn Jones (Miss Hattie), Marilyn Burns (Faye), William Finley (Roy), Stuart Whitman (Sheriff Martin), Roberta Collins (Clara Wood), Robert Englund (Buck), Kyle Richards (Angie), Crystin Sinclaire (Libby Wood), Janus Blyth (Lynette), Betty Cole (Ruby), David Carson (Marlo); Runtime: 96; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Mardi Rustam/Alvin L Fast; Virgo Internationel Pictures; 1977)
“Just something that those with a morbid curiosity for the unusual in sleaze might not be able to pass on.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Tobe Hooper (“The Funhouse”/”Salem’s Lot”/”Lifeforce”) in his follow-up to the successful The Texas Chainsaw Massacre comes up with a questionable exploitation film, made on a budget of merely $600,000. It follows along the same lines as his debut film, only it bombed at the box office and was highly criticized for being such an empty film. It’s a gruesome blood-splatter film that is so twisted it should mostly appeal to those cult film fans who go for such perverse curios. There’s not much to hold one’s interest except for it being so bizarre and lurid. There’s even a Nazi flag draping one of the seedy motel’s chairs, for those who have an eye for such sordid details. It tries desperately to turn the conventions on the slasher/horror film genre and manages to show it’s quite willing to off a cute pet dog, but it leaves us wondering till the end if it’s also willing to off a cute child fighting for her life as she hides from a crazed maniac who wants her for his croc to nosh on.
Writers Alvin L. Fast, Kim Henkel and Mardi Rustam take us into the Southern swamps for a trashy look at the degenerate side of rural America. One of the sleazy film’s redeeming qualities is that it was shot entirely on a soundstage and uses an unusual lighting technique created by Hooper and cinematographer Robert Caramico, which is what gives it an eerie unnatural greenish look. This makes the film seem surreal and arty, immeasurably helping give it a peculiar feel that plays right into its oddball story. The crazy photography and the film’s technical creativity might make one look past how this nightmarish film really is unthinkable crap.
It has been reported that the producers and Hooper were at each one’s throat during the shoot, with Hooper wanting to make a serious violent slasher film and the producers a black comedy. But even when everything seems to go wrong, there’s at least the fascinating performance of Neville Brand who plays a lonely one-legged (lost to a hungry croc) old coot named Judd. The touched in the head Judd is prone to mutter to himself in a stream of consciousness rant. He’s a dangerous psycho who runs the seedy Starliner Motel, a place that would chase off most decent folks because it’s so run-down, dirty and creepy. Judd keeps a zoo, with its main attraction a crocodile in an underwater corral. The crocodile we shall soon see is fed on a steady diet of tourists.
The first vic is runaway teenager Clara Wood (Roberta Collins), who not only runs away from home but from the venal Miss Hattie’s (Carolyn Jones) whorehouse as a failed prostitute (refusing to do anal sex) and winds up looking for safety in Judd’s motel only to soon be conked on the noggin with a scythe and fed to the crocodile. The next victims are an unfortunate stranded young couple (Marilyn Burns & William Finley), their young daughter Angie (Kyle Richards), and a cute little dog named Snoopy. There visit is followed by the estranged father of Clara’s (Mel Ferrer) and her attractive sister Libby (Crystin Sinclaire), with a concerned dad looking for his runaway daughter. Dad brings in Sheriff Martin (Stuart Whitman) to the investigation when Judd tells him his daughter is a whore, and he checks out Miss Hattie who lies and says she never saw Clara. Another motel visitor is Buck (Robert England), the redneck ruffian with a heavy need for anal sex, who becomes the most obnoxious character in a film filled with obnoxious characters and one you wouldn’t mind if he’s fed to the croc.
This is a weird film that takes the low road to deliver its cheap thrills and is not afraid of getting itself dirty. This is so much the opposite of a Hollywood film, as Hooper could care less that he has shot such a disturbing film that makes for an uncomfortable watch. That Hooper takes us down a different road than the usual trashy, macabre and grisly horror flick, doesn’t make it a special film worth seeking out. Just something that those with a morbid curiosity for the unusual in sleaze might not be able to pass on.
REVIEWED ON 5/4/2009 GRADE: C+
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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