EATEN ALIVE (1976)
aka DEATH TRAP
Directed by Tobe Hooper
Finding herself in a brothel working as a prostitute, young woman Clara decides the sex game isn’t for her after client Buck makes his particular demands of her. Refusing to meet Buck’s needs, she’s cast out onto the street and decides to find refuge for the night at the local ‘Starlight Hotel’ run by odd loner Judd who’s star attraction is the crocodile that lives in the swamp right next to his ramshackled hotel. It doesn’t take Judd long to work out that Clara is from Hatty’s brothel and tries it on with her. When she refuses and attempts to escape his clutches, he decides that the best thing she can becomes is food for his hungry croc. As more people descend upon the hotel for the night, it seems as though Judd has his wor cut out to satisfy his swamp beast’s insatiable appetite.
Horror Eaten Alive, also know as Death Trap, stars The Texas Chain Saw Massacre‘s Marilyn Burns and pre-Freddie Krueger Robert Englund in this blood-filled horror that isn’t afraid at throwing in a couple of laughs for good measure. Neville Brand stars as the grubby, sweaty hotel owner Judd who’s crocodile seems to be the only company he keeps as he’s unable to hold onto his clients long enough before he hacks them to death with a rake or a scythe before throwing them to the hungry jaws lurking in the swamp. You’d think those people who pull up to his hotel would realise it’s not a great place to stay, even after the croc chomps down on little Angie’s terrier, but nope, they stay anyway and don’t seem too alarmed at Judd rambling to himself. It seems there’s only cocky Buck (Robert Englund) who actually frightens Judd besides the crocodile, of course.
Most of the film is set around the hotel and it’s very rarely we leave the premises with much of the action set in the interior or exterior of Judd’s hotel. The only view of the outside world we get is of the local bar and brothel and the range of people looking for somewhere to stay. These vary from a couple and their young daughter, a father and daughter looking for their missing family member and Buck and his latest conquest. Regardless of who passes through his doors, Judd believes all are fit enough to be fed to the croc and it’s only a matter of time before Judd unleashes his frenzied attack which will leave you squirming in your seat.
One thing I noticed about the movie is the set design is very dirty and grubby, particularly the rooms inside the hotel such as the pillow cases and the exterior of the toilet. As someone who has a weird phobia of grime, I was disturbed to see this in the film as it reminded me of the room full of bones and feathers in Hooper’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, a sight that similarly freaked me out. Where’s Kim and Aggie when you need them, eh?
For a movie centred on a crocodile, I was expecting cheap effects but the croc is quite frightening and I would hate to be anywhere near it. It looks real enough to have an impact on the viewer and we even get to see great shots of it lurking underwater as well as rising up from the swamp to take a bite out of its latest victim before dragging them down to the murky depths.
One again Arrow Video have produced a crisp release with a smashing high definition 2k transfer of EATEN ALIVE from the original camera negative, complete with mono audio and a special introduction from director Tobe Hooper himself. There’s a new interview with Hooper and two others as well as archive interviews with Hooper, Robert Englund and Marilyn Burns. the latter of whom plays hotel guest Faye. Other special features include trailers, TV spots, a very interesting featurette on the story of Joe Ball, who’s exploits the film was loosely inspired upon, and commentary with co-writer and producer Mardi Rustam, make-up artist Craig Reardon and stars Roberta Collins, William Finley and Kyle Richards. As with most of Arrow Video’s releases, the dual format release comes with a reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Gary Pullin and a collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film, illustrated with original archive stills and posters.
With scene after scene of painful, bloodthirsty deaths at the hands of Judd and the croc, this is very much a film for the horror connoisseur who doesn’t mind sacrificing plot in exchange for murder with a little help from a string of fine performances from the cast.
Don’t forget to read Matt’s video nasty review of Eaten Alive.