Tobe Hooper followed up The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (and, yes, that is how you write that title) with the sleazy proto-slasher Eaten Alive (aka Death Trap/Starlight Slaughter/Horror Hotel). The film was written by Hooper’s TCSM co-writer, Kim Henkel (who I once thought was a woman because of his name, despite my 8th grade best friend’s dad being named Kim). The movie is notable for being labeled a “Video Nasty” by concerned citizens in the United Kingdom in the early 80s. Mary Whitehouse (no relation to the US president’s house) was the loudest opponent of movies that threatened to destroy the morals of UK youth. Think of her as the British Tipper Gore, if Tipper had gained the power to actually destroy free speech. Eaten Alive ended up offending her personally so all copies of it were gathered in the village square and burned for being possessed by demons (OR it was put on a list along with dozens of other films that were not allowed distribution in the UK without edits. I can’t remember which.) I give thanks to The Young Ones for putting Video Nasties on my radar.
The film is about Judd, the owner of a run-down hotel that is tucked away in a wooded swamp far off the beaten path. He doesn’t really cotton to people – particularly women – staying in his hotel. Like, at all. (Seems like a weak business model to me.) The setup is a bit Psycho. There’s a deranged hotel owner rapidly piling up more victims after his first kill. Characters drop in, either to find a room for the night or to find a character who has gone missing, and get menaced, trussed up, and/or killed by Judd and his scythe. Oh, and he has a corpse eating crocodile.
Like TCSM, the film is loosely based on a real-life killer. In Chainsaw, the macabre arts & crafts of Ed Gein were used as inspiration for the interior design of the killer family’s house. In Eaten Alive, the real-life connection was the goddamn crocodile! The detail least likely to be chosen as the real-life connection! Granted, Henkel and Hooper went with a crocodile rather that the real killer’s preference, an alligator. But, as we all know, crocodiles are more camera-friendly than alligators. The other big difference is that the real killer killed people and fed them to his gator at a roadside tavern/tourist trap, and the fictionalized one pretend killed actors in a hotel set on a soundstage. The soundstage production lends an insular quality to the film that may not be noticed overtly, but it creates a nightmarish atmosphere in which the viewer (subconsciously) feels trapped. The whole world is just this hotel and its front yard. You get the sense that if you were to run beyond the hotel’s driveway, you would end up right back on the porch without remembering how you got there. (Like, some scuzzy, unsanctioned Twilight Zone episode directed by the guy who directed The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.)
THE FINAL CUT: Despite Eaten Alive’s pitiful Rotten Tomatoes rating, genre fans with an affinity for greasy, low-budget killers will find it worth a watch. (and if you’re a Video Nasty completist, it’s required viewing. so, it really doesn’t matter what I say)