Saturday, February 16, 2008

Eaten Alive / Death Trap (1977)

Fear 1/5
Gore 2/5
Entertainment 2/5
Creepiness 3/5

Eaten Alive is generally regarded as Tobe Hooper's "other" classic horror film from the 70's. And while it doesn't pack the punch that Texas Chainsaw Massacre does, it still hits it's mark pretty well.

What Tobe Hooper did so well back then, and what he lost as soon as he began working with larger budgets, was to create an atmosphere that was sleazy and uncomfortable. It may not have been scary in the sense that things were jumping out at you, but it was unnerving, surreal and realistic all at the same time. Using garish and gaudy colors in nearly every scene, Eaten Alive looks menacing and fucked up, if not cheap and grimy. The soundtrack is a series of electronic squeals and grinding sounds, mixed in with proto-industrial noises that are jarring and ugly. But it's not just the soundtrack that works - it's the sound in general. There seems to always be some sort of background song being burped out of the AM radio, mixed with screams and grunts and the nonsensical ramblings of lead actor Neville Brand (who is amazing in this). The sound often comes in cascading sheets, wave after wave so that the rare occurrences of silence are kind of freaky.

Soooo, yeah, there is a mechanical crocodile here, but it's rarely seen and isn't really the scary part of the movie. Like Texas Chainsaw, the scariest and freakiest thing happening are the people themselves. We are treated, again, to some inbred, backwoodsy East Texas types who all appear to have eschewed both bathing and laws. The plot is remarkably simple: a young prostitute is kicked out of the brothel she lives in and checks into a motel run by a creepy old coot named Judd, who, as we quickly learn, has no love or tolerance for the prostitutes who work up the road. He quickly realizes her (ex) profession and quickly kills her off with a large garden tool in a scene that is violent and bloody. Disposing of the evidence is easy: chuck her over the side of the railing into the pond inhabited by a large hungry crocodile. The problem is that people keep showing up to his motel one after the other, all kind of inquiring about the last person there - so, of course, he has to kill them off. Or beat and torture them. Or molest them. He just kind of loses it and goes bonkers.

Somehow it works. It's gritty and nasty without being gory, fucked up and weird without being a bloodbath. From here, however, it was all downhill for Mr. Hooper. His next two films - TV's Salem's Lot and 1981's The Funhouse were both sort of on the "meh" side of things. Then came films like Lifeforce and The Mangler. Hmmm.

- Complaint Dept

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