Though Ruggero Deodato is perhaps Italy's (if not the world's) most "famous" director of gory cannibal movies, the entire bloody movie subgenre can be attributed to the late great Umberto Lenzi (Eyeball, Cannibal Ferox). Eight years after accidentally forming the concept with his 1972 shocker The Man from Deep River ‒ a strange "mondo" take on A Man Called Horse ‒ Lenzi returned to the jungle for something even stranger.
Fusing the cannibal flick with a literal cult movie, Eaten Alive! (Mangiati vivi!) manages to exploit the real-life horrors of Jim Jones and the Jonestown Massacre. It also serves as a fitting follow-up to Deodato's previous entry, Jungle Holocaust ‒ a film Lenzi was originally slated to helm ‒ and, in order to confuse the uninitiated even more, features the same male lead as Deodato's still-controversial Cannibal Holocaust: American porn star Robert Kerman (who appeared in numerous classic adult films under the name R. Bolla). That in itself should give you an idea of what you're in for here. Even if nothing will probably truly prepare you for it.
The guerrilla-style opening montage is sheer Lenzi, as a weird wave of poisonous blow-dart assassinations somehow ties in to the mysterious disappearance of a young woman. The authorities prove useless in the matter (naturally), leading the missing lady's sister, played by Janet Ågren (whose limited screen appearances nevertheless included movies such as Pulp, Avanti!, and Lucio Fulci's City of the Living Dead), to wander off in search of her sibling. But in order to do so, she first has to introduce audiences to the movie's marquee value actor, guest star Mel Ferrer (in one of two movies he appeared in entitled Eaten Alive!).
Somehow retaining most of what little dignity he still had at this point in his career (Mel also popped up in Lenzi's hilariously awful feverish wet dream about radioactive zombies, Nightmare City), Mel does a grand job of phoning it in. When he's on-screen, that is. When he is nowhere to be seen (which is frequent), we get the amazing talents of adult legend Kerman and Euro actor Ivan Rassimov (who, not surprisingly enough, was also the star of Lenzi's The Man from Deep River) as Ågren's hired adventurer and the Jones-like cult leader named ‒ wait for it ‒ Jonas. It almost makes you wonder is his devout followers are called the Jonas Brothers.
Like seemingly every other Italian horror movie from the same timeframe (Zombie, Doctor Butcher M.D., Contamination), Eaten Alive! starts out in New York City before moving on to the exotic locations of Sri Lanka, where the depraved Jonas has relocated his followers, far removed from safety and sense, and all the closer to mass suicide. But even Jonas' sadistic treatment of other human beings ‒ a moment where he violates a woman with a giant dildo dipped in snake blood is one of the "highlights" here ‒ cannot compare to the horror which awaits those who dare venture (or are banished) to the green inferno beyond, as there be cannibals out there!
If some of the gut-munchin' bits seem strangely familiar to the slightly experienced viewers amongst you, there's a fairly good reason for it: several gory moments from the film were lifted from Deodato's Jungle Holocaust ‒ one of which provides a convenient (budget-wise, that is) demise for the subgenre's leading lady, Me Me Lai, the frequently nekkid Burmese-British beauty who also starred in The Man from Deep River and Jungle Holocaust. While Ms. Lai does not receive a prominent of a role here as she did in her two previous cannibal films, her presence in Eaten Alive! is a delight just the same. Even if it confuses some folk.
Speaking of confusion, Eaten Alive! was also released in the US ‒ primarily on videocassette ‒ under the name Doomed to Die, presumably in order to avoid confusion with Tobe Hooper's previously-released Eaten Alive (with Mel Ferrer). Interestingly, that very alternate title had already been used 40 years prior for one of Boris Karloff's Mr. Wong movies, which undoubtedly caused its own share of perplexity to parties who may have unwittingly ordered or rented the wrong videocassette. But then, were it not for various states of sheer shock and baffling bewilderment, Eaten Alive! would not be the magnificent cult classic it is today.
An unabashedly shameless insult to just about every established form of good taste everywhere laced rape, dismemberment, nudity, violence, awful voice overs, bad choral arrangements, a delightfully laissez-faire Mel Ferrer, and a '70s porn icon playing the action hero (and doing a very good job at it, I might add), there are few movies which can hold a candle to Eaten Alive!. Granted, that may be of blessing to some. To those of us who discovered the sublime joys of Italian horror at a tender early age, however, there is no greater compliment to the movie (and to its fans) than to see this horribly fun movie in 1080p HD courtesy the fine folks at Severin Films.
Presented in an MPEG-4 AVC codec and framed at an aspect ratio of 1.67:1, Severin's Blu-ray of Eaten Alive! is a major improvement over the previously-issued Shriek Show DVD released in 2002. Presumably culled from a film source, the transfer features a fair bit of grain and debris. In all honesty, this only adds to the outrageous experience. DTS-HD 2.0 Mono tracks in English, Italian, and Spanish audio tracks are included. Out of the three, the bad English dubbing brings the most of that je n'ais se quoi to the table, and is this reviewer's preferred method of amusement. Optional English (SDH) subs are served up for the English and Italian versions of the film.
Special features for Eaten Alive! begin with some final words from Signori Umberto Lenzi himself. Filmed shortly before his passing in late 2017, Welcome to the Jungle finds the Italian exploitation movie guru recollecting about his time spent on this and other cannibal/horror movies. Next up is the 80-minute documentary about "The Queen of Cannibal Movies" herself, Me Me Lai Bites Back, which makes its US debut here. Lastly here, we get a new sit-down chat with production designer Antonello Geleng, archival interviews with actors Robert Kerman and Ivan Rassimov, a 2013 Q&A with Mr. Lenzi, and the original (international) theatrical trailer.
A separate Limited Edition release of the title from Severin Films is also available, and includes a slipcover and bonus soundtrack CD. The set is limited to only 2,500 copies, and comes just as recommended to lifelong (or remotely curious) fans of classic Italian horror movies as does the standard edition.
Sink your teeth in and enjoy, kids.