Horror films are like the misunderstood stepchildren of cinema, and when you talk about them, one of the best examples that always seem to come into conversation is Tobe Hooper's 1974 nightmarish masterpiece, The Texas ChainSaw Massacre, which remains one of the greatest and most traumatizing movies of all-time. However, as for his 1977 underrated follow-up, Eaten Alive (aka Starlight Slaughter and Death Trap), that movie continues to get lost in the underground shuffle; mainly since it's so bizarre, campy, and not for all tastes. This is unfortunate, because it is a strangely entertaining cult film that deserves to be rediscovered, and for the fact that it is another of those reviled Jaws rip-offs that is actually fun to watch.
Although the plot isn't exactly original, it is really a story of murder and insanity at an isolated and cheap motel in the middle of the fog-filled bayou. You can instantly regard this as the southern-fried Psycho because most of the action takes place at the decrepit Starlight motel (filmed entirely on a soundstage), where a variety of odd souls run into trouble in the form of the property's mad owner Judd (the great Neville Brand) and his hungry pet crocodile. They consist of runaway prostitute Clara (Roberta Collins), mysterious and wacky couple Faye and Roy (Marilyn Burns and William Finley) and their daughter Angie (Kyle Richards); dying man Harvey Wood (Mel Ferrer) and his daughter Libby (Crystin Sinclaire), who are looking for Clara, since she happens to be Harvey's other daughter. Last but not least, there is the horny Buck (Robert Englund) and his girlfriend Lynette (Janus Blythn). These people try to survive the madness of Judd and his chilling antics, and realize that they should have picked a better place to stop and rest.
Although this film is best remembered for being Robert Englund's film debut, where he literally has a field day as Buck, especially in the beginning where he says the infamous opening line, "I'm Buck and I'm here to f**k," and tries to rape Clara, this is also a movie that has a distinction for actually having one of the best ensemble casts in cult film history, because not only do have Brand and Englund, but you also get iconic scream queen Burns, Finley (from Brian DePalma's 1973 Sisters), legendary actor Ferrer, Stuart Whitman as Sheriff Maron, and Carolyn Jones, who steals her all of her scenes as Miss Hattie, the madam of the bordello that Clara escapes from. There is also cute Richards, who would go on to play Lindsay Wallace in John Carpenter's 1978 game-changing masterpiece, Halloween.
What makes this film unusual is its cinematography, which looks weirdly beautiful, especially when you see the exteriors of the motel (which looks like red dayglow, just like 1977's Suspiria), but there is also the surreal music score (composed by Hooper and Wayne Bell), which doesn't sound like anything I've ever heard, especially for a movie of this kind. There are times where the movie shows its age, especially with Judd's crocodile (which is obviously fake, and ties it too Jaws' malfunctioning shark). The clothes are also pretty dated and mainly of their time, and the nudity is a little out of place, but what else can you expect from a 1970's limited-budgeted explotation movie.
Arrow Video really pulled out all of the stops for this release, with some old and new special features. The new 2k restoration looks absolute immaculate and brings out the sleaziness of the film. You're not going to see it looking any better than this.
The special features:
- Audio commentary with co-writer and producer Mardi Rustam, actors Roberta Collins, William Finley, and Kyle Richards, and make-up artist Craig Reardon (from original Dark Sky Films 2-DVD release) - this is a very entertaining and informative commentary about the challenges of making the bizarre film. Richard's comments are particularly fascinating and fun.
- New introduction by director Tobe Hooper
- Blood on the Bayou - a brand new and revealing interview with Hooper
- Gator Bait - a brand new and fun interview with star Janus Blythe (Lynette)
- Monsters and Metaphors - a brand new and informative interview with Reardon
- The Gator Creator - archive interview with Hooper
- My Name is Buck - archive interview with the great Englund
- 5ive Minutes with Marilyn Burns - the late iconic star talks about her role in Eaten Alive
- The Butcher of Elmendorf: The Legend of Joe Ball - a shocking featurette about the real life story of South Texas bar owner on which the film is loosely based
- Original theatrical trailers with its alternate titles: Eaten Alive, Death Trap, Starlight Slaughter and Horror Hotel
- TV and Radio Spots
- Alternate Opening Titles
- Behind the scenes slideshow
- Stills and Promo Material Gallery
- Audience Comment Cards- some of these are very funny
Rounding out the release is the reversible sleeve with original artwork by Gary Pullin, and a collector's booklet with a new essay by critic Brad Stevens, which also features archive stills and posters.
I think this film should be taken with a few grains of salt because it's just so out there, but that contributes to its queasy charm and sweaty atmosphere. I think we should thank Tobe Hooper for making movies that refuse to cater to the expectations of the most conserative of filmgoers, because they are actually fun to watch.