Tobe Hooper’s Infectious Anger in “Eaten Alive”
God it must’ve been tough finding a motel in the 70s.
This is a vicious film. It’s angry and it made me angry, not an easy or desirable place to be. But that’s the point– this East Texas hotel is Tobe Hooper’s Hellscape, an amplifier of wounds. Whereas Dario Argento’s reds feel over the top, powerful and bright, Eaten Alive’s filters are a sick red.
A sex worker, a trick and a family at its breaking point all find themselves at the same swampy motel, run by Judd, a sexually repressed man in tremendous pain who only has violent answers to the questions he asks about himself. Judd (Neville Brand) whacks at his guests with his sickle and feeds them to his crocodile. Or is it a gator? There are conflicting opinions, but whatever the reptile, it’s insatiable.
Judd is the scariest disciple of Death I’ve ever seen because he exists. It should be noted that the startling actor playing this man is Neville Brand, who won a Silver Star, Purple Heart and many other medals of distinction serving in World War II. He then proceeded to achieve 138 acting credits. I want to know more about Neville Brand.
People bubbling with conflict find their way to Judd and his zoo motel, a tractor beam to a swampy stage production of Hooper and Kim Henkle’s childhood stuff. The only other places we visit are the brothel, the police station and the bar, the only other places that exist.
A runaway named Clara escapes a violent brothel run by Carolyn Jones, the original Morticia Addams. Only to meet Judd. A couple on the brink (the husband played by Phantom William Finley) traveling with their daughter (Halloween Ends’ Kyle Richards) and her dog meet Judd. The fractured family looking for Clara, the fading patriarch (Mel Ferrer) and his other daughter, meet Judd. Buck, the man Clara was running from, knows Judd. They all bring their problems to Judd, who has his own problems, and everyone’s problems get exponentially worse.
It’s an uncomfortable pleasure to find Robert Englund eight years before A Nightmare on Elm Street. His performance as Buck the violent trick is more frightening than any of his Freddy’s.
Hooper’s score, which he composed with Wayne Bell, is psychotic: discordant, alien, funny. I swear it includes women screaming as a musical sting, but I couldn’t say for certain. There are many screams in this movie, some by a little girl trapped underneath the motel.
Is it a croc or is it a gator that she’s screaming about? We can’t agree on what exactly we’re being fed to, but it’s eating us alive, and our children are next.