by Jason Suzuki
Fresh off The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Tobe Hooper made this “feel-bad” fun movie about the psychotic owner of a bayou motel and his pet alligator. The film opens with a working girl’s (Roberta Collins) incident with a rough client (Robert Englund). Her refusal of his desires gets her kicked out of the brothel and without a job or home. She finds her way through the trees and the set bathed in fog to the Starlight Motel, While odd, the owner Judd (Neville Brand) does his job and shows her to her room. realizing she is one of Miss Hattie’s girls triggers a rage in Judd. We beats her, stabs her and eventually makes her food for the croc. A split second look of shameful astonishment on Judd’s face about what he’s done is the completion of the Psychoconnection. While the shower scene doesn’t happen until after a third into Hitchcock’s film’s running time, Hooper does the Janet Leigh-arc/character change all in the first ten minutes.
The Psycho comparisons and how Hooper was twisting and playing with them were some of the most interesting aspects to the film. He condenses the film’s Leigh segment, forgoes the twist of the reveal, and makes the sister character investigating her sister’s disappearance a side plot to the other visitors/victims of Judd and his pet. A scene of Marilyn Burns preparing for a shower seems gratuitous because he has removed the cutaways to Norman peering through the hole in the wall, completely forgoing that and letting the audience alone be the ones staring. This is the trance inducing version of Psycho had the Bates Motel housed multiple guests that Norman had to juggle.
The lighting of the film is meant to invoke a fairy tale feel just as much as it’s meant to purposefully be conscious of it all being a sound stage. There are certain visuals in Eaten Alive would be striking no matter the format or quality of release, but Arrow makes the entire presentation of the film a striking quality. The scenes bathes in red and green and the soundtrack to the film create clashes that recreate the one between the goofy grindhouse croc with the moments of raw interaction, most notably in the scenes with Marilyn Burns and William Finley playing husband and wife, but also scenes of violent outbursts between Judd and women that are held too long. It’s all very good looking but retains the intended feel of a drive-in movie, the movie is compulsively watchable.
Arrow has not only kept the extras from the Dark Sky Films DVD release of the film, which includes trailers (even a fun Japanese trailer out of the seven on the disc), a commentary, and great interviews (one with Robert Englund), but Arrow has created some new ones for their release of the film. They have a new introduction to the film by Hooper along with a new interview with him, in which he is honest about the film and his career at the time. Another new interview with actress Janus Blythe which serves as not only a supplement to the film but also as a tiny career spanning discussion from her. And finally my favorite of the new features is an interview with make-up artist on the film Craig Reardon. His interview is comprised of ten minutes worth of behind the scenes info and his own musings on film that seem to go too fast. His thoughts on the industry transitions and the appeal of the horror genre have him serving as film historian, theorist, and fan all at once, making this the best addition to the special features
For fans of the film Arrow’s release is a no-brainer, the special features give insight to the people involved beyond their work on Eaten Alive specifically. Hooper realized the type of film he was making but still made it something that has more sticking moments than your average b-grade flick.
Jason Suzuki is co-editor to Cinema Adrift.