Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Today's Viewing & Review: Eaten Alive

Eaten Alive

I’m not really sure how much there is to say about Tobe Hooper’s sophomore film, about a serial killer and his crocodile. To say it doesn’t match the raw, visceral splendour of The Texas Chain-Saw Massacre is an understatement but it’s still quite a fun watch. The slight premise revolves around a backwater hotel where the owner picks off anyone who turns up and disposes of their remains with the assistance of his scaly cohort. It’s so bare-bones as to have no discernable subtext and follows a formulaic structure throughout; guests arrive, soon depart (in parts).

Quite why Hooper chose to follow up on his first horror opus with an inferior carbon copy eludes me. Swap the sun-scorched Texan wilderness for the steamy bayou and add a hungry reptile, but keep all other elements startlingly similar. Present are the hardy heroines (again played by Marilyn Burns), bloodied but not beaten, who long-outlive their male counterparts. Present is the dissonant soundscape of shrill screeches which permeated Hooper’s previous film. Present is the remote location and brutal but bumbling killer with no discernable motive. Present (at times) is the vérité cinematography but never with the same degree of success. A woodland chase scene with the killer, flailing around wielding agricultural equipment, pursuing his bloodied prey is shot in such a similar way it’s hard not to think of it as a parody.

However, missing is the brutal brilliance and genuinely sickening, pulse-racing, drawn-out ordeal meted (meated?) out by Leatherface and family. Most notable by its absence is the finesse (for lack of a better word) with which Hooper handles the horror. Here, every jolt is so clearly plotted out in advance and often ruined by a clumsy mechanical croc which makes the shark in Jaws look like the Na’vi.

To pick it apart’s not really the point though, is it? It’s a trashy slash-‘em-up with a few great moments including a giallo-esque, crimson-hued night scene. The mumbling sociopath is well played and creepy enough, with a Nazi allusion even thrown in for good measure. There are some savagely efficient deaths, it's solidly shot and the location is well realised. The caged, dying monkeys are a nice touch.

It’s perhaps unfair to spend the review comparing it (unfavourably) to the director’s previous work but the similarities are plain to see, just nowhere near as well executed.


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