Thursday, October 8, 2015

31 Days, 31 Horror Movies: Eaten Alive (aka Death Trap)

Eaten Alive (aka Death Trap)

I think I've seen most of Tobe Hooper's movies, though nothing recent (Toolbox Murders or Mortuary), and in general I think the quality of his work is pretty high. Maybe not consistent or extremely well written, but... I mean, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is rough and raw, but it's exceptionally well-made, shot, and edited. There's skill as well as talent involved. Eaten Alive, though...

I spent maybe 90% of this movie thinking about how terrible it is. I mean, just poorly shot, written, scored and (with some exceptions) acted. The plot is just a thin excuse to have women get naked and for people to get killed in gory ways. The 'crocodile' is an awful prop (that's not used much - a wise decision, but frustrating as well). In some ways it reminded me of earlier, terrible, low-budget exploitation films like Two Thousand Maniacs.

It takes real skill to make an indoor set look so sleazy

BUT. But, man... it's all shot on sets, indoor and outdoor. Like, obvious, cramped, garishly lit and half-assed set-dressed sets. Hell, at times you could be forgiven for thinking it was a bad copy of some forgotten MGM musical about - well, about some lunatic hotel owner and his pet alligator.

An EXTREMELY REALISTIC alligator. Crocodile. Whatever.

Over time the film actually started to win me over a little - enough that I could sit through it, after several moments thinking I might turn it off. I think - I THINK - it's actually supposed to be a comedy. There are definitely characters - like the bordello owner - that are supposed to be funny. They AREN'T funny, but I think they're supposed to be. And Robert Englund - many years before V and Freddy - is pretty watchable as a scumbag. The over-the top soundtrack of twangy country music - with extra twang - makes some of the scenes even more surreal than they already are. There's a couple that simply goes insane at one point - for no reason that I can tell. (Why is she wearing a wig? Why is he dressed like Johnny from Night of the Living Dead? Why is there a shotgun in their trunk?)

Also, this scene goes on like 15 minutes too long.
 It's really a difficult film to like, though. The main character is played by long-time character actor Neville Brand and he's got some skills - but he spends most of the film rambling in long, nonsensical scenes that kill any momentum and tension built up by the murders. The murders themselves are poorly choreographed and shot, with bad gore effects. The casual racism and misogyny is ugly and tough to sit through today - and often time seems incredibly awful and mean-spirited, which I know is weird to say about a horror movie, but I don't know, it was just - nasty. Marilyn Burns spends a good 15 minutes of the film tied to a bed and just flailing about and trying to scream, and that's about 14 minutes too long. And it commits the cardinal sin of not being scary - it's just too weird and cheap (in a studio soundstage way) to effectively frighten. There are moments - Judd goes crazy at the drop of a hat, and that kind of volatility can build tension pretty well - but they're few and far between.

"I'm gonna harvest me some crops!"
 Somehow I've ended up with a two-disc special edition of this movie, but I can't imagine listening to the commentary or watching any of the extras. Not any time soon.

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