Eaten Alive tells the sordid tale of Judd — a psychotic hotel owner in east Texas who feeds problem tenets to his pet alligator. The movie introduces it’s lurid tone from the get go by having a pre-Nightmare on Elm St. Robert Englund unbuckling his belt and introducing himself to a prostitute by saying “My name is Buck. I’m here to *insert word that rhymes with Buck and is a synonym for coitus*”, (Tarantino “borrowed” this in Kill Bill vol. 1). It’s all downhill from there as this event sets in motion a collision course between a few of the residents of the town and Judd.
Unlike The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Eaten Alive was filmed on in a studio stage instead of on location. The grim proceedings are given a surrealistic tone because of this, such as a family arriving at night time to Judd’s hotel under an apocalyptic lit red sky. The whole thing feels off-kilter, like the fever dream of a schizophrenic. Marylin Burns is again used by director Tobe Hooper to play the poor damsel in distress, Faye, who is the matriarch of the before-mentioned family. Faye, her husband, their young daughter (played by Kyle Richards of Halloween fame and we’ll leave it at that), and dog make the mistake of staying at Judd’s. The dog is eaten by Judd’s croc, and the family still stays there. The rest of the film follows an implosion of violence as Judd’s actions take their toll on his sanity and the townspeople.
Eaten Alive starts to drag towards the end, and it seems the scenes of Judd stalking young Kyle Richards is used for padding. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t have it’s sense of suspense as Judd’s alligator is also somewhere lurking around and could eat the young starlet at any given moment. The story of the locals searching for a missing prostitute Judd kills early in the film is interspersed in this, and this story line manages to redeem the local wild-child/redneck Buck, (whom we saw earlier in the film trying to sodomize said missing prostitute). Englund would later go on to strike lighting in a bottle with Freddy Kruger. Kruger would have Englund be typecast for the majority of his career as well as overshadowing his character work, thus making his portrayal of Buck one of the best reasons for watching Eaten Alive.
Eaten Alive has the same sense of menace and zaniness as Texas Chain Saw Massacre but is much more mean-spirited. Unlike the twitchy and nervous villains of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Judd is more of a powder keg. His violent outbursts come across as naturalistic, as if it wasn’t acting but an extension of the actor himself. As it turns out, this is true. Actor Neville Brand, who played Judd, was a highly decorated WWII vet before his acting stint. He spent his later career as journeyman actor who, due to his looks, normally played heavies. Brand’s most notable role was Al Capone on The Untouchables TV show. At the time of filming Eaten Alive, Brand suffered from PTSD and alcoholism. Cast members were legitimately terrified of him during certain points of filming, even though they loved him. Due to his real life issues carrying over into the filming, Brand’s performance is very hard to watch at times. This is especially during the scenes with Marylin Burns. If you thought she got it bad as Sally in Texas Chainsaw Massacre, you ain’t seen nothing yet. Most interestingly, Brand manages to draw an actual performance out of Kyle Richards who is really terrified for her life as he chases her around while wielding a scythe.
Eaten Alive also stars Carolyn Jones, famous for playing Morticia on The Addams Family. Here, she plays as the brothel’s madam. Her presence adds to the already before mentioned eclectic cast, which also includes veteran character actors William Finley (Sisters) and Stuart Whitman (The Comancheros). Tobe Hooper had an amazing hot streak from ’74 till ’86, and this film exemplifies as that was right (and wrong) with his off-kilter psycho killer films.