Ponty and I have decided to run down our lists of Top Ten Worst Films, and this week it’s my turn to kick off my list. The problem is that I often like bad films, so I don’t have a large list conjured up in my head, ready to go.
Nevertheless, I watch some real stinkers. Most of the “bad” films I watch are simply boring—meandering, pointless, tripe.
This week’s selection, however, is not necessarily boring—there’s quite a bit going on in it—but is so ridiculous and poorly structured, I’m filing it under “bad.”
With that, here is my review of 1976’s Eaten Alive.
This Eaten Alive is not to be confused with the 1980 Italian cannibal flick Eaten Alive!, which I have not seen, but which sounds as horrific as Cannibal Holocaust, from the same year. There are no naked cannibals eating cocky film crews in this flick. Instead, it’s a gigantic Nile crocodile that dispatches the hapless guests of the Starlight Hotel.
The Starlight is operated by Judd, a deranged individual who reminded me of Billy Bob Thornton in his more villainous roles. Judd somehow manages to get about twelve customers in one night in his rural Texas town, which is about as unbelievable as the rest of the story.
Judd also has some serious hang-ups about the brothel down the road. A young runaway girl, Clara Wood, gets kicked out of the cathouse after refusing to participate in the world’s oldest profession, and seeks refuge at the Starlight. Judd immediately figures out she is “one of Miss Hattie’s girls,” and pitchforks Clara, who then becomes crocodile chow.
There’s also a desperately sad but obnoxious scene in which a highly dysfunctional couple arrives at the Starlight looking for a bathroom. The couple’s poor little daughter witnesses her ceaselessly barking dog, Snoopy, eaten alive (get it?) by the crocodile. The daughter’s father—also disturbed in his own way—attempts to kill the crocodile, only Judd to attack him with a scythe (an objectively cooler weapon than a pitchfork).
Soon Clara’s father and attractive sister show up at the Starlight. Judd denies any knowledge of her, as does Miss Hattie, the proprietress of the whore house. For some reason, the hot sister goes out for drinks with the very middle-aged sheriff, while the father gets his throat slit. Judd and his scythe strike again.
The character of Miss Hattie is weird. She’s an old Southern lady wearing a gigantic 1970s ascot and a green accounting visor, but they glommed so much makeup on the actress (Carolyn Jones, who portrayed Morticia Addams on The Addams Family) that she looks like a zombie. The effect is that she has a gray face that looks like it’s peeling off in chunks.
There’s also Buck, an extremely lascivious good ol’ boy who just wants to sleep with as many whores as possible. Judd hates Buck, but whatever reason won’t just go ahead and kill him, instead choosing to shout, “Get off my property!” impotently at the annoying yokel.
The film ends—of course—with Judd’s own alligator eating him alive.
Acclaimed horror director Tobe Hooper directed Eaten Alive, and I guess we all have to start somewhere. There are plenty of great ingredients in this flick—a South Texas madman feeding prostitutes to his crocodile—and the dysfunctional family is interesting (the father is pretty messed up, and it breaks the viewer’s heart to imagine what it is doing to his daughter), but it felt heavy on exploitation and light on substance.
Of course, a film about a man feeding prostitutes to his crocodile pretty much is the definition of exploitation theater, so, you get what you pay for with Eaten Alive.