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STUDIO: Dark Sky
RUNNING TIME: 91 Minutes
•Commentary with cast and crew
•Robert Englund Featurette
•“The Legend of Joe Ball” Documentary
“It‘s Motel Hell – with an alligator!”
Robert Englund, Neville Brand, Carolyn Jones, Marilyn Burns, Mel Ferrer and a few others.
A crazy guy runs a little ramshackle motel and he kills his guests, sometimes feeding them to his pet alligator.
Lately, when you think of Tobe Hooper, you’re probably divided – simply with Poltergeist and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, you’d think he’d be deserving of a lifetime pass. However, with his current additions to the resume (The Toolbox Murders Remake and the God-awful Dance of the Dead), one is almost forced to wonder what in the blue hell happened.
Even though there hadn’t been a guest in 2 months, Joe knew that if he turned that light off, Tom would have his ass.
That feeling is only reinforced with Eaten Alive, Hooper’s sophomore effort. Again, Hooper takes the legend of a real-life serial killer (this time Joe Ball of Texas – more on him later) and a minimalist plot and weaves together a tense, violent, thrill of a movie. I haven’t watched the original TCM in some time now, and even though I feel like the gore scales tip slightly more in Eaten Alive‘s favor, this is still a movie that follows the “less is more” mantra laid down by Chainsaw.
At any rate, I won’t waste a lot of time with exposition, as the story is, as said before, extremely minimal. A varied cast of characters show up at the Starlight Hotel and Judd (Brand), the guy who runs the place, pretty much goes on a killing spree – and an alligator is involved. And, in a nutshell (heh), that’s it.
It being Awards Season and all, I figured I’d present my pick for Dorkiest Looking Cop Team of All Time.
What really makes the film stand out, though, is the way Hooper completely turned a standard formula on it‘s ear. Typically in these movies, you have strangers in a strange place doing bad things and getting killed for it. Case in point – Friday the 13th. Another good example is Hostel. These are essentially “warning movies,” or morality tales. However, in Eaten Alive, we’re immediately introduced to a young prostitute. After a nasty encounter with the Future Mr. Krueger, she sees the error of her ways and stands on the brink of salvation. She’s set up to be our hero, but after checking into Judd’s Starlight Hotel, she meets her grisly end, courtesy of Judd and a rusty pitchfork (a death, by the way, that Roberta Collins sells beautifully).
And from there it spins out of any sort of predictable pattern (which is special because “there“ is about 9 minutes in). Around the halfway mark there’s a chase scene involving Judd and a young child and we honestly do not know if the child is going to make it out alive. It‘s as if you know people are going to die, but you have no idea who and there’s no inherent reason. There’s no statement being made by these deaths (that I can gather anyway) and that’s what makes it truly scary – this guy is just plain crazy. These murders aren’t necessary evils designed to teach the audience a lesson – these people just die. Painfully. Randomly.
"Everybody knows Jason rules. He could kick that Freddy guy’s ass any day of the we…what? Shit, he’s standing right behind me, isn’t he?"
Now, there’s always the possibility that I missed the point spectacularly (and if so, please feel free to let me know), but I hope I didn’t. I think the arbitrary nature of the film is what makes it so powerful.
What in the blue hell happened, indeed.
I’ve reviewed a few Dark Sky releases now and even though the films sometimes vary in quality – there’s always one constant: the cover artwork is great. And of course, that’s a trend continued here. It’s a painted-type poster featuring Judd and a captive young woman. Great stuff.
Feature-wise, there’s a nifty little commentary with the writer, some cast and the make-up artist. Worth a listen, if only once. There’s also a little featurette on Robert Englund and his career up until his role in Eaten Alive. It’s almost fluff and it’s really short, but it was interesting and a nice reminder that he’s had a full career above and beyond Freddy Krueger.
Folger’s – The Official Coffee of Hell’s Police Force
What I’m assuming would be the centerpiece of these features is a documentary called “The Butcher of Elmendorf: The Legend of Joe Ball.” It’s roughly 30 minutes of Joe Ball’s nephew telling his uncle’s story. This had great potential, except that the nephew wasn’t engaging at all and even seemed to make really interesting tidbits seem bland and dismissable. I would probably call this the only dropped ball on the disc.
In the end though, that little blemish isn’t enough to keep me from proudly displaying this disc on my shelf. Not only as a great genre flick, but also as a reminder of how Tobe Hooper earned that “Master of Horror” title in the first place.
OVERALL 8.0 out of 10