Saturday, September 22, 2012

What a Croc: "Eaten Alive" (1977)

Tobe Hooper's next film after the ubersuccess "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" is a mess of half realized ideas and a director who must have felt the pressure to top himself.

Neville Brand is Judd, who runs the Starlight Hotel on the outskirts of a small Texas town. Libby (Crystin Sinclaire), a novice hooker, runs away from Miss Hattie's (Carolyn Jones, in some awful pancake makeup) and takes refuge at the creepy hotel. She arrives at night, Judd figures out she was one of Miss Hattie's girls, and throws her in the swamp. The swamp out back of the hotel contains a giant crocodile, which eats almost everything that comes its way.

The film then falls into a pattern that constantly repeats itself. More patrons come to the hotel, Judd picks this night to go nuts, and the crocodile out back gets to eat more than his share. Roy (William Finley) and his family arrive, Libby's dad (Mel Ferrer) and her sister arrive, Buck (Robert Englund) arrives, the sheriff arrives, etc.

While the crocodile attacks are very good (Hooper wisely keeps the shots dark), and the gore effects are okay, the script is a mess. Why did Judd pick this night to go bonkers? Has he been killing people all these years, or just now? The constant predictability kills the suspense.

Neville Brand, one of Hollywood's greatest underrated character actors, does a good job here until his performance eventually becomes stale. I am still trying to figure out why Carolyn Jones is covered in the horrible makeup, even her character is a little unnecessary. Poor Mel Ferrer does his best, but he has appeared in so many of these B horror movies, he looks totally bored. Robert Englund is good, his opening line is memorable, but his character is also just a small minded caricature.

"Eaten Alive" is by no means a great horror film, but if anything, it is a hundred times better than Hooper's later "Crocodile," one of the worst films ever made. (* *) out of five stars.