AUGUST 31, 2012
I have a buddy who claims that Tobe Hooper has never made a bad film, which is contrary to what most sane people think (which would be that he's only made a couple that were any good). As of this writing, he has yet to reply to my Facebook wall post asking him to explain how Eaten Alive (aka Death Trap, and pretty much every combination of two English words you can imagine - it has more titles than an Italian zombie flick) could be considered good by any reasonable measure.
I mean, sure, it has a certain batshit charm that would probably make it a hoot to watch with a crowd, but that's also how I'd describe The Room, and fuck anyone who claims that's not a bad movie. To be fair, Hooper says he was at odds with his producers throughout production on this one, and as legend has it, walked off before filming was completed (and thus presumably had no presence in post-production), so you can't chalk all of this film's faults up to him. The fact that it was his followup to Texas Chainsaw Massacre also probably put some unfair expectations on this one, not unlike Carpenter's Halloween followup, The Fog, which has only started getting the respect it deserves in the past 5-6 years.
But even factoring that in, this is just a mess. Horribly disjointed and populated exclusively with assholes and degenerates (William Finley is one of the more normal characters - let that sink in), there is precious little to enjoy here. Most of my amusement was generated by realizations, such as the fact that the movie turns into a Manos remake during its second act. Not even joking - a bickering couple with a quiet girl gets lost and stops at the main locale, where the girl's dog is killed almost instantly and the family is terrorized by the owner of the place. Sound familiar? That the production value and professionalism on display here is only slightly above that of Manos just makes the similarities even more apparent.
I also chuckled at the irony, as I was watching this to wash away the stink of Texas Chainsaw 4, which I covered for my Badass Digest column this week - I figured an old-school Hooper flick would even things out. Not only did this not help (it's better, of course, but barely), but I got an unexpected reminder of the flick, as both of them were apparently an influence on Rob Zombie when he made House of 1000 Corpses. There's a subplot here about a dad coming to the place looking for his daughter that was killed earlier, and it plays out almost exactly like it does in Zombie's film. Plus the main location is the sort of backwoods "tourist trap" that the characters in Corpses would have visited, so the similarities can't be coincidence.
But I could forgive all (OK, some) of that if the movie ever generated any suspense at all, and that's where it fails most miserably. The opening kill is a decent enough surprise if you're expecting the girl to be the hero (yeah, it's not only a reprise of Chainsaw and Manos, but Psycho as well), but too much of the back half revolves around the little girl, who is trapped under the house and under threat of the crocodile that the owner keeps in a swamp. Sorry, but even though the girl is Kyle Richards, whose sister Kim played the ill-fated vanilla twist enthusiast in the previous year's Assault on Precinct 13, there's no way in hell I believe that she's going to get chomped, rendering all of this stuff a waste of time. And since everyone else is kind of despicable or just plain weird, there isn't any real concern when they're in the vicinity of the croc's jaws, either. Go ahead and kill them all so we can get home early.
It's also poorly made, so even if Hooper didn't shoot all of it, it's not really much of an excuse since all of it kind of looks like ass. Despite having something like 7x the money at his disposal, it actually looks cheaper than Chainsaw. The production design is lousy, the lighting often murky, etc. There are some scenes that are tinted red, which looks cool but means nothing, and just sort of adds to the film's erratic feel instead of sticking out as an actual stylistic choice. It's also gory, which is a shame in a weird way as Chainsaw was so effective and scary without any real gore at all, but here we get blood spurting out of necks and such, adding to the movie's overall crudeness and further making me wonder if Steven Spielberg didn't actually direct Chainsaw as well (OK that's a cheap shot, but come on, it's a FUNNY cheap shot). I was charmed to later learn that the movie was shot at the Raleigh Studios on Melrose - not only was I right across the street from it earlier today (it's across the street from Greendale Community College, where I wish I could enroll for night classes), but it's also where the Shriekfest Film Festival occurs every year. Having seen a lot of similarly shoddy, inept movies there, it was sort of endearing to think that one was actually made on the premises.
Despite all of that, it's not even his worst movie. I'd take it over Spontaneous Combustion or The Mangler, and his Masters of Horror episode Dance of the Dead (which also had Robert Englund, who plays an asshole hick here) is still one of the absolute worst things I've ever seen in my life. I'd even entertain watching it at the New Beverly or something, where its many, many lapses in logic and amateurish production would provide a lot of entertainment thanks to the infectious energy of a bewildered crowd. But by myself on a computer monitor? Yikes.
What say you?