With the untimely passing of Marilyn Burns earlier today, I thought I would take a look at one of her best movies (not that there are a lot to choose from- unfortunately, she was not very prolific, and most of her roles were cameos and small parts).
If you ever wondered what the missing link between the Texas Chain Saw Massacre and the Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2 is, it’s Eaten Alive. It has the feel of the Texas Chain Saw Massacre, but also has the over-the-top, absurd, almost slapstick acting and characterizations of part 2 (which part 1 had a bit of, but they really went all out with part 2).
It is Tobe Hooper’s second movie (after TCM), and was also co-written by Kim Henkle and stars Marilyn Burns. It’s set somewhere in Texas (close to the Louisiana border, one would assume because of the swamp setting and the continual mentions of cities like Houston and Huntsville), in a small redneck town. A crazy one-legged scythe wielding hillbilly named Judd (who makes me think of a cross between The Cook and Chop Top (tho mostly The Cook)) runs a motel on the edge of a swamp, where he has a pet gigantic Nile alligator he evidently got from a zoo somehow.
When a young lady gets thrown out of a nearby brothel for refusing to allow Buck (a very young looking Robert England) to do her in the butt, she goes to the motel along with several other travelers (including her father (Mel Ferrer) and sister who’ve come looking for her), quite a few of which are then killed by Judd and fed to his pet.
There’s not much more to it than that. It has an 18% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.com (which to those of you unfamiliar with that site, is a very low score), but I really like it. The only complaint I have is that the acting is a little too over-the-top in places. One reason that the nuts in TCM stood out so well was that the protagonists were pretty normal kids. In this movie, almost everyone is batshit crazy or quirky or an outlandish caricature. It’s not quite as ridiculously unrealistic as a Rob Zombie movie, but it’s still a little much in places.
One thing that balances that out is that it features a lot of classic Hollywood actors, which makes it stand out a bit from other exploitation films (and I think really disappointed a lot of highbrow critics). Neville Brand (who was also in the TV movie I just reviewed Killdozer, as well as respectable films like Stalag 17, Tora Tora Tora, and Birdman of Alcatraz) plays Judd as a twitchy, demented redneck with delicate sensibilities who attacks people who offend them. Carolyn Jones (House of Wax, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Morticia in The Addams Family TV show) is almost unrecognizable in her small but memorable role as the frumpy down home good ole gal rodeo queen headmistress of the brothel (who at one point, tells a character that she has some land she wants to get rid of real cheap, which has a large pecan tree in the front yard. This is obviously a reference to the TCM house, which implies that the TCM universe and this one are the same).
Marilyn Burns plays the wife of quirky weirdo William Finley (Phantom of the Paradise, several other DePalma movies) and mother of shrieky 8 year old Angie (Kyle Richards, who went on to play similarly terrorized kid Lindsey in Halloween the next year). The cast is rounded out by Roberta Collins (who played Matilda the Hun in the original Death Race 2000 and was in a bunch of other old exploitation films) and another well respected classic actor Stuart Whitman, as the consummate good old boy redneck town sheriff.
It’s a little talky (or perhaps I should say mumbly in the case of Judd) in places, but has a great feel to it; kind of a creepy, swampy atmosphere mixed with a bit of sleaze and a touch of bizarreness to make a top notch exploitation film with more blood than TCM or the disappointing The Funhouse (the movies he did before and after Eaten Alive) and a lot of cheap thrills. It also features another weird but cool experimental soundtrack by Hooper, much like TCM‘s.
Supposedly it’s based on a true story, of a man named Joe Ball (just as TCM was partially inspired by Ed Gein).
People hate this movie, but I liked it. It makes a good bridge between TCM 1 and 2.