Tobe Hooper has had an inconsistent career as a horror director. When he scores big he delivers classics like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Poltergeist. When he fails he delivers uneven efforts like The Texas Chainsaw 2 – and this 1977 effort Eaten Alive (also known as Death Trap).
The film follows a hectic evening for Neville Brand’s murderous hotel owner Judd. Judd starts picking-off hotel residents and feeding them to his pet crocodile. The Deep South set schlocker was allegedly (loosely) inspired by the real-life killer Joe Ball, a bar owner with a penchant for feeding women to his collection of alligators in the 1930s.
On paper, Hooper’s film sounds great but the cartoonish tone and the over the top acting make it devoid of any thrills. Cinematographer Robert Caramico gives the film the look of a live action EC Comic book with the broad colours and set-bound stagings (the restoration really makes this pop). If you look at it in that perspective then it’s probably a decent enough piece of entertainment. Hooper has stacked his film with an impressive cast – Brand is joined by Marilyn Burns, William Finley, Mel Ferrer, Stuart Whitman, Robert Englund and Carolyn Jones but they’re given little to do and they’re woefully underserved by an uneven screenplay.
Eaten Alive is more of a curiosity than a must see entry into the horror cannon. Tobe Hooper’s film misses the mark and while it has a few interesting ideas littered throughout, it fails to capture the imagination to entertain its audience.