VHS Vault Presents MONSTERS month
Tobe Hooper’s Eaten Alive (1977)
Monday, April 23rd | Starts at 8pm | Lobby | Free
Come watch Eaten Alive in preparation for Nitehawk’s Midnight showing of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre

Everything and everyone in Tobe Hooper’s Eaten Alive looks like it/they need a good, long, hard scrub. The dingy dwellings, saturated coloring, and hazy lighting make an atmosphere that mimics each character’s dirtiness (both inside and out) as well as their visceral insanity.  No one here, aside from the little girl and poor pooch, is pure: sex, killing, stealing. Eaten Alive is where vice meets its crocodilian end.

Eaten Alive is sandwiched between Hooper’s groundbreaking The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) and the brilliant The Funhouse (1981). While its narrative is rooted within the everyday like the others in this “trilogy”, there is something quite surreal about Eaten Alive. Oscillating between cartoon and theater (from the coloring, body parts, and speech to the greatly exaggerated gestures) it just looks like a gritty world that resembles our own but exists morally separate from it. This is where the horror of Eaten Alive (and Texas Chainsaw and Funhouse) is located – in this isolated bubble, a vortex of death, inside normality that the victims willingly enter. How this plays out: the young adults in Texas Chainsaw travel onto the cannibals’ property, the teens in Fun House break into the carnival after-hours, and in Eaten Alive the slew of misfits and their families wind up in the Starlight Hotel all on their own accord.

Besides its parallel universe, Eaten Alive shares other similarities with Hooper’s trilogy tradition. One is the centralizing architectural place where the main shit goes down. Jud’s hotel emits a foreshadowing feeling of something wrong just like Texas Chainsaw’s farmhouse and the Funhouse’s amusement ride. Another is the mentally disturbed yet emotionally fragile killer. Jud is a babbling mad-man who’s missing a leg and loves his African crocodile. Leatherface is a cross-dressing “man” of the house who must protect his demented family. Funhouse Barker and the Monster murder the trespassing teenagers to cover up the Monster’s dead prostitute.

There is one similarity amongst the trilogy that solidifies Hooper’s films in horror history: the triumphant survival of “the Final Girl”. Carol J. Clover who coined this term describes “the Final Girl” as, “Her momentary paralysis in the face of death duplicates those moments of the universal nightmare experience – in which she is the undisputed ‘I’ – on which horror frankly trades. When she downs the killer, we are triumphant.” Eaten Alive actually has a more upbeat ending with gives us three female survivors, three times more than the other films.

Of course Eaten Alive has a rather unique layer to its tale and that is the ridiculously large African crocodile that lives in the swamp next door to the hotel. How it got there doesn’t matter, he’s there enacting judgment to the hotel’s victims, endlessly consuming their bodies with an insatiable appetite. Allegorically, the crocodile has a rather sordid relationship with mythology that fits within this particular nightmare. In Ancient Egypt the reptile is associated with Sebek, the half-crocodile/half-man god of the Nile, and symbolized “viscous passions, deceit, treachery and hypocrisy.”  So when Jud meets his demise at the mouth of his partner and his pet, it’s only an appropriate end to the vicious cycle of morality murders. 

Hooper is a brutal filmmaker; one who doesn’t allow time for remorse or mourning, only space for the screaming, slashing, and hysterics. And his films, particularly Eaten Alive, beg the question – so who is the monster here? The crocodile? Jud? Buck who likes to fuck? Within this filmic trilogy Hooper’s biggest success is in the revelation that we all embody monstrous characteristics and, perhaps most frighteningly, he shows that the possibility to pay for our misdeeds could be right around the corner.

Eaten Alive fun facts…the film was considered a “video nasty” by the UK in the 1980s. Eaten Alive features a very young Robert Englund (aka the future Freddy Krueger). Also, don’t confuse this film with the Italian rape/cannibal movie Eaten Alive/Mangiata viva! that came out in 1980.