From The Grindhouse Cinema Database
As the film's credits begin we see a full moon, then a dissolve into the bronze belt buckle of a redneck jerk named Buck (Robert Englund). The first words out of his mouth are "I'm Buck and I'm here to fuck" (Note: This line was used in Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill: Volume 1 (2003) by another character named Buck as a nod to one of Quentin Tarantino's film heroes Tobe Hooper and his film). We see Buck is in a whorehouse and wants some lovin' right away. He even tries to get the poor hooker Clara (Crystin Sinclaire) with the bad blonde curly wig to get on the bed and try things in spots she doesn't want to explore. As he grabs her and orders her to comply because he "paid good money!", the girl yells and refuses to go there. Suddenly, Miss Hattie (Carolyn Jones) barges in and instead of telling Buck to stop, she kicks the girl out of the whorehouse. As shes leaving, we see Buck is bringing two more hookers upstairs to get it on. Before leaving, one of the housekeepers, a black woman, gives Clara some money and tells her she can find The Starlight Hotel down the road and stay there.
When Clara arrives at the Starlight Hotel, which is right on the bayou, she gets a creepy feeling. She sees a shadow of someone lurking inside. She walks up to the door and enters and sees a strange old hippy looking fellow. This is Judd (Neville Brand), the owner of the Starlight Hotel. Judd has Clara sign his guestbook before he brings her to her room. When Judd and the girl get to the top of the stairs he starts to freak out and tell her he knows what she is: a WHORE from Miss Hatty's Cathouse. He theatreningly grabs her and she panics and runs down the stairs. Judd runs after her, they both trip and tumble down to the bottom. Dazed and confused, Judd ends up on top of Clara, but she quickly gets up by kicking Jud and she runs out the door. Then with a furious speed, Judd runs after her, picks up his good ol' pitchfork and goes off, wailing the pitchfork into her as blood squirts everywhere. This guy Judd is a freakin maniac!! After he calms down, we can hear Clara is gurgling and spitting up blood and she tries to crawl away, but Judd isnt finished with her. He picks her up and throws her over the porch railing into the bayou. His huge pet crocodile "Rocky" is hungry and he gobbles Miss Clara up like a piece of cake!
It's not long before Buck comes by and gives Judd a hard time. Buck seems to like ol Judd, but Judd just has trouble making friends. We can see The Starlight Hotel is where Buck often brings his girlfriends to have some good ol fun upstairs. Judd tells him to get the hell out. A family arrive at the Starlight looking for a place to stay and Judd welcomes them in with open arms. The father Roy (Phantom of The Paradise's William Finley) is a tall geeky guy with glasses and his wife Faye has dark curly hair (what is with the bad curly wigs in this movie?). Their little girl is Angie (Kyle Richards), you might know her from another classic horror film called Halloween (1978), she played one of the kids Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) babysat. Angie has a little dog named Snoopy. When Snoopy hops out of the car, he goes over near the fence in front of the bayou he sees something he doesn't like, so he begins to bark loudly. Suddenly, Snoopy gets too close to the water and just like that, Judd's pet croc eats him up like a doggy snack! The little girl goes nuts and begins to cry. Roy and Faye take her up to their room and she just cries and cries over her poor doggy.
Meanwhile Judd is downstairs listening to all this. Judd is a hilariously weird character. He reminds me of a cross between The Hitchhiker (Edwin Neal), The Older Brother (Jim Siedow) and Leatherface (Gunnar Hansen) in Texas Chainsaw Massacre. He has long greasy hair, a fake leg, mumbles alot and he just bugs the hell out every once in awhile for no reason. Upstairs in the room, Roy is acting just as looney as Judd, this guy is a few porkchops short of a mixed grill. His wife takes off her black curly wig and low and behold we see a familiar face! It's the blonde cutie Marilyn Burns (Sally in Texas Chainsaw Massacre). Marilyn has to be one of the best scream queens in cinema and I was so happy to see her show up in this film. Roy goes down to talk to Judd and pretty soon he gets offed too. Judd knocks him into the bayou and Rocky has another delicious meal! Faye unknowingly takes off her clothes to take a shower, but before she gets totally nude, Judd goes upstairs and grabs her and wrestles around with her. Judd ties her up to the bed, tapes her mouth closed. Meanwhile, Angie sees this and she runs out of the hotel and crawls under the place. Judd chases after her, but he cant seem to find her in the darkness.
Clara's father Harvey Wood (Mel Ferrer) and her sister Libby (Roberta Collins) arrive at Miss Hattie's whorehouse looking for her. Miss Hattie explains that she's never seen Clara before. They then go down the road to the Starlight and meet Judd. Judd tells them he hasn't seen the girl, but they should visit the police in town and try to find out what happened to her. They goto the police station and talk to Sheriff Martin (Stuart Whitman). He doesn't know what to tell them, but pretty soon Harvey Wood is back at the Starlight bugging Judd. Judd isnt in a good mood again so this time he picks up his scythe (the grim reapers favorite tool) and just wails the thing into the father's neck. Seems the scythe is stuck pretty good, so Judd sorta drags the guy over to the edge of the porch and proceeds to have his pet croc rip the guy to shreds while being neck impaled on the scythe. Pretty quickly, Rocky is chowin' down again, fillin' up his belly with human meat. Judd goes upstairs and talk to Faye who's tied up. He wipes her face off gently with a rag and tells her it will be alright, but she doesn't believe him for some reason. Judd goes back down to try to get Angie who's still crawling around trying to hide under the hotel. This kid is like a human groundhog!
In town, Sheriff Martin takes Clara's sister to a local bar for a drink and to relax. She orders some chicken fried steak while they discuss her sister and what happened to her. Our old friend Buck is also at the bar, talkin' junk and hitting on a cutie playing pool. Robert Englund is hilarious as Buck. He gets his paws on this little babe that is so hot. I couldn't believe it, but then again, this is a Tobe Hooper movie! Buck and the little cutie head back to the Starlight Hotel and they go upstairs and get it on. Great nude scene with the chick here! This part of the film is one of the best sequences that is pure Tobe Hooper. The way he increases the tension is brilliant! [Judd is downstairs pacing back and forth with the funny country music playing, Faye is upstairs tied up and freaking out, Angie is under the hotel scared out of her wits, and Buck and his girlfriend are in the room unclothed groping each other]. Tobe Hooper does these great cutaway shots to each character and it just makes you giggle with anxiety! Buck hears some noises downstairs so he leaves his cutie in the bed alone and goes to check it out. He walks out onto the porch near the bayou and listens to see what it is. Judd creeps up behind him and starts to mumble about something, then just pushes Buck right into the water. Its like a scene out of Jaws as Buck tries to grab onto the dock, but Rocky the Croc is hungry again and he chomps on Buck and takes him under the murky bayou water. The cutie Buck was messin around with runs out of the house and in a chase scene right out of Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Judd runs after her through the foggy bayou with his scythe in hand. Only in this film instead of being kidnapped by the person who she askls for help, the girl is really saved when she finds a car driving down the dark road and hops in, leaving Judd sad and dissapointed.
Clara's sister goes back to the Starlight and gets a room, but she doesn't realize that Faye is tied up in the next room and Angie is under the hotel. Judd, dissapointed with the last missed kill, gets an idea. He goes to the edge of the porch and uses his scythe to lift up the wire fencing that covers the bottom of the hotel. As he pulls the wire fencing up, his pet Croc smells little kiddie and floats right on into where the little girl is hiding out. Now she's REALLY in trouble! Judd may be crazy but hes not stupid! Upstairs, Clara's sister finds the mother and helps her get untied and frees her. Judd runs upstairs and goes nuts on both the women, he even throws poor Faye right off the second floor bannister onto the floor. Marilyn Burns ALWAYS gets messed up in Tobe Hooper's movies!
The women manage to get out of the house and Angie is now freaking out trying to get away from Rocky the Croc by climbing over the fence, but Judd isn't far behind. While the two women try to help save the little girl, Judd pulls on the fence and freaks out in the way only he can. With one last yank, Judd loses his balance and falls into the dark bayou water and yes, you guessed it, Rocky The Crocodile doesnt care who it is, he just wants to eat! Judd is the final victim to be EATEN ALIVE! In a little funny extra shot, Judd's prosthetic leg floats to the top of the water as the end credits roll.
One thing you will surely notice in this film is the use of color by Tobe Hooper and his Cinematographer Robert Caramico. It brings an EC Comics meets Mario Bava visual audacity that is very interesting to look at. The reds n' blues pop right off the screen. This film was also shot entirely on sound stages, so thats another reason the film has an alternate world/comic book atmosphere to it. It has some slow spots, but its paced relatively well and the scenes with people getting killed and freaking out make up for the duller scenes.
While it's not as popular as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Eaten Alive is a perfect example of fun 70s Grindhouse cinema. Tobe Hooper did a great job with what the studio gave him to work with and he crafted an atmospheric, colorful, gory horror film with lots of his trademark black humor and over the top craziness. It almost entirely takes place in one setting, so you have to put it in the right context as well. If you are a fan of Tobe Hooper and are interested in seeing the film that followed his classic hit TCM, dont hesitate to check it out!
Peter Roberts is the co-founder/editor-in-chief of the Grindhouse Cinema Database (GCDb) and contributor to the GCDb's sister site Furious Cinema. He is an avid film fan that has been immersed in the world of entertainment and pop culture his entire life.