Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Great Moments in Terrible Filmmaking: Eaten Alive

The Common Man, because he kept getting turned off by the terrible production values, the utter incoherence, and the overall yuckiness of Tobe Hooper's second film, Eaten Alive, kept putting off this edition of Great Moments.... But having finished the film, and again wanting to feel like the time spent watching it wasn't a total waste of his time, The Common Man is good to go.

Hooper, of course, you'll remember from the vampires from outer-space film, Lifeforce, which The Common Man reviewed in August. Eaten Alive, Hooper's follow-up to the cult success of Texas Chainsaw Massacre, is the heartwarming tale of a man and his crocodile, who live together at the man's dirty, falling-down hotel that is probably the single biggest reason The Common Man will never visit the South. When business from the local brothel begins to spill over, Judd, the hotel's owner takes offense to the lasciviousness that has landed on his doorstep. The trouble starts small, as Judd pushes one hooker over the totally not-safe-for children handrail of his porch and into the croc pit.

While his first crime goes off without much of a hitch, Judd's dream existence of living a solitary life in a perpetually dark corner of nowhere with just his cuddly croc (who he tells everyone is from Africa and warns will eat anything) to keep him company goes awry when more guests inexplicably begin showing up on his doorstep, desperate for shelter. Shockingly, many of these people end up going ass-over-tea kettle into Judd's croc pit, most of them after getting a throat full of the business end of Judd's scythe.

Does this sound convoluted yet? Good. It should. The film makes no sense for a number of reasons. First, the plot focuses entirely on Judd's increasingly panicked attempts to hide his crimes. And as Judd loses his sanity, the movie slides deeper into chaos. Perhaps this is intentional. Or perhaps Hooper simply felt the need to justify the film's title. New characters show up out of the blue and leave almost as quickly (usually via crocodile); before The Common Man had time to feel sorry for them, they were dinner. Finally, and most ridiculous of all, the entire series of events begins when that first hooker is kicked out of the brothel for refusing to accomodate a john (played by Robert Englund, who would grow up to be Freddie Krueger) whose big, kinky request was to have non-missionary sex. Apparently, down South, the hookers have standards (which she, of course, pays for when she's fed to the croc).

No! Wait! The Common Man forgot the dog. Indeed, the most implausible part of Hooper's film is when a family, road-weary, arrives on Judd's doorstep and rents a room, even after finding a dead monkey in a cage on the front porch. When the family dog gets too close to the crocodile, it is of course a goner. However, despite the fact that their daughter is crying and screaming uncontrollably, her laughably incompetent parents still decide to spend the night. And rather than try to comfort the child, they yell at one another about whose fault it is that they stopped in the first place.

Anyway, film feels greasy and is a precursor of the Saw and Hostel-style torture-porn in today's theaters. The primary difference between those movies and Hooper's work here, however, is that those movies feel far less half-assed. They ramp up gore and the horror, while Hooper downplays the blood and ramps up the scuzzy. And while those films tend to torment men and women relatively equally, Hooper's movie relishes over the domination and torture of women. In its most disturbing scene, after disposing of the husband (who was going to report the croc to the local sheriff, leaving his wife and daughter alone in the hotel with Judd and his pet), Judd ties the mother up a bed and gags her. While her mother struggles, the daughter runs down the stairs and ends up under the porch, right next to the crocodile. Meanwhile, for 45 minutes, the movie follows other subplots while continually cutting back to the partially disrobed and bound mother struggling and writhing suggestably against her bonds and the daughter cowering under the porch.

So, while the comically incoherent plot is enough to sink Hooper's project, his unabashed and unsubtle hatred of women makes it a sick exercise. The Common Man was really hoping to see a good horror movie for Halloween, when he initially recorded the film. Instead, he just got queasy and needed to take a shower. And while he gave the world The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, after seeing Eaten Alive, The Common Man feels confident in saying that Tobe Hooper should never be let near a camera again. His films are not the campy fun of bad movies, but woman-hating, nasty bile that are as scuzzy as they are incompetent. If you'll excuse The Common Man, he's going to go take another shower. And disinfect himself with some steel wool and rubbing alcohol, which sounds infinitely more pleasant than ever seeing this film again.

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