Monday, September 7, 2015

EATEN ALIVE (1977) (Arrow Video Blu-ray Review)

Label: Arrow Video 
Release Date: September 21st 2015
Certificate: 18
Duration: 91 Minutes
Region Code: A/B/ 1/2
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (1.85:1)
Audio: English Uncompressed PCM Mono 1.0 with Optional English SDH Subtitles
Director: Tobe Hooper
Cast: William Finley, Mel Ferrer, Marilyn Burns, Janus Blythe, Carolyn Jones, Neville Brand, Stuart Whitman, Roberta Collins, Kyle Richards, Robert Englund

Eaten Alive (1977) is a very strange movie all the way around, it was Tobe Hooper's follow-up to the seminal shocker The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and it centers around the run down Starlight Hotel located somewhere in the rural Louisiana bayou. An unattractive roadside hotel run by a Southern-fried weirdo named Judd (Neville Brand, Without Warning), a grizzled, middle-aged man with a wooden leg who deliriously alternates between a somewhat charming Southern nut and a a completely unhinged scythe-wielding, mumbling murdering menace. 

We have several disparate groups of patrons convening at the Starlight Hotel, beginning with a kind-hearted whore named Clara Wood (Roberta Collins, Caged Heat) who has just been fired from a brothel run by Miss Hattie (Carolyn Jones, from The Munsters!) when she won't give-up the backdoor to a local redneck named Buck. The horny backdoor man is played by future Freddy Kruger star Robert Englund. In the opening scene he's trying for some sweet backdoor action with the classic line, "My name's Buck, I'm raring to fuck", a line Tarantino famously paraphrased in Kill Bill Vol.1.  When she refuses to take in the behind Clara is thrown from the brothel by the madame and finds herself at the Starlight, but when the moralistic Judd realizes she one of the local whores he makes quick work of her with his pitchfork before feeding her to the hungry crocodile which he keeps in a swamp right next the hotel. 

Sometime later the Faye (Marilyn Burns) and her wildly disturbed husband Roy (William Finley, The Funhouse) arrive at the starlight with their young daughter Angie (Kyle Richards) and set-up for the night in a room, but not before the croc eats their pet dog in a frenzied scene. Around the same time Harvey Wood (Mel Ferrer, Nightmare City) and his daughter Libby (Crystin Sinclaire, Ruby) arrive on scene, looking for Harvey's runaway daughter Clara, who was the whore Judd just fed to his croc.  Then after a night of drinking and playing pool Buck (Englund) arrives back at the Starlight to Judd's dismay with his girlfriend Lynette (Janus Blythe, The Hills Have Eyes) and the bloody slaughter begins as the demented Judd sets about murdering damn near everyone and feeding them to his croc.

The set-up is simple and sleazy, and the tone of the movie is very surreal, having been shot completely on  a sound stage the movie is washed in an brain-searing red glow, as if a blood red neon-moon was ominously shining down from the sky, plus there's an impenetrable thick fog which enshrouds the area in an otherworldly blanket of fear. It establishes a claustrophobic vibe that seems inescapable, with a nerve shredding electronic score that gives the impression of a bad southern acid-trip. 

Neville Brand is in top-form here as the demented hotel proprietor, a nut who mumbles to himself in between murdering folks with his trusty scythe. He's not the only weirdo at the hotel this night either, William Finley's appearance as either a drugged-out, or clearly insane, Roy is right off the deep end of weirdness, the scene of him looking for his lost eyeball on the shag carpet of the hotel room is straight out of a David Lynch film. Marylin Burns stars as his suffering wife, she matches the ferocity of her final girl from Chainsaw here with ear-shredding screams of terror, as does her movie daughter Kyle Richards (The Car, Halloween), who spends most of the movie hiding beneath the crawlspace of the hotel trying to escape the grasp of the murderous Judd and his hungry croc.

The movie is oozing atmosphere from the first frame, a strange and surreal psychotronic terror film that at times feel almost post-apocalyptic with the neon-red lighting and relentless fog-drenched setting, unhinged and disturbing and maybe not an easy watch for some, a Southern-fried nightmare you cannot get away from. 

Speaking of nightmares, you just cannot get around how awful the ten foot animatronic croc looks on camera. The thing is straight-up dreadful but Hooper wisely keeps it in hidden-away for the most part, you definitely get the impression that his is the croc-version of Bruce the Shark from Spielberg's Jaws, on the numerous extras you can hear multiple testimonies from the cast and crew as to what a nightmare the water-logged croc prop was during the making of the movie. 

So we have a croc that's a croc-o-shit and some mild pacing issues in the mid-section of this Southern slice of surrealistic terror but I can look past the flaws, I love this strange movie and I believable it's an undervalued entry in the Hooper canon, one worth rediscovering on Blu-ray from Arrow Video. 

Audio/Video: Arrow Video have gone back to the original 35mm camera negative for a brand new 2K restoration of Hooper's  Eaten Alive in the original widescreen aspect ratio (1.85:1), and the results are stupendous. The movie has never looked better and far surpasses by Dark Sky Films DVD (2000) in all respects. The colors are rich and nicely saturated, looking more natural and reds not running so hot. There's a nice layer of natural looking film grain with a new depth, clarity and fine detail to the image we've not seen before on home video, it simply looks fantastic. 

Arrow keep the audio pure with an uncompressed PCM 1.0 Mono track with a psychotronic-electronic score from 
Wayne Bell and Tobe Hooper, it is a harsh listen and it perfectly compliments the images of surreal terror. Dialogue and sounds effects are nicely balanced and optional English SDH subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing are included. 

Reversible Artwork 
Onto the wealth of extras we have all the bonus content from the Dark Sky DVD including the audio commentary with co-writer and producer Mardi Rustam, make-up artist Craig Reardon and stars Roberta Collins, William Finley and Kyle Richards. The commentary is a pastiche of separate commentaries stitched together and placed appropriately throughout the movie and works quite nicely. Also carried over are the featurettes 'My Name is Buck' with star Robert Englund discussing his early career and time on the film with the cast and Hooper. 

'The Butcher of Elmendorf: The Legend of Joe Ball' tells the story of the WWI vet turned bootlegger who is the inspiration for the character of Judd, who may or may not have fed his wife and lovers to the crocs he kept in a pit behind his bar. 

There's also the '5ive Minutes with Marilyn Burns' interview the original scream-queen, and star of Hooper's Texas Chainsaw Massacre, plus we get an alternate opening credit sequence. That's pretty much everything from the dark Sky edition, so feel safe to upgrade and enjoy the superior HD presentation. 

Onto the new stuff produced by Arrow Video we have three brand new interview coming in at about thirty-seven minutes in length with director Tobe Hooper, Special Effects Artists Craig Reardon and starlet Janus Blythe, and she seems like quite a character with loads of colorful stories as she recounts cruising the Hollywood studio lots in search of roles, her early career and she briefly mentioning turning down a role in what turned out to be Rob Zombie's Lords of Salem. Craig Reardon gives a somewhat scholarly recounting of history of the lot where the film was shot and his own insights into actor Neville Brand, who by all accounts was quite a weird guy and a decorated WWII soldier. Hooper recalls being pitched the film and how this was his first studio picture, re working the script, the true-life basis for Brand's character, and working on a sound stage and what he was trying to create.

Also included are thirteen-minutes of trailer for the movie under the myriad of alternate titles including Eaten Alive, Death Trap, Starlight Slaughter and Horror Hotel. There's also fifteen-minutes of TV and radio spots, and three galleries of behind-the-scenes and promotional images, including some hilarious comment cards from the test-screenings of the film. 

Away from the disc extras we have a sleeve of reversible artwork featuring newly commissioned artwork by Gary Pullin and the original poster art, plus a 24-page collector's booklet with new writing on the film from author Brad Stevens, illustrated with original archive stills and posters

Special Features
- Audio commentary with co-writer and producer Mardi Rustam, make-up artist Craig Reardon and stars Roberta Collins, William Finley and Kyle Richards
- New introduction to the film by director Tobe Hooper (1 Mins) HD
- Brand new interview with Hooper (14 Mins) HD 
- Brand New Interview with star Janus Blythe (12 Mins) HD 
- Brand New Interview with Special Effects Artist Craig Reardon (11 Mins) HD 
- My Name is Buck: Star Robert Englund discusses his acting career (15 Mins) SD 
- The Butcher of Elmendorf: The Legend of Joe Ball - The story of the South Texas bar owner on whom Eaten Alive is loosely based (23 Mins) SD
- 5ive Minutes with Marilyn Burns - The star of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre talks about working on Eaten Alive (5 Mins) SD
- The Gator Creator: archival interview with Hooper (14 Mins) SD 
- Original theatrical trailers for the film under its various titles Eaten Alive, Death Trap, Starlight Slaughter and Horror Hotel (13 Mins) HD 
- US TV and Radio Spots (15 Mins) HD 
- Alternate Credits Sequence (1 Mins) HD 
- Galleries: Behind The scene (8 Mins), Still and Promotional Material (64 Images), Comment Cards (34 Images) HD 
- Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Gary Pullin
- 24 Pg. Collector's booklet featuring new writing on the film, illustrated with original archive stills and posters

Arrow Video have put together a pretty damn definitive HD version of Tobe Hooper's psychotronic terror-classic for fans of the movie, the HD presentation is fantastic and the wealth of extras are superb, very highly recommend. 

Screenshots from www.DVDBeaver.Com