‘You’ll see worse before this is over.’
Eaten Alive is like a cannibal movie supergroup, the Travelling Wilburys of gut-munching schlock. We’ve got Cannibal Holocaust‘s Robert Kerman. We’ve got a reunion for Ivan Rassimov and Me Me Lai from Deep River Savages and Cannibal. Not only that, but a fair portion of the film – mostly scenes of animal slaughter – is taken from Mountain of the Cannibal God.
If you think that this is going to contribute to Eaten Alive being a choppy, haphazard mess, then you are dead wrong.
Actually no, you’re right. You’re totally right.
Like so many of the Nasties, Eaten Alive starts strongly, only to completely drop the ball halfway through. The opening is jarring and unexpected, with a series of assassinations carried out across America by a mysterious killer armed with darts dipped in cobra venom. It reminds me a lot of the start of the James Bond voodoo caper Live and Let Die, but with the added advantage of being shot in New York at Christmastime. That’s right, just like Jess Franco’s Cannibals! How exciting it must have been to be in New York, Christmastime 1979. You’re walking down the street and there’s Umberto Lenzi filming Janet Agren for a cannibal movie. You turn the corner and there’s Jess Franco and Lina Romay shooting their cannibal film! Only in America, eh?
It’s a wildly intriguing opening, and mystery piles upon mystery as Janet Agren sets off to New Guinea to find her sister, who has disappeared with a sinister Jim Jones-like jungle cult. She teams up with grizzled Vietnam vet Mark to find the missing girl, and sure enough they find her within about 20 minutes of looking and then things get very boring very fast.
The normally off-the-chain Rassimov is strangely restrained playing a crazed cult leader, and though the sight of mad cultists singing hymns in the middle of the jungle is striking, it’s not enough. Agren doesn’t really do much apart from strip naked and let herself be painted gold, in another James Bond reference.
No, it’s Robert Kerman who steals the show here, particularly with a grim monologue that ends with a hysterically inappropriate final line – ‘Boy, I’ve seen some pretty bad things in my life. Decapitated women, burned babies, old men’s eyes burnt out with gas. But this takes the cake.’
Ummm, it sure does Robert. It really takes the cake.
If you’ve come here looking for kerrazee cannibal thrills, you’d be better watching next years Cannibal Ferox. Eaten Alive is more like a cult deprogramming movie, though there are of course the expected rapes and mutilations. Hell, it’s a Lenzi movie, y’know? Also released in 1980 was Lenzi’s Nightmare City, which we’ll be covering in a bit. It shows that Lenzi could direct a really good fast paced action movie – so why are his cannibal films so tortuously drawn out and tedious?
Answers on a postcard, please. Just don’t address it to me.