Eaten Alive! Review
If you learn nothing else from Baryonyx- GHANA HAS THE BEST MOVIE POSTERS
The Italian cannibal movies used a lot of the same actors, but I don’t think there’s any other film that’s more of a “who’s who of gut munching” than today’s film, Eaten Alive!, which makes sure to reference more of the genre set pieces (and more frequently) than any other film in the genre. In fact, while Cannibal Holocaust and Cannibal Ferox are most commonly considered the poster boys for this genre, I don’t think either one is as representative of the ills and thrills that the gut munching films represent.
Let’s start right at the beginning- in an urban area. This doesn’t seem so strange until you consider that Eaten Alive!, Cannibal Ferox, Cannibal Holocaust, and Zombie Holocaust all begin their stories in New York! Okay- you could probably find a number of slasher movies that begin in New York, too, but there are literally hundreds of slasher movies and probably one or two dozen cannibal flicks. The theme song for three of those movies is even disco. Right on, man. That sounds like the jungle to me, too.
This is exactly what I think of when I think of jungle cannibals.
So the plot centers around a rich woman (Sheila) whose sister left the US to join a purification cult in Southeast Asia. Now, the purification cult angle is new, but it’s a pretty unoriginal idea for 1980, since it was just two years after the Jonestown mass suicide. The cult (down to their leader’s name, Jonas) is a pretty clear representation of the Jonestown cult. Sheila needs help to go find the cult and get her sister, so she recruits Mark, a scruffy ex-Vietnam vet.
Now, that’s the version of the plot that is at least sort of original for the genre. The religious cult angle is, if not original, at least new to the genre; and the setup is, if nothing else, completely functional for a jungle adventure film. If you’ve seen a bunch of cannibal flicks, though (and for your sake, I hope you haven’t), you’re going to notice that you recognize everyone who shows up.
Held hostage by the genre’s conventions.
You see, Mark is played by Robert Kerman, whom I was so excited to see I threw my hands up in the air. He’d appeared months earlier in Cannibal Holocaust as a mustachioed professor of anthropology, but has managed to come across as a Vietnam vet bounty hunter just months later. Mel Ferrer also shows up, for no real reason except to cause some surprise and laughter. And Jonas is played by Ivan Rassimov, who also appeared in The Man From Deep River and Jungle Holocaust. And what would a cannibal movie be without, in a triumphant return, Me Me Lai? The last time we saw Me Me she was naked for the entire duration of Jungle Holocaust and, before that, the entire duration of The Man From Deep River. Showing a fascinating artistic progression, she manages to initially appear clothed in this film before quickly becoming half naked for the rest of it. You have to admire the way she was willing to grow her character in new ways for this film.
Is it okay if we get back to the plot?
From here, they embark into the Jonastown/Jonestown in the jungle, encountering huge amounts of animal gore, consistently and repeatedly, interrupted primarily by some human gore and the occasional rape scene. Upon reaching Jonastown, they see many pagan/Christian rites which, typically, involve animal gore or some type of deviant sex act. You can lather, rinse, and repeat from here; nothing is new, very little is entertaining, and the conclusion of the film was already given away when I indicated that it was pretty much the Jonestown scenario on film.
Well, I guess there are two highlights we still need to hit.
First, the climax of the film includes a scene that actually explains why “Eaten Alive” was a good title for the film; that’s right, Me Me Lai is going to be eaten while still living, in a scene that is actually one of the most effective in the entire genre. It’s gorey, it’s scary, and the characters getting offed play their role admirably and truly do give a sense of helplessness to the proceedings. The film is 90 minutes of awful until then, but that scene alone was worth the filming- if not necessarily the watching.
The other is the greatest DVD extra, an Umberto Lenzi interview.
Laugh now. This is how Bono will look in 20 years.
Ah, I didn’t mention it, but this film is actually directed by Umberto Lenzi, who owns the unfortunate moniker of “Baryonyx’s least favorite director, ever.” Want to know how you can tell if a movie will suck? Go look at a movie. If it says it’s directed by Lenzi, it’s going to be awful in every conceivable way. Lenzi’s interviews, on the other hand, are another story, and he’s back in full force on the extras menu of my DVD copy.
You might not have known this, but every ritual presented in the movie? It’s based on fact. Umberto spoke to an unnamed and uncredited anthropologist, as well as having “evidence” that they took place. This includes the White Girl God Ritual, which is present in at least three cannibal movies. In this ritual, Umberto states, if the village has a white girl, they paint her gold and it becomes their god. “But only a white girl!” Umberto reminds us, teaching a new generation of anthropology majors.
Shockingly, he does not describe if the Three Brothers Run A Train On Me Me Lai ritual is also realistic in detail- it is simply implied.
Edit: It’s Baryonyx here with a few notes that didn’t appear in the main text of this review. First: I didn’t want to imply that only three or four of the Euro-Cannibal movies start with disco credits- more do than that, including Emanuelle and the Last Cannibals. It should also be noted that Robert Kerman also appeared in Cannibal Ferox, which also uses the same strange western font for its opening credits as Eaten Alive! does. Sharing is caring, though, and that’s why Eaten Alive! pulls the best sharing job of all, by featuring three or four scenes directly lifted from Man From Deep River- impressively, including an attack scene.