Oh, look, more cannibals! And rape. Lots of rape.
From 1980, writer/director Umberto Lenzi’s initial foray into the cannibal subgenre of horror might be the most exploitative of the bunch. It has everything that I’ve become familiar with during this year’s Horrorshow. There is cannibalism, of course, Stone Age tribalism, an impenetrable jungle, caucasians getting more than they bargained for, nudity, brutal depictions of violence, real animal slaughter, and rape. This flick is a little lazier than the others, as it lifts footage from earlier cannibal flicks for extra punch during gore scenes. Shame on any movie that can’t do all its heavy lifting on its own.
Eaten Alive! follows Janet Agren as Sheila Morris, a southern aristocrat from Alabama who is looking for her estranged sister. Her sister, Diana (Paola Senatore) has fallen into the clutches of a Jim Jones-type named Jonas (Ivan Rassimov) who preaches of a utopian society away from the evils of civilization. He has moved his people into the jungles of Papua New Guinea (filming took place in Sri Lanka), and Sheila travels there to rescue Diana.
To guide her up a jungle river to the religious camp, Sheila hires a booze soaked American deserter from the Vietnam War named Mark Butler (Robert Kerman, a familiar name in Italian cannibal flicks). It’s like The African Queen, only dumb.
The biggest obstacle to reaching the camp are the cannibal tribes that live in the area. They’re a ruthless bunch, as the porters Sheila and Mark hire are killed for some audience fodder as they near the camp. When they do arrive, Jonas is in full-fledged cult leader mode, drugging his people, and using the threat of the surrounding cannibals as ways to keep his flock in line.
What follows is Sheila and Mark, and anyone else they can drag along, trying and failing repeatedly to escape. It seems like whenever Lenzi decided enough time had elapsed between kills, he would stage another escape attempt for his characters, only to have them wander back into camp a few scenes later, defeated once more. Things never really come to a head until a deus ex machina at the film’s climax. Up to that point, viewers will see gore galore, and enough rape that one will need two hands to count it.
This is a vile exploitation flick. It also fits that description perfectly. Could a film really be all that exploitative if it didn’t overload viewers with its visuals? Why should all film be a hunky-dory experience? Making the audience squirm is a valid goal in filmmaking. Exploring the range of human emotion is one of the things that makes film such a powerful art.
Ah, I’m just kidding. Eaten Alive! is a pile of crap. It’s meant to be evocative, but in nothing but shallow ways. The only part of the movie with any depth is the cult narrative, but that is almost afterthought. Viewers came to this flick for the kills, and that’s what Lenzi gives us. And rape. Did I mention rape? At least Lenzi doesn’t linger on those scenes.
Of final note, Mel Ferrer appears in this film’s framing story. He was also in Tobe Hooper’s Eaten Alive, from 1976. That doesn’t mean anything. It’s just a neat coincidence.
Eaten Alive! isn’t nearly as bad as some other films that put shock over substance. Lenzi could touch upon profound ideas, but only so much. Eaten Alive! takes over the #289 spot in the Watchability Index from The Silencer. It may live and die on its visuals, but from a watchability standpoint, it’s in the mediocre middle.