Tag Archives: Tobe Hooper

Eaten Alive (1976)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Feeding a hungry crocodile.

Loosely based on the exploits of serial killer Joe Ball, who owned a bar in the 1930’s in Texas that had a alligator sideshow connected to it and it was rumored that he fed some of his victims to the beast though it was never proven.  The story here centers around Judd (Neville Brand) a backwoods redneck who owns a rundown hotel in the swamp lands where he brings in unsuspecting guests that he feeds to his Nile Crocodile that he has swimming in a pond behind the building.

This film was director Tobe Hooper’s third full-length feature and the first to be financially backed by a studio after the success of The Texas Chain saw Massacre although the bigger budget doesn’t help. I didn’t like that everything gets filmed inside an indoor studio, in this case The Raleigh Studios in Los Angeles as the outdoor scenes look artificial, and the strong red glow, which I couldn’t figure out if it was supposed to be from the sun or a neon sign, gives it too much of a surreal look. Hooper stated that this is the effect he wanted, but it causes the viewer to feel that this is something that is happening in some other planet and for something to be scary one should feel that what there seeing could happen here and to them instead of in a bizarre world far removed from this one.

I had issues with the rundown Starlight Hotel too. It certainly looks spooky, but in a cliched way and that’s the problem. Nobody in their right mind would ever stay overnight there. It looks like a place that might not even have indoor plumbing or electricity. This coupled with Judd the owner, who looks creepy and acts weird, would immediately scare anyone away and the fact that the characters here aren’t bothered by any of this makes them seem too stupid to be believed.

The acting helps especially Brand. He burst onto the film scene in 1949 with many good performances including an acclaimed one in the landmark drama Riot in Cellblock 11, but his rugged appearance made it hard for him to find leading man roles relegating him to supporting parts. By the mid-70’s he admitted in interviews that  he had spent most of the money he had made and was suffering from alcoholism, which forced him to take any role that was offered including some really bad ones. This film though was an exception and a good example of how to make a killer more interesting by not having him behave in a one-dimensional threatening way, but instead show at various times some unexpected traits like fear, confusion, and even sadness.

The supporting cast is great too especially Carolyn Jones as a brothel owner. She looks light years removed from her most famous role as Morticia in ‘The Addams Family’ TV-Show as she walks around with a noticeable hunch and has make-up on her face, which gives her a very wrinkled appearance. William Finley and Marilyn Burns, who famously starred in Hooper’s earlier hit film, are intriguing too as this freaky couple who check into the place, but it’s never sufficiently explained why her character is initially seen wearing a wig, or why Finley talks about losing one of his eyeballs when he clearly hasn’t.

My favorite part though was that of Kyle Richards who plays this 6-year-old girl who manages to escape from the killer and hide underneath the property in a crawlspace. Watching her being chased through the crawlspace by Judd is intense and if the film had focused solely on her it could’ve been a winner.

Unfortunately the other characters aren’t likable and elicit no emotion from the viewer. The plot is thin and offers no unexpected twists or surprises. Hooper seems to be going too much to the same well as his chain saw flick including a foot chase sequence that gets choregraphed in the exact same way as the one between Leatherface and Marilyn Burns. Too much emphasis on atmosphere and grisly violence while an interesting plot-driven story gets forgotten, which is the reason why this production only halfway succeeds.

Alternate Titles: Death Trap, Starlight Slaughter, Legend of the Bayou, Horror Hotel

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: October 26, 1976

Runtime: 1 Hour 31 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Tobe Hooper

Studio: Virgo International Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video

Invaders from Mars (1986)

invaders from mars

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Kid fights off aliens.

In this remake of the 1953 original Hunter Carson plays David an 11-year-old boy who witnesses a giant spaceship landing just over the hill from his backyard. Initially no one believes him, but then his parents, teacher, and classmates start acting strangely and have weird marks on the back of their necks. The only one who believes him is Linda (Karen Black) the school counselor. Together they try to save the rest of the town and blow up the alien ship with the help of General Climet Wilson (James Karen) and the rest of the U.S. Marines.

Director Tobe Hooper crafts a loving tribute to Americana by creating a house on a soundstage and a picturesque hill where the aliens land that seems to pay tribute to the 50’s. Jimmy Hunt who played the kid in the original appears here as a policeman. The musical score by Christopher Young has a nice variety of tempos and beats. It’s loud and intense during certain segments and then almost like a lullaby over the closing credits. The special effects aren’t exactly impressive, but I did like the segment showing how the aliens surgically insert the device into the backs of people’s necks in order to turn them into zombie-like creatures. I also got a kick out of the aliens especially their leader who was made to look like a brain with eyes and a mouth, connected to something that looked like an umbilical cord that shot out of what appeared to me like a giant rectum.

The eclectic cast is fun. Louise Fletcher hams it up in another parody of her famous Nurse Ratched role this time as the overbearing teacher Mrs. McKeltch. The part where she swallows a frog whole with its green blood trickling down the sides of her mouth is a highlight.  It is also great seeing Laraine Newman playing David’s mother. The part isn’t all that exciting, but I always thought she was unfairly overlooked and underappreciated as one of the original cast members of ‘Saturday Night Live’ and her talents has never been used to their full potential.

Black is always interesting and here even more so because she plays the only normal person for a change instead of a kooky eccentric like she usually does. The only issue I had with the character is that she believed David’s story much too quickly and even showed him the back of her neck without asking why. It seemed to me that with kids and their wild imagination that she would be more hesitant and take more time in convincing.

To some extent casting Carson in the lead is interesting simply because he is Black’s son in real-life although he resembles his actor/writer father L.M. Kit Carson much more. However, the kid really couldn’t act and tries much too hard to show any type of emotion. I also thought that a normal child would have been so curious after having seen the spaceship land that he would have wanted to go to where it was beyond the hill and take a look at it and the fact that he immediately doesn’t seemed unrealistic.

The introduction of the Marines during the film’s second half backfires as it becomes too chaotic. The charm at the beginning is lost and it turns into just another campy action flick. The ‘double-ending’ is formulaic, ill-advised and ridiculous and comes very close to ruining the whole thing.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: June 6, 1986

Runtime: 1Hour 40Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Tobe Hooper

Studio: Cannon Film Distributors

Available: VHS, DVD, YouTube