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Friday, 5 August 2011

EATEN ALIVE (1980)

This infamous film (not to be confused with Tobe Hooper's film of the same title) from one of genre cinema's genuine oddballs, Umberto Lenzi, is one of those flicks that is always mentioned as a lesser Cannibal Holocaust, and with good reason, as it has far less in the way of charm, gore or social commentary.

It's a film I've seen mentioned several times in all of the literature I've been studying in recent months on the wave of Italian Cannibal and zombie movies that became such an intense and demented period in genre cinema. I've never had the chance to see it until now and see if it's as bad as many people say (or as good as a few claim). A copy was found in a delightful second hand DVD emporium at the right price, and here I am, watching more tasteless violence and suffering awful dubbing in order to bring you a review. I hope you're grateful, heh.

Eaten Alive (aka EATEN ALIVE! The exclamation mark is very evident in the opening titles) is your basic cannibal movie. The plot makes the film stick out from the aforementioned cannibal flicks in that it's not about a film crew, which makes for a nice change. At it's heart it's a heist movie, with two people on the trail of a jewel thief in the jungle after a bunch of people are murdered with a blowpipe in the west.

The film flounders for 29 minutes until the gore starts to fly, and then it gets interesting. While Eaten Alive is every bit as exploitative, politically incorrect and outrageous as both its title and reputation suggest, it is nowhere near as unpleasant as either Cannibal Holocaust or Lenzi's own Cannibal Ferox.

It runs like much more of a well-rounded film that either of those hugely notorious efforts, and Lenzi displays a rather more traditional approach to direction and plotting than those other nasties. Then again, it also has nowhere near as much social commentary as Cannibal Holocaust, or the relentlessly unsavoury onslaught of Cannibal Ferox.

"Their idea of lunch is fresh, hot entrails soaked in blood!" one character declares while talking about the natives, all of whom are depicted as demented cartoon characters rather than believable people. They're clearly from a number of different ethnicities, and are made to look rather foolish throughout, as is the staple of the cannibal genre.

That aspect of the film sits uneasily with me, and while it does feature a shockingly nasty cameo from the cannibal genre's own Audrey Hepburn, namely the ubiquitous Me Me Lai, the natives are never given much to do other than grunt and yell. Bah. What a waste of peoples' time.

The Western cast don't fare much better really, with wooden performances aplenty masked behind an even more wooden dubbing job. Once you hit 40 minutes with the film, it goes off on a weird tangent with a strange cult in the jungle showing up for no apparent reason other than to preach about the evils of 'Civilization' by way of clunky dialogue.

The film continues to get ever more mad, jumping from one tangent to the next with seemingly no interest in a coherent plot. That's not the point of these films though, is it? You're here for gore, and gore you will get, although spread out rather thinly. This is more of a drama with bits of action thrown in, and scenes of mutilation and butchery at a minimum. This is kind of a good thing though, as it gives the gore scenes more impact when they do arrive.

Thankfully there's barely any animal cruelty (at least not in this cut I saw, which claims to be uncut- and I would prefer there was none at all!), and there are moments that feature an absolutely agonizing disco soundtrack, but on the whole it's an entertaining piece of exploitation cinema with some nice splatter shots and a valiant attempt at something a bit different. For some reason I really fancy a rack of ribs now. Should I worry?

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