Eaten Alive (known under various alternate titles including Death Trap Hotel and Sterlight Slaughter) is a American horror film directed by Tobe Hooper and released in May 1976.

Plot[edit | edit source]

After refusing a demand for kinky sex from a frisky customer named Buck (Robert Englund), naive prostitute Clara Wood (Roberta Collins) is evicted from the town brothel by the madame, Miss Hattie (Carolyn Jones). Clara makes her way to the decrepit Starlight Hotel, located deep in the remote swampland of rural Texas, where she encounters the hotel's mentally-disturbed proprietor, Judd (Neville Brand). Suffering from his own demented sexual frustrations, Judd attacks Clara with a pitchfork, then chases her outside where she is attacked and eaten by his pet Nile crocodile, who lives in the swamp beside the hotel.

Some days later, a fractious couple, the outgoing Faye (Marilyn Burns) and the disturbed Roy (William Finley), arrive at the hotel, along with their young daughter, Angie (Kyle Richards). Shortly after their arrival, the family dog, Snoopy, is brutally attacked by the resident crocodile, which sends little Angie into shock. In retaliation, Roy goes out to kill the carnivorous swamp creature, but is stabbed and killed by Judd, who is wielding a large scythe. Judd then straps Faye onto her bed and attempts to grab Angie, but she is able to escape and hides under the hotel's porch.

Later, Harvey Wood (Mel Ferrer) and his daughter, Libby (Crystin Sinclaire), also arrive at the Starlight Hotel seeking information on the now-deceased Clara, who is Harvey's runaway daughter, but leave when Judd denies having seen her. Accompanied by Sheriff Martin (Stuart Whitman), Harvey and Libby question Miss Hattie, who also denies ever seeing Clara. Harvey returns to the creepy swamp hotel alone, while Libby goes for dinner and drinks with the sheriff. After Harvey discovers a captive Faye in her hotel room, Judd murders him, once again implementing his large scythe.

Meanwhile, after being kicked out of a bar by the sheriff, Buck and his underage girlfriend, Lynette (Janus Blythe), venture to the Starlight, much to the annoyance of Judd. When Buck hears screams coming from Faye's room, he tries to rescue her, but is pushed into the swamp by Judd and devoured by the crocodile. Lynette runs outside and is seen by Judd. She runs into the woods screaming and is pursued by Judd. However, the fog causes Judd to lose sight of her, and Lynette is saved by a passing car.

Later, Libby arrives back at the hotel and manages to untie Faye from her bed and retrieve Angie from under the porch. Consumed with madness, Judd chases the three survivors into the swamp, where he is finally attacked and killed by his own pet reptile.

Cast[edit | edit source]

  • Neville Brand as Judd
  • Mel Ferrer as Harvey Wood
  • Carolyn Jones as Miss Hattie
  • Marilyn Burns as Faye
  • William Finley as Roy
  • Stuart Whitman as Sheriff Martin
  • Roberta Collins as Clara Wood
  • Kyle Richards as Angie
  • Robert Englund as Buck
  • Crystin Sinclaire as Libby Wood
  • Janus Blythe as Lynette

Production[edit | edit source]

Working under the title Death Trap, Eaten Alive was filmed entirely on the sound-stages of Raleigh Studios in Hollywood, California, which had a large-scale pool that could double as a swamp. Shooting on a sound stage instead of a practical location contributed to the atmosphere of the film, which director Tobe Hooper described as a "surrealistic, twilight world." However, the film eventually proved to be problematic for the director, who left the set shortly before production ended, due to a dispute with the producers. But Hooper's good relationship with his actors remained intact. The director later recalled how he worked with actor Neville Brand to fully develop the character of Judd, declaring, "He understood what he was doing exactly.”

Adapted for the screen by The Texas Chain Saw Massacre co-writer Kim Henkel, the plot was very loosely based on the story of Joe Ball (also known as the Bluebeard from South Texas or the Alligator Man) who owned a bar with a live alligator attraction during the 1930s in Elmendorf, Texas. During this time, several murders of women were committed by Ball, and the legend is that he would dispose of his victims' bodies by feeding them to his pet alligators, but this was never proven.

Release[edit | edit source]

Theatrical release[edit | edit source]

Home media[edit | edit source]

Censorship[edit | edit source]

Although passed with cuts for its theatrical release in Britain in 1978, when Eaten Alive was released on home video by VIPCO under the title Death Trap in 1982, the film became one of the first of the so-called "video nasties" to be prosecuted under the Obscene Publications Act 1959. Its gratuitous violence became the focal point of many social critics in the UK, including a very vocal crusader for the moral minority Mary Whitehouse, and consequently all video copies were removed from retail stores. When the film was finally re-released on VHS in 1992, the BBFC edited out approximately 25 seconds from the original cut. The film was eventually released in its uncut version on DVD in 2000.

Critical response[edit | edit source]

On Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 29% based on 14 reviews, with a weighted average rating of 4.4/10.

Dennis Schwartz from Ozus' World Movie Reviews gave the film a grade C+, writing, "This is so much the opposite of a Hollywood film, as Hooper could care less that he has shot such a disturbing film that makes for an uncomfortable watch. That Hooper takes us down a different road than the usual trashy, macabre and grisly horror flick, doesn't make it a special film worth seeking out. Just something that those with a morbid curiosity for the unusual in sleaze might not be able to pass on." TV Guide awarded the film two out of five stars, stating "Although Eaten Alive is not so unusual or terrifying as Texas Chainsaw, Hooper does a fine job of building up the Southern-gothic atmosphere and continues his brilliant use of sound to enhance the sense of unease and suspense." Keith Phipps from The A.V. Club was critical of the films, stating that the film lacked the eerie plausibility and stylishness of Hooper's Chainsaw. However, not all reviews of the film were negative. Slant Magazine's Ken Hanke reappraised the film as a misunderstood masterpiece which captured "the other-worldly madness of the death of the amateur-night-in-Dixie brand of the American Dream." Bill Gibron of PopMatters rated the film 6/10 stars, noting the film's sloppy script, poor lighting, and lack of narrative sense. However, Phillips stated that the film was "so undeniably inept, so horrendously hobbled, so gosh-darn god awful that it’s friggin’ great!"

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