Umberto Lenzi’s third cannibal outing / outrage, Eaten Alive (1980… its title thoughtfully expanded to Eaten Alive By The Cannibals! in some territories) makes its BD debut via Severin and arrives in our in-tray with a thud and an added whiff of unexpected topicality, opening as it does with assassinations by nerve toxin (derived from cobra venom and delivered via blow darts) in major Western cities. The unfortunate victims are disaffected members of The Purification Sect, a wacked out religious cult operating out of Sri Lanka (doubling for New Guinea) under the acid fascist leadership of a certain Jonas (Ivan Rassimov). Any resemblance to the Reverend Jimbo of Jonestown massacre infamy is, of course (cough!)… purely coincidental!
As in Marino Girolami’s Zombie Holocaust (made the same year), the bad guy is using cannibal-infested country as a buffer zone to shield his nefarious antics from the prying eyes of outsiders… but again, this ploy fails when Sheila Morris (Janet Agren) approaches Vietnam deserter-turned-mercenary adventurer Mark (Robert Kerman), whom she finds arm-wrestling over sharp knives in a Deer Hunter-type dive, to help spring her brainwashed sister Diana (Paola Senatore) from the cult’s grasp. I’m sure we’ve already commented on Robert Kerman / Bolla’s extraordinary CV elsewhere on this blog, alternatively get your cyber self over to IMDB and prepare to be amazed.
Anyway, after the expected jungle hazards and hi-jinks (much of them comprising crudely transplanted stock footage from Ruggero Deodato’s Last Cannibal World and Sergio Martino’s Prisoner Of The Cannibal God), Janet and Robert make it to Puresville and discover Diana alive if not exactly well, living under the thrall of the insane Jonas, who alternates bible quotations with the application of venom soaked dildos to his comelier acolytes, justifying such shenanigans on the grounds that pain will reunite mankind with Nature… yeah, whatever!
There are further kinky developments when villager Mowara (Me Me Lai) finds herself widowed, Purification doctrine demanding that she lays down in her recently cremated husband’s ashes while his surviving brothers queue up to bonk her. In another echo of Martino’s earlier cannibal epic, Sheila is stripped down and painted gold for Big J’s drug crazed gratification. When she and Mark have had enough of Rassimov’s dystopian New Jerusalem, they make a break for it through cannibal country with Diana and Mowara, who are promptly trapped, messily dismembered and eaten by the locals.
Attempting to forestall the inevitable, Mark and Sheila are on the verge of carrying out a suicide pact when police helicopters arrive to whisk them away. The same choppers prompt Jones… er, Jonas to utter the memorable line “Have them prepare that mixture, Dick” and harangue his followers into consuming the killer Kool Aid so they can accompany him on his final trip, though the film’s ending suggests that he declined the drink himself and is still on the lam somewhere (the Jones cult, explicitly identified as such, would feature again as a plot point in Deodato’s Cut And Run, 1985). Mark is cheated out of his money but gets the girl and Sheila is browbeaten, in time honoured cannibal film fashion, not to reveal to the media the extent of anthropophagous antics still going on under our complacent Western noses just a piddling plane ride away.
Among other familiar cannibal film tropes vying for our attention we find the expected troubling “found footage”, casual racism (one of Agren’s “comic” lines about life in the cotton fields will have you reaching for rewind to check she actually said what you thought she just said)… it’s fair to say that there was never any realistic chance of this film’s credits carrying that line about “no animals having been harmed during the production” and inevitably, despite the tough line Jonas takes on alcohol, the onscreen action is sometimes obscured by the sheer volume of J&B bottles, piling up on conspicuous display.
Kudos to Mel Ferrer (as anthropologist Dr Carter) for starring in two films entitled Eaten Alive (which was one of the many alternative titles for Tobe Hopper’s sophomore Horror feature) when most actors would have considered one to be more than enough. I also appreciate the fact that at one point Agren looks like she’s about to go into a grindhouse cinema to watch Frank Zappa’s Baby Snakes.
With this release Severin prove themselves once again the masters of, er, remastering, delivering an Eaten Alive! that looks better than you probably believed possible. The claim in their typically gonzo sleeve notes that watching this film is equivalent to having your dick ripped off can safely be dismissed as hyperbole, but Lenzi’s rendition of “cannibal movie greatest hits in bite-sized chunks” might well register as a painful twist on your short and curlies. Although even its the director concedes its shortcomings (see below), Lenzi directs the 90% of Eaten Alive! that he did direct with consummate craftsmanship and characteristic gusto, earning this 42nd St classic a space on the shelves of any self-respecting spaghetti exploitation buff.
Extras include a Freakorama interview in which Lenzi (who seems to have borrowed Craig Wasson’s porn star pullover from Body Double) airs a familiar grievance, namely that people ignore all the war films he made. I remember him moaning about that rather a lot when I interviewed him, but Lenzi seems to have mellowed a bit. He still calls Ruggero Deodato “a liar” for claiming to have invented the Italian cannibal genre (which, of course, Lenzi kicked off with The Man From Deep River in 1972) but admits that Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust (1980) is far superior to any of his own jungle pot-boilers, indeed that it’s “a masterpiece”.
We’re treated to a recording of Lenzi’s Q&A session at the 2013 Festival Of Fantastic Films in Manchester, moderated by Calum Waddell with the assistance of Nick Frame. Again he talks up his war films (and gialli) and restates his low regard for cannibal films, insisting that he slams the phone down on any journalist who has the temerity to mention Cannibal Ferox (no mere rhetorical flourish, this… he once actually did precisely that to Yours Truly!) but gets the biggest laugh of the session when he announces that all the money Ferox has subsequently made for him has belatedly convinced him of its status as a cinema classic. He won’t talk about his differences with John Morghen but rehashes, when invited, the feud between Tomas Milian and Maurizio Merli which necessitated each of them to film their participation in the climax to The Cynic, The Rat And The Fist (1977) on alternate days. Poignantly, Lenzi talks about subsisting on a slice of pizza every three days when he embarked upon film-making. The fact that just before this Q&A he had been brunching with Barbara Bouchet testifies most eloquently to the satisfactory career arc that ensued. I was actually enjoying a private audience with Bouchet when this session took place, so I’m glad of the opportunity to catch up with its contents here.
We also get an interview with production designer Massimo Antonello Geleng and a mash-up of archive interviews with Rassimov and Kerman. The latter tries to sort out his different personas and recalls that the famously wiggy Lenzi was more courteous to him on set than Deodato, whom he describes as “sadistic”.
Most welcome of all is the inclusion among the supplementary materials of Naomi Holwill’s nifty documentary Me Me Lai Bites Back: Resurrection Of The Cannibal Queen, previously thumbed up on this blog in a review which has emerged as one of our most heavily visited postings since it debuted in March 2016.
My copy of Eaten Alive! came in a slipcover and boasted a bonus disc of Roberto Donati’s discotastic OST. Grab ’em while you can…