Starring Janet Agren, Robert Kerman, Me Me Lai, Ivan Rassimov
Directed by Umberto Lenzi
Distributed by Severin Films
Having just spent the past couple of weeks slowly listening to and digesting a five-part series on Jim Jones as heard on “Last Podcast on the Left” (which I highly recommend for fans of true crime and gallows humor), it was fascinating to watch a depraved slice of sleaze cinema combine elements of real-world tragedy with visceral, gory, and downright offensive horror. Think of Umberto Lenzi’s Eaten Alive! (1980) as the less-celebrated-but-still-accomplished brother to Ruggero Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust (1980), and despite both being released the same year Lenzi got his project in front of cameras first. The exclamation point in the title is more of a warning than excitement because, yes, many things are eaten alive in this film: men, women – and animals. If the animal cruelty of Cannibal Holocaust causes bile to bubble in your gut then my advice would be to stay far away from Eaten Alive! because it ups the ante and then some. Lenzi goes straight for the jugular, spraying his feature with a geyser of gore and a buffet of body parts to ensure every viewer is thoroughly disturbed by the time those unexpectedly jazzy end credits start rolling.
After a mysterious South American blow-dart killer is run down on the streets of New York, the NYPD brings in Sheila (Janet Agren), whose sister, Diana (Paola Senatore), has gone missing in the jungles of South America. After viewing video of Diana involved in some unorthodox ritual Sheila hires Mark (Robert Kerman), a military deserter, to fly her down to New Guinea in hopes of rescuing her brainwashed sis. The jungles of South America are less hospitable than either of them had expected; the food chain is on full display as animals are routinely shown feasting on each other. Sheila and Mark stumble upon a group of cannibals eating a girl, cutting slices of meat from her breast and snacking on them like beef jerky. Titty jerky? They are “rescued” by Jonas Melvin (Ivan Rassimov), a Jim Jones-type cult leader who has a compound nestled deep within the jungle. Here, his followers perform manual labor and maintain the camp, and in return they receive frequent physical and sexual assault. It’s… not a great trade-off.
Sheila is desperate to get her sister to leave this questionable cult, but even once Diana comes around there’s the little problem of getting past armed guards, hungry jungle creatures, and that cannibal clan. Jonas, meanwhile, indoctrinates Sheila into the group via a ritual involving a large wooden dildo coated with snake blood. Another girl held at the compound, Mowara (Me Me Lai), is also tired of the daily rapes and so the three women, along with Mark, escape into the jungle in hopes of getting back to civilization in one piece. Unfortunately, those hungry, hungry cannibals catch up with a couple of them first and, well, the climax lives up to the film’s name and then some.
Although this feature was shot before Cannibal Holocaust, Lenzi actually used some footage from Deodato’s Jungle Holocaust (1977) here, not that anyone could notice. Eaten Alive! plays less like a full feature and more like some sick clip show, with a heinous act shown on screen every few minutes, lest the audience wise up and realize the plotting is skeletal at best. Lenzi capitalized not only on the current Italian cannibal craze but also the still-fresh memory of Jonestown and the largest mass suicide in history which is, of course, recreated here – and you know a film is chock full o’ sickness when a mass suicide is the least shocking thing seen on the screen. Seeing a few hundred people down some Flavor-Aid (it wasn’t Kool-Aid, people) pales in comparison to watching a woman have her breast cut off and munched on while another girl nearby has strips of flesh cut from her body and eaten in the same casual manner one might eat an orange. Don’t fret, ladies, because the guys get it bad, too; it wouldn’t be a proper cannibal film if someone didn’t have their dick chopped off. If there’s one thing Italian FX teams routinely nailed back in the ‘70s and ‘80s it was gore, and the work seen here is ooey and gooey and dripping crimson.
I could have done without all the animal death, though. The majority of these scenes are animal-on-animal action, reminding viewers nature is metal and savage and these things are a daily occurrence. But then, seeing these “natives” skin a living alligator more than once feels gratuitous. I could maybe understand if these scenes played some part in the overall narrative but they’re more like the porno scenes in Thriller: A Cruel Picture (1973), i.e. out of place and spliced in for maximum effect. This is a movie where a Jim Jones wannabe rapes a restrained woman with a snake-blood-covered wooden dildo – does it need any help in the depravity department?
The one thing that makes these Italian cannibal “classicks” stand apart from one another is the scoring. Cannibal Holocaust is the sickest film with the most beautiful music, courtesy of the legendary Riz Ortolani. Eaten Alive! is no slouch in that department either thanks to composers Roberto Donati & Fiamma Maglione’s funky, jazzy score that at times feels completely incongruous with the action on screen. The duo is credited under one pseudonym, Buddy Maglione. It wouldn’t surprise me to learn this feature was scored “cold”, with little regard given to how it would marry with the on-screen action. In one unintentionally hilarious moment at the end a close-up shot of a child, the only survivor of the Flavor-Aid cyanide suicide, quickly cuts the NYC skyline as Maglione’s upbeat theme begins to blast. A somber moment of reflection turns to near-comedy in an instant.
Here’s the thing, as abhorrent as virtually everything seen here is… I had a damn fun time with this one. You can’t possibly take any of this shit seriously. Eaten Alive! runs wild, packing so many mondo moments into its running time that viewers who aren’t too squeamish are going to be glued to the screen, wondering what wildness will be unleashed next. It’s like Lenzi directed under a mandate that every scene must feature dismemberment, cannibalism, boobs, animal cruelty – or all of the above. Seeing cannibal circuit stalwarts like Robert Kerman and Me Me Lai adds a nice touch of familiarity to the film, while Rassimov brings a brand of craziness to his Jonas that only a real-life inspiration such as Jim Jones could provide. This is a wild ride through rough terrain. Buckle up.
Severin touts Eaten Alive! as being “fully remastered for HD”, though it is clear the 1.66:1 1080p image still needs a bit of work. Expect to see plenty of white flecks, emulsion scratches, minor damage, and variations in color saturation and film grain but, I have to be honest here, that’s how I want to see a film like this. Color values fluctuate at times but the overall palette is strongly saturated and pleasing enough. The upgrade to HD has tightened up the image well enough that definition in objects and people is evident, revealing fine detail and looking more true to life. Black levels appeared dark and stable.
Audio is available in three varieties: English, Italian, and Spanish, all with a DTS-HD MA 2.0 mono track. I always opt for a dub on these Italian schlockers and the presentation here is crisp, with dialogue intelligible and clear at all times. There is some minor hissing on the high-end register but nothing distracting. Maglione’s score is delivered with excellent fidelity and depth. Subtitles are available in English and Italian.
“Welcome to the Jungle: Interview with Director Umberto Lenzi” is a new chat in which he discusses the state of cannibal films at the time, challenges during production, and more about the production history.
“Me Me Lai Bites Back: Feature Documentary on the Queen of Cannibal Movies” is a piece that runs for over an hour, with Lai discussing her oeuvre, what she’s been up to all these years, her legacy, and so much more fans will want to hear.
“The Sect of Purification: Interview with Production Designer Antonello Geleng” focuses on how Geleng was able to achieve the vision Lenzi had sought, even with most of the production taking place in a jungle clearly made by nature.
“Archive Interview with Actors Ivan Rassimov & Robert Kerman” features both leads briefly talking about their time on the production.
“2013 Q&A with Umberto Lenzi from the Festival of Fantastic Films, UK” and the film’s trailer are also included.
- NEW 2K REMASTER of the film presented for the first time ever
- Welcome To The Jungle: Interview With Director Umberto Lenzi
- Me Me Lai Bites Back: Feature Documentary On The Queen Of Cannibal Movies
- The Sect of The Purification: Interview With Production Designer Antonello Geleng
- Archive Interviews With Actors Ivan Rassimov and Robert Kerman
- 2013 Q&A With Umberto Lenzi from the Festival of Fantastic Films, UK
There is no false advertising with a title like Eaten Alive! and Lenzi does his damnedest to make viewers lose their lunch. Definitely for fans of distasteful and detestable cannibal crusades, this release from Severin is a bloody blast from start to finish.