“Boy, I’ve seen some pretty bad things in my life. Decapitated women. Burned babies. Old men’s eyes burned out with gas. But this takes the cake.”
Forgive me in advance for this, but Italian cannibal films are something of an acquired taste. They’re rarely well-acted, they’re extremely violent with special sexual violence doled out to female characters, and far too often they feature real cruelty to animals onscreen — I’m talking extreme cruelty at times — but if you can get past these understandable stumbling blocks they can also be a fun stew of gory, sleazy delights.
Sheila (Janet Agren) misses her sister Diana (Paola Senatore) and has concerns that she may be in trouble. Diana’s dropped out of contact somewhere in New Guinea, and with nothing else to go on Sheila heads to the jungle to find her. She hires an American ex-pat turned adventurer named Mark (Robert Kerman) as her guide, and together they find more than just Diana.
Deadly creatures. A deadlier cult. And cannibals who prefer to eat food that’s still struggling and screaming.
Eaten Alive! is director Umberto Lenzi‘s second cannibalism flick after essentially creating the sub-genre with 1972’s Man From Deep River. While that film featured just a single scene, though, this return to the jungle placed a bigger and messier focus on the dietary habits of its inhabitants. The film hits some of the concerns mentioned above — the animal carnage is fairly egregious, although it appears to recycle some of the scenes from Man From Deep River — but viewers with their finger on the fast-forward button can avoid the worst of it and still enjoy the hell out of the movie.
Sheila and Mark take the lead, but they’re overshadowed both by the plentiful amounts of bloodletting and a surprisingly affecting turn by Me Me Lai as one of the villagers within the cult. The former comes in the form of entrails and body parts strewn across the ground, flesh carved away, a decapitation, and more. Rape is a threat as well, and while Lenzi’s camera never ogles the act it’s no less present. Toss in a blood-covered dildo and an unwelcome castration and the film ticks off nearly ever box regarding scenes to make viewers cringe.
Animal scenes aside, the most disturbing sequence sees a trio of cannibals rape a woman and then eat her. It’s especially gross for… reasons.
Me Me Lai, meanwhile, earns sympathy through both her character’s situation and her own expressions. She’s an unexpected bit of heart and courage amide the genre chaos, but don’t mistake that for any real degree of character depth. Everyone’s here to live or die, and if it’s the latter it’s almost guaranteed to be in the most painful and gruesome way possible. Still, they fare better than the crocodile, monkey, snakes, lizard, and so on because at least they get to go home at the end of the shooting day.
Eaten Alive! won’t appeal to most for some of the reasons above, but it remains an entertaining survival romp about people in far over their heads.
Severin’s new Blu-ray brings the film home in all its gory, flesh-filled glory, and they’ve packed with terrific extras new and old including:
- Welcome to the Jungle [16:37] – Director Umberto Lenzi talks about his career and this film’s production in particular including his thoughts on breasts, marketing, and his dislike for his lead actor.
- Me Me Lai Bites Back: Resurrection of the Cannibal Queen [1:19:55] – The actress gets the feature doc treatment with this look at her unintentional genre of choice, her performances, and her disappearance from cinema. There are some interesting interview elements here, but the best anecdote is hearing how she became a police officer in England and once found herself confiscating a pile of “video nasties” that included one of her own films.
- The Sect of the Purification [13:03] – Production/costume designer Antonello Geleng discusses the film’s production and working with Lenzi for the first time.
- Archive interviews with actors Ivan Rassimov and Robert Kerman [12:21]
- 2013 Q&A with Umberto Lenzi from the UK Festival of Fantastic Films [23:43]
Buy Eaten Alive on Blu-ray from Amazon.