Crocodiles Make Fine Pets (Eaten Alive, 1976)

Eaten_Alive_PosterTobe Hooper followed up his classic horror the Texas Chainsaw Massacre by traversing similar ground but in a different way. Set in rural Texas, Judd runs the local Starlight Hotel.  It is a remote location, with its own swamp.  And in that swamp? Judd keeps a giant crocodile.  And guess what he feeds it?

Judd is your standard movie religious psychotic redneck.  He kills prostitutes, he kills johns, he kills people who might expose him for killing prostitutes and so on.

Everything about this film feels like a sub-par take on the Texas Chainsaw Massacre.  Both were made with obvious low budgets, yet here it just makes the film look cheap.  In place of any tension, the film feels sleazy and generally unpleasant.

Probably the most interesting thing about the film is the cast.  It features a young Robert Englund, and several familiar faces, such as Mel Ferrer and Neville Brand.  And yes, the woman running the brothel is Morticia Addams, Carolyn Jones.

This was ultimately a disappointing follow-up to a classic.


Let’s Visit Texas (Texas Chainsaw Massacre: the Beginning, 2006)

texas_chainsaw_massacre_beginning_posterThe very nature of a horror movie prequel is pretty bleak.  If you are going back to “the beginning”, you pretty much wreck any hopes for a happy ending.

Texas Chainsaw Massacre the Beginning follows two couples.  The young men are brothers, one returning to duty in Vietnam and the other joining him.  Except the younger brother really does not want to go.  In what seems like a small action, he starts to burn his card, but they find themselves in a car accident.  Who should find them?  Sheriff Hoyt.  Except, now we discover that Hoyt is not the Sheriff at all.  Young Thomas Hewlett went on a slaughtering spree the day they closed the only job he could love…working the slaughterhouse.


When the sheriff stops Thomas, he is killed and Hoyt took over the role. When Hoyt finds the burned draft card, he gets irate and starts torturing the brothers.  One of the girlfriends got away, but the other suffers all sorts of torment.  The “Final Girl” (a term used very loosely here) tries to save her friends, but the situation just gets worse, right to the bitter end.  You know she cannot get away…the Hewlett’s have to make sure nobody gets away.

Everything is pretty by the book, and the film lacks any real twists, as it is super busy filling in the blanks from the first film.  These were not necessary to fill in, as they were things like “How did that old guy lose his legs?”  Or “How come Hoyt has fake teeth?”  The answer is that everything happened in this one moment of time in the 60’s.

The cast is pretty decent, and again Ermey is disturbingly entertaining.  But other then that, nothing really stands out.  It is gory and gritty, taking it’s look from the previous film.  But it never quite grabs the viewer in any way.  The characters are under developed, and while sometimes a film can be entertaining enough to give that a pass, this is not the case here.

One interesting note is John Laroquette reprises his role as narrator again, though the film closes with his narration instead of opens with it.

Let’s Visit Texas Part 5 (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, 2003)

texas_chainsaw_massacre_2003_posterPeople stopped trying to make sequels and the franchise looked to be quietly slipping into history.  Then, in the early 2000’s Michael Bay formed Platinum Dunes and purchased the rights to the Texas Chainsaw Massacre.  Instead of going the sequel route, Bay opted for a remake.  This was also a reboot of the franchise.  The film was still set in 70’s and featured a young CW TV type of cast…before the CW existed.

The film opens with the same basic narration of the original (with John Laroquette reprising his role as narrator-which is a fun reference to the original) before introducing us to a group of friends on a road trip.  They pick up a hitchhiker (much like the original), a young woman who seems very traumatized (unlike the original).  She kills herself, which results in the kids looking for help.  They meet local sheriff Hoyt.  He is gruff and seems a bit off, but it is only later the kids realized what danger they are in.

Directed by music video director Marcus Nispel (among his video work?  An Amy Grant video short) the film is definitely stylish.  There are all sorts interesting camera shots (one gruesome shot pulls out from the terrified friends through a head wound an out of the bullet hole of the van’s rear window).   The various citizens of the small Texas Community are all slightly creepy. Every location is unnerving.  The film’s color scheme causes it to feel like it could be filmed in the 70’s, giving a gritty look to the film.  Nispel went on to direct the glossy Friday the 13th reboot a few years later.

Leatherface is big and imposing…and R. Lee Ermey steals a lot of scenes with a character who is like his Full Metal Jacket drill sergeant, but slightly nicer.  Okay, kidding.  Ermey’s Sheriff Hoyt is disturbing and genuinely frightening.

The film’s cast is actually quite good, though the central young women are overly sexualized (not a big surprise from a Bay production).  The film lingers especially on shots of Jessica Biel in her midriff top (well, technically, Erika Leerhsen is in less).

This is one of those remakes that manages to be pretty decent in it’s own right.  It manages to take the things that matter from the original while choosing to tell it’s own version of the story.  After the first two films, this is probably the strongest entry in the franchise.

Let’s Visit Texas Part 2 (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, 1986)

Don’t You, Forget About Me…

Cannon Films got the rights to the Texas Chainsaw Massacre and immediately set to get Hooper to make a sequel.  Except, Hooper was not really interested in a sequel.  He agreed to be a producer, but only after they found they could not afford a director, did Hooper agree to direct.

While the studio expected a straight up horror film, Hooper had something else in mind.  A gory and dark comedy.  This is even evident in their poster, which mimics the Breakfast Club poster.

Two guys harass radio DJ Stretch (Caroline Williams), only to find themselves attacked and killed by Leatherface and his clan.  This is a pretty memorable scene, in part due to the obnoxious preppy guys and their demise.  Stretch starts to rebroadcast to solve the crime.


Meanwhile, the crime is also being investigate by Lefty (Dennis Hopper)…Lefty has been on the trail of the Sawyer family for over a decade, as they killed his nephew Franklin and nearly killed niece Sally.  Leatherface and Chop Top (a family member who was in Vietnam during the first film) show up to the radio station looking for Stretch.  She convinces Leatherface to let her live,  rushing off with Chop Top.  She follows them to their new home (they are hiding out in below what appears to be a the remains of a theme park).  Soon Lefty shows up as well.  This results in a big chainsaw fight between Lefty and the family.

The film’s final scene mimics the original film’s final moments, but reverses them.  The film also is where the cannibalism aspect comes in.  The family has an award winning chili recipe (hint, the special ingredient is people meat) that they take around Texas.

The cast here is a lot of fun.  Hopper is over the top as Lefty and his Chainsaw battle is downright hilarious.  William’s handles being both the terrified victim, yet also is smart enough to find ways to survive.  Bill Mosely is great as the absurd Chop Top, the weird hippie of the family.  Bill JohnsonThe make-up effects and set design are beautifully theatrical.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was not well received, but it’s become a cult classic, and deservedly so.  It is entertaining, even though it is not a scary film by any means.  Horror fans should not miss this clever skewering of Horror sequel tropes.

Let’s Visit Texas Part 1 (the Texas Chainsaw Massacre, 1974)

the_texas_chainsaw_massacre_posterI think the lesson in this film franchise is never take a road trip to Texas.  But anyways, the original film about a family of twisted and likely inbred rednecks is based very loosely on Wisconsin’s Ed Gein.

Gein is pretty notorious for his grave robbing and making furniture from human bodies.  He also confessed to killing two women.  But it is the creepy house of horrors that really seemed to inspire Tobe Hooper and his team.*

Hooper opens his film with an introduction warning us of the horrifying tale we are about to witness. It is followed by a creepy visual of a corpse that is hugging a gravestone.  All as a news report tells us what the police discovered.  The sound effect that accompanies the scene is intensely creepy.

We meet a group of young friends on a road trip to check the grave of Sally Hardesty and her brother Franklin’s father, based on the reports of grave robbing.  They pick up a creepy hitchhiker who freaks everyone out.  They toss him to the side of the road and continue on their way.  Their van is low on gas, so they pull over.  Hearing a generator, they discover a farmhouse.  And that is where the mayhem kicks in.  The friends find themselves stalked and treated like animals by the Sawyer family.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is one of the most controversial of the classic 70’s horror films.  It is remembered for it bloody brutality and gore.  Which made my first viewing a surprise.  The film is raw and frightening.  But it is also not very gory.  It is, largely bloodless.  Even a scene in which a young woman is suspended on a meat hook is not nearly as gruesome in it’ visuals.  Much of what makes the Texas Chainsaw Massacre to gruesome is the viewer’s imagination.  The thought of how painful it is.  It is also interesting to realize the who “Family of Cannibals” aspect was not actually established in the film.  Certainly there are things you could see as hints, but nothing explicit.

The set design was made on a budget, but the crew puts together a weird and creepy home for the family.  It is genuinely unsettling.

Made with a cast of unknowns (for almost all the performers, this was their first film) by a second time director, Massacre is pretty remarkable for it’s near continuous intensity.  Hooper and his team (both behind and in front of the camera) do quite well on a shoestring budget.  The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is a powerful and raw horror film that has held up for forty years, and for good reason.  The film is one that sticks with the viewer long after turning off the TV.










*Gein also inspired Robert Block’s Psycho among others.

Carnival Horror (The Funhouse, 1981)

funhouse_posterThe titles start out quite promising with a montage of rather creepy animatronic puppets.  The film then starts out as if Tobe was making a Halloween meets Psycho ripoff.  We see the killers point of view as an attractive girl takes a shower.  The killer even selects a clown mask (Ala young Michael Myers).  It’s clear the killer seems to live in the house with the girl…we get a point of view shot from behind the mask (again!  Like in Halloween).  There is a struggle and then the girl, Amy,  discovers her attacker is her little brother playing a practical joke.  Am I just really abnormal in finding this bizarre?  Am I really the only one?  It seems not uncommon in movies that you have brothers playing jokes that require them to ogle their sister.  I know I’ve seen it in other films…are screenwriters all only children?

The girl tells her brother she is not taking him to the carnival that weekend.  She then tells her father she is going out with her boyfriend Buzz, and her father tells her not to go to the carnival, as it the same carnival where two girls were found dead the prior year.  She promises not to go, but we all know this is a lie…as we do not have a movie without it..  Her boyfriend and their two friends go to the carnival.

The carnival Funhouse features one of the most uninspired carnival barkers ever (Kevin Conway).  He delivers everything in a low gravelly tone.  But the four friends go inside.  Meanwhile?  Amy’s little brother sneaks out and makes his way to the carnival.  The four hide behind the tents to smoke a joint, because, they need to work towards complete the “Horror Movie Sin List.”  Then they visit the fortune teller, whom they offend with their pot induced snickering.  Damn drugs.

The kids get the wild idea to stay overnight in the Funhouse.  At the Carnival where two dead girls were found the year before.  So, the kids call their parents to say they are staying at each others homes overnight.  They get on the funhouse ride and slip off once inside.  Damn drugs.

Then we get some long and drawn out shots of people leaving the carnival.  Amy’s Brother stays behind as while.  He’s frightened away as the animatronic dummy at the entrance seems to recognize that he is standing there.  Meanwhile, the teens are adding to the Sin List in the funhouse by making out and feeling each other up.  Damn teenagers.

They discover that they are above a room, so they watch what plays out…they discover that the fortune teller is a part time sex worker.  I am not exaggerating here, she takes money from men to perform sexual acts.  She is pretty lousy about it, because she is mean and rude to her john.  Unless that is his thing.  It might be, as her john cannot speak and wears a Frankenstein mask.  He’s unsatisfied with her performance and kills her.  Then he hides the body.

Our drug addled sex fiends, er, the kids decide it is time to get out and go home.  Not a bad idea, in theory.  But it turns it to not be so simple.  The exit is chained shut.  They are trying to figure out a new way to get free, only to witness the john (who is the carnival geek) being abused by his father…it turns out that the geek is a rather deformed mutant.  So, things are getting worse.

Then the killing starts.  I mean, after the first killing.  Turns out the geek is pretty sneaky, tricking the kids and separating them.

The film makes a good use of color, lighting and sound, the funhouse itself feels old and dilapidated, and is really more fearsome than the monster in that it feels like a rundown deathtrap.  Hooper doesn’t have a lot of victims to work with, so it is not some unrelenting spree of death, and he focuses as much on atmosphere and trying to build a real sense of dread.  It’s not successful, however as scenes are drawn out a bit to long to the point the final confront has you starting to get bored and want it to be over already.

The film is full of strangeness.  For example, there is the old woman who tells the girls that God is watching them.  And then there is Amy’s brother walking along the road and some guy pulls up and offers him a ride-then pulls out his shotgun…as the kid runs away? He laughs like a horror film mad scientist.  No reason given for that either.  And he never shows up again.  Damn drugs.

Unlike Hooper’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre, which is unrelenting towards the end and has you wanting the end to come as a release, here the end just needs to come period.  It hurts to say this, as I do like much of what the film has to offer.  It’s the drawn out ending that kills it for me.

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