The Ninjabot

Why “Eaten Alive!” is the Only Cannibal Movie You Need to See

Posted on September 10, 2013 at 5:19 pm by Jason Byard

eaten alive!The early 1980’s saw a veritable bumper crop (some might even call it a Renaissance, others a glut) of cannibal movies. In almost all the notable cases, they were produced by Italian filmmakers, starred American actors playing American characters, were violently  bloody, and (for some reason) tended to feature a ton of footage of real animals getting killed. Alligators, tortoises, water buffalos, hell, even muskrats. Oh, and all of them basically had the same plot:

  • Person X goes missing for some undefined reason in some god-forsaken jungle-hell, usually Brazil or New Guinea.
  • Person Y (without fail it’s a shapely co-ed), and a cohort of truly awful and supremely killable hangers-on, venture forth into said jungle-hell in search of Person X.
  • After their arrival, Person Y & Co. are party to something that disturbs the delicate ecological balance, interrupt some native ritual or whatever, which was heretofore the uninterrupted norm of the jungle-hell.
  • Their actions bring on the wrath of a handy tribe of indigenous cannibals and a righteous kill or be killed bloodbath ensues, usually containing more beheading, impalement, and castration than the Old Testament.
  • We learn a rather heavy-handed lesson about the perils of cultural imperialism or disregard for older cultures or yadda-yadda.

Bing. Bang. Boom. Like clockwork, I tell ya, like clockwork. The point being that if you’ve seen one Carter-era cannibal flick you’ve seen them all. It’s not a sub-genre particularly given to nuance.

That said, if it comes down to you only ever watching just one such film, you’d do well to have that film be Umberto Lenzi’s Eaten Alive! It’s really the only one that somehow manages to hit all the various cannibal movie erogenous zones and wring the maximum amount of satisfaction from them. This is probably due in large part to the fact that the leading man was an ex-porn star.

eaten-aliveBy 1980, John Wayne and Steve McQueen were dead. The James Bond and Dirty Harry franchises and grown tired and stale. Indiana Jones, Snake Plissken, and The Road Warrior were all still a year away. America needed a dynamic, yet sophisticated, man of action to fill that void. That man was Robert Kerman. This guy was all over the cannibal movie scene during the early 80’s. He was a cop in 1981’s Make Them Die Slowly (aka Cannibal Ferox) and he also played the lead in the film largely considered to be the apex of the sub genre, Ruggero Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust.

All very interesting, but it’s Kerman’s other film work makes for more interesting reading. He was also the star of such illustrious Golden Age of Porn titles as Casino of Lust, The Fur Trap, Great Sexpectations and who could forget his turn as “Mr. Greenfield” in the immortal Debbie Does Dallas? But it was Eaten Alive! that was his first “reputable” movie after he made the jump from skin flicks, thus making him the first porn star ever to successfully “mainstream.” Turns out the guy actually plays a pretty good part.

eaten-aliveKerman’s character is a gin-soaked soldier of fortune who’s contracted to accompany the film’s perfunctory blonde bombshell character into the jungles of New Guinea in an effort to locate her missing sister. It seems that little sis ran off with some half-baked hippie cult leader, and the rest of his flock to live on some Jonestown-style commune in the heart of the rain forest.

Naturally, Captain Porn ‘Stache and his female charge arrive just in time for everything to go to hell. Apparently our friend the cult leader is indulging in that which is the favorite pastime of all his ilk: sexually abusing his followers. He’s also gone all Colonel Kurtz on the local population as well, burning them on huge pyres, raping one with a stone phallus, and other acts of general unpleasantness. A hard rain has to fall on the interlopers, and before too long, we’re in the midst of one of the most outrageously vicious flesh-eating backlashes on film.

For those strong in the stomach (and who can endure the movie’s admittedly misogynistic undertones, especially during the climax) this movie is an unalloyed joy to sit through. It’s fast paced, and its almost shamefully brash use of gore and unpretentiousness make it arguably the top dog of cinema’s cannibal boom. Simply put, it delivers a viewing satisfaction more sordid and visceral than any of Robert Kerman’s fleshier film escapades. This is saying something because, brother, there were a bunch of those.

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