Eaten Alive
Italy / 1980
Directed by Umberto Lenzi
Starring
Robert Kerman
Janet Agren
Paola Senatore
Color / 87 Minutes / Not Rated
Format: DVD (R1 - NTSC)
Shriek Show
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2002 Stand-alone edition

 
 
6
    7   10 = Highest Rating  
Guest Review by John J. Cook
The Italian Cannibal flick Eaten Alive ("Mangiati Vivi") is definitely not for all... ahem... tastes. The film features extreme gore and violence, nudity, animal cruelty, and sexual perversion.
It starts out in Canada where an Asiatic-looking assassin kills a man with a blowgun dart dipped in cobra venom. Flash to New York City in the midst of the Christmas holiday season, where Asian Assassin Guy fatally blowdarts two more people before being crushed by an oncoming truck. The police conveniently find a reel of film on the dead hitman. It contains documentary footage of a bizarre tribal ritual taking place in a jungle setting. A Caucasian woman seen in the film is identified as Diana Morris, a New York resident who's been mysteriously missing for over 6 months. Her sister Sheila (Janet Agren) has come to the city from Alabama to look for her. The police hook Sheila up with Prof. Carter (Nightmare City's Mel Ferrer), an anthropologist who identifies the tribesmen seen in the film as indigenous to a particularly savage region of New Guinea.
Sheila is determined to get her sister back. With Carter's help she learns that, before vanishing, Diana had fallen in with a weird environmental/religious cult led by the mysterious Jonas, a messianic Jim Jones-type figure. Jonas is thought to have established a colony for his followers in the remote jungles of New Guinea. So, heedless of any danger, Sheila travels to that Pacific island to search for Diana and hopefully bring her home. But she'll need an experienced guide to make it through the jungle. Locals recommend American Mark Butler (one-time porn actor Robert Kerman), a 'Nam vet and soldier of fortune she finds arm wrestling a guy in a bar. He blows off her proposal until she adds sufficient zeroes to the potential fee.
Mark agrees to help Sheila locate her sister for the tidy sum of $80,000. They're flown to the jungle by chopper and dropped off, greeted by some foreboding footage of vampire bats flying overhead. A grizzled white man in the first village they arrive at throws them into a dungeon-hut with a venomous snake in a basket. Mark proves his worth by getting them out of this unexpected jam, securing a boat and some native bearers in the process. During their journey upriver we're subjected to stock footage of natives butchering a real alligator. (Yuck!) On the heels of this comes more stock footage of a python devouring a live monkey. As Sheila looks away in disgust Mark says, "You'll see worse before this is over." (Indeed.) Then, the absolute fakiest-looking alligator head imaginable attacks their boat chomping on one of the bearers forcing them to go on foot into the wilds of the jungle. Shortly thereafter Kerman utters another immortal line: "You know what? We're up shit's creek without a paddle!" (Yes, they certainly are!) Arriving at a clearing, they stumble upon hacked-up human limbs and find a dismembered native's body. In an especially bizarre and gruesome scene, Mark witnesses several cannibals attack a native girl, strip her naked, then kill and devour her... all while an owl looks on and a cannibal smiles at the bird approvingly.
And this is only the first 32 minutes!
Finally Sheila and Mark come upon Jonas' settlement, called "Purification Village." The newcomers are greeted by the brainwashed cult followers, both native and American. Sheila and Mark eye a few severed human heads on poles and know that they are in for it. They're welcomed by Jonas (Ivan Rassimov), who informs them that to leave the encampment means death at the hands of the surrounding cannibals. ("Their idea of lunch is fresh, hot entrails soaked in blood.") Only the cult leader's blowgun-toting guards keep the flesheaters at bay. Sheila is reunited with Diana (Italian porn actress Paola Senatore), who tells her the truth about Jonas: he's a pervert, a sadist, and totally insane. For 6 months she's been trapped here, a virtual slave. Diana's tale is confirmed when Mark and Sheila witness a sleazy cult ceremony involving public sex. Mark comes to an obvious conclusion: "We gotta get outta this place... These people are crazy!" But escape seems impossible.
Not as plodding as many films of this type, Eaten Alive has a sense of urgency that makes it extremely watchable. There's an 'evil potion drinking' scene that predates Mola Ramm making Harrison Ford imbibe the brainwashing blood of Kali in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. The performances are pretty good, especially Kerman. With his devil-may-care attitude and constant references to the money he's owed, his portrayal of Mark the mercenary definitely gives a nod to Han Solo. Kerman (Cannibal Holocaust) has a considerable cult following from appearing in these movies and I understand why he's a likable action hero. Rassimov makes a decent villain, while Janet Agren, Paola Senatore and cult favorite Me Me Lai are certainly babe-worthy. (Although Agren's portrayal isn't particularly strong. She seems to have a blank look most of the time, but hey... if your sister was captured by a religious cult in New Guinea and you're surrounded by cannibals, you might get emotionally overwhelmed too!) With its over-the-top gore effects and plentiful female nudity and despite the horrible animal death footage this is a fairly entertaining movie as far as cannibal flicks go. At least the animal cruelty sequences (my least favorite part of these films) weren't staged expressly for this production. They were culled from other Italian gutmunchers, most notably Sergio Martino's Slave of the Cannibal God.

Shriek Show's recent edition of Eaten Alive is reportedly the best the film has ever looked in any home video incarnation. (There have been German and British DVD releases as well as a number of dismal-looking U.S. videotapes.) While not perfect, the 1.85:1 widescreen transfer (anamorphically enhanced) looks pretty darn good. The mono audio track is nothing to write home about but gets the job done without any noticeable hiss or distortion.
The extras on this disc are really good, the highlight being a lengthy video interview with Robert Kerman. Eaten Alive is my first exposure to this actor; in the interview he comes off as genuinely appreciative of his cult status. Fans of the Italian cannibal subgenre should enjoy it. There's also an interview with Ivan Rassimov but I did not view it in its entirety. I do wish there had been more information on any of the female stars but there isn't even a talent bio, much less an interview. (A short piece on Janet Agren would have been wonderful.) A third interview has director/writer Umberto Lenzi speaking on the film's production and cast. Rounding out the extras are the theatrical trailer, trailers for the gore films Zombie Holocaust, Jungle Holocaust, Zombie 3 and Zombie 4, and a poster/still gallery. All in all a worthy, satisfying effort from Shriek Show. 2/05/03
UPDATE In 2006 Media Blasters reissued Eaten Alive as part of the 3-disc Jungle Horrors Triple Feature, which also includes Jungle Holocaust and Massacre in Dinosaur Valley.
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