Monday, 18 January 2010

Eaten Alive (aka Mangiati Vivi) (1980)

Nice melons!

Eaten Alive
, not to be confused with Tobe Hooper's 1977 film of the same name, is one of Umberto Lenzi's three entries into the Italian cannibal cycle. It's fair to say that Lenzi kicked off the subgenre with 1972's Deep River Savages and pushed it further than the viewing public were able to stomach with 1982's Cannibal Ferox. Eaten Alive is like the awkward middle child, neither groundbreaking nor extreme enough to separate it from the pack, but it does throw a Jim Jones style death cult into the mix. Probably seemed like a good idea at the time.

The film starts in Niagara falls, a first for cannibal films I believe, where a middle aged man cops an earful of poisonous blowdart and drops dead. Cut to the streets of New York, complete with groovy disco music, and two more guys get killed in the same way. By now this blowdart rampage is building up a deliciously surreal momentum and I was pretty excited to see where it leads, but unfortunately the primitive assassin fails to heed the traffic signs (fucking tourists) and gets flattened by a passing truck.

Shiela Morris (Janet Agren, City of the Living Dead) arrives at a New York police station after traveling all the way from Alabama with nothing but a pimptastic fur coat and a laughable Southern accent. For some reason the blowdart-happy native had a 8mm film reel on him that shows her missing sister Diana palling around in cannibal country with some off-brand Jim Jones named Jonas. Shiela shows the film to a history professor (Mel Ferrer, Nightmare City) which is mostly an excuse for Lenzi to squeeze in some Mondo footage, and he identifies the ritual as that of the fanatical Purification Sect of New Guinea. Talking to a bunch of hippies about Jonas proves to be a dead end, so it looks like Shiela is on the next flight to New Guinea.

Once she's arrived, Shiela knows that the best place to find a guide is the local dive bar, where some grizzled Vietnam veteran will no doubt be engaged in a violent competitive sport. In this case it's Mark Butler, performing a variation on arm-wrestling where the loser gets his hand impaled on a knife. He is wearing a Deer-Hunter-esque yellow headband, I guess to symbolise the fact that he's a cowardly Vietnam deserter. Mark is played by Robert Kerman (Cannibal Holocaust, Cannibal Ferox) although you might know him better as R. Bolla, a name under which he performed in a hundred other films, from classics like Great Sexpectations to the remarkably frank Men Who Love Huge Boobs.

Mark agrees to help Shiela find her sister for 20K, but I'm not sure what she's paying him for exactly. He seems hopelessly lost without a few native guides to do his job for him and his plan seems to be to wander aimlessly through the jungle and hope they find the death cult before they are eaten by cannibals. After a run-in with a crazy old man they head down river in a canoe, but one of their guides gets his arm bitten off by a crocodile, stranding them deep in cannibal country. When they come across some cannibals gang-raping and then eating a native woman (haven't these guys heard of the golden rule: don't fuck what you eat) Shiela insists that Mark kills her if that's going to happen to her. Mark slaps her and I guess she's into that because they totally do it. The next day they are discovered by cannibals, but luckily they are rescued by the cultists and taken back to Jonas' "Purification Village".

They are welcomed byJonas (Ivan Rassimov in a bright orange muu-muu), who is every bit as crazy as you'd expect. They then spot Diana at a funeral service, one of a number of topless women who parade around while they burn the body, while Jonas gives a sermon to the tune of Bach's Toccata and fugue in D minor. Who is getting cremated here? Dracula? Once the body has been reduced to ashes, the widow strips naked, lies on the extinguished funeral pyre, and then all her brother-in-laws take turns boning her. Shit, as if dealing with the in-laws wasn't awkward enough. Mark is unfazed, quipping "Nice, keeps it in the family."

When they finally get Diana alone she reveals that she's there against her will and that Jonas is brainwashing people with drugged-up jungle juice. Despite being aware of this fact, Shiela gulps down anything Jonas puts in front of her, and soon he's raping her with a primitive dildo dipped in snake blood or painting her gold (not sure why, although it does look pretty cool) and whipping her sister right in front of her. Meanwhile Mark escapes the village, but after being attacked by cannibals he figures he's better off with the cultists and pulls the old "Yeah, I'm totes a big believer in your cult now. I'm not just pretending to drink your jungle juice, honest."

Eventually Diana, Shiela and Mark escape with the help of a native woman (played by Me Me Lai). Unfortunately Diana and the native woman don't make it; Diana gets raped by Jonas' chief enforcer and then they are both captured and eaten by cannibals. Shiela nearly gives their position away to the cannibals but luckily Mark punches her right in the face before she could scream. Or maybe he was just frustrated that their mission was a collosal failure and they are both doomed. Luckily some helicopters just so happen to spot them and the Purification Village, prompting Jonas and his followers to drink the grape kool-aid and head to the cannibal-infested jungle in the sky.

If you've seen a few other Italian cannibal films, watching Eaten Alive is an experience in deja vu. Not only are there are many familiar faces to veterans of the subgenre (notably Me Me Lai, Ivan Rassimov and Robert Kerman), Lenzi commits the cardinal sin of exploitation cinema and flat-out steals the money shots from other cannibal films. From Sergio Martino's Slave of the Cannibal God we have the forementioned crocodile attack, some natives eating an iguana and a snake eating a monkey. From Ruggero Deodato's Jungle Holocaust we have Me Me Lai's death sequence, a crocodile being slaughtered and some cannibals eating snakes and cutting off a guy's wanger. It's pretty obvious too, since Lenzi doesn't make much attempt to preserve continuity in the costumes or film stock.

This is disappointing as Lenzi is usually capapble of crafting some mind-bogglingly entertaining trash. I did appreciate the cult's strict "showing off the goods" policy, having women either topless or in sheer robes at all times. Even when Diana manages to escape the village she's wearing a cleavage-baring top, daisy dukes and hooker boots. That is not appropriate jungle wear, Diana. I'm sure Shiela has another khaki pantsuit you can borrow. There's a lot of that clumsy, poorly-dubbed dialog we demand from our Italian trash cinema, such as Jonas' explanation that the cannibals' "idea of lunch is fresh, hot entrails soaked in blood" or the professor joking to some cops that "instead of buying meat from the supermarket, they get it fresh from people like you." Consequently you'll probably get a few laughs out of it, although I'd recommend watching any of the cannibal films Lenzi has pilfered to make this one.

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