While the term Mondo Cannibal Master might be a bit overzealous for a man like Umberto Lenzi, he is nothing if not prolific to the sub-genre. Having written and directed several of these films, his name might be the most recognizable. In this film, we tackle Eaten Alive! (1980). Much less infamous than his “Banned in 31 Countries” Cannibal Ferox (1980), this films holds a bit of charm that Cannibal Ferox doesn’t. And while Eaten Alive! is the lesser film technically, it might be more enjoyable to watch.
The Return of the Man
It wouldn’t be Italian Cannibal Mondo without Robert Kerman. With a resume including at least two other cannibal films and a healthy dose of pornography. nothing says exploitation like the name Robert Kerman in lights. Truth be told, of all of his roles in all of the cannibal films that we have seen, his role in this one makes the best use of his ability to cast arrogant narcissism at will. While not a particularly skillful actor, he manages to create some fun chemistry with the films main attraction Janet Agren, who plays the leading lady named Sheila.
The Best Cannibals are in New Guinea
Flipping the script for once, the cannibals that Umberto Lenzi employs in his script hail from the far East in New Guinea. Its a welcome change as it alters the look of the cannibals themselves. The only thing better than cannibals is inclusion. Welcome to the party, New Guinea. The film recycles some standard Mondo tropes with a few notable adjustments.
The story begins with an assassin running around New York targeting what appear to be random individuals. The police find a compelling piece of film footage after the assassin is killed during a pursuit. The film reveals strange rituals involving men hanging from steel hooks. It also reveals a local woman named Diana Morris (Paola Senatore) participating in the ritual. The police call her estranged sister, Sheila (Janet Agren) in for questioning. Wanting to find her sister, she hires morally ambiguous Mark Butler (Robert Kerman) to escort her on her search.
This is where this story gets very interesting. Diana fled to the jungles of New Guinea to join a cult run by a man named Jonas Melvin. Jonas and his modus operandi pretty much follow the teachings of the real Jim Jones and the Peoples Temple. Having occurred just two years prior, the Jonestown Massacre undoubtedly influence Lenzi and his screenplay. Jonas Melvin (Ivan Rassimov) looks like a well kept Richard Ramirez, which adds a bit of an edge to his on-screen presence. Predictably, Jonas proves to be as evil as the cannibals hiding in the jungle.
Sheila and Mark find Diana brainwashed and in the clutches of Jonas.
Scarce on Cannibals, Flush on Violence
Not completely devoid of cannibals, it has its flesh eating moments, but in truth they contribute much less to the overall film than one would think by the title. Jonas on the other hand owns a monopoly on violence and violent acts. He sexually abuses his followers and forces the female members to go through collective rape rituals. In another scene, he rapes Sheila with a ceramic phallus covered in snake blood. As with many cults, it begins with influence, but ends with violent enforcement of the will of God.
However, when Diana and fellow villager Mowara attempt to flee the confines of the compound, the real cannibalism begins. Of the violent act committed by the cannibals, the most egregious involve sexual mutilation. Umberto Lenzi continues his fascination with male castration. As Diana and Morawa fall victim to the cannibals, they begin their feast with the soft tissue of the breasts. Interestingly, the cannibal mutilation scenes go on for quite some time as they slowly rend the women’s bodies one piece at as time.
Par for the Course
After viewing several Italian cannibal films, they all share some common characteristics. Lenzi’s film is no exception to the rule. For starters, Umberto Lenzi injects a plethora of stock footage involving the senseless slaughter of animals and monkeys being devoured by snakes. Second, Lenzi makes fair use of animal innards as a replacement for latex and practical effects. We are no experts, but it feels like this film may make more use of latex than in other films. We suspect that is what some of the natives are gnawing on in some scenes.
Umberto Lenzi’s film retains the expected grainy patina standard in exploitation films. Musically, Lenzi’s film falls flat. It begins with a period correct disco anthem, but that’s about it. We did notice that Lenzi does recycle some of the foreboding jungle music for his subsequent release of Cannibal Ferox. Hilariously out of place, “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” blares periodically in Jonas’s cult compound.
Mark and Sheila
No stranger to Italian cannibal exploitation films, Robert Kerman excels in his role as the seedy escort, Mark Butler. He makes no bones about the fact that he is only in it for the $80,000 that Sheila promised him for his services. The first 3 times he repeats that, our eyes are rolling. By the 15th time it becomes comical. Sheila, play hard to get with Mark for the duration of the film. In dire straits they agree to a ridiculous suicide pact just before being saved be helicopter… so cheesy, but so good.
Together these unlikely anti-heroes share one of the most awkward and offensive dialogs in all of cinematic history:
Mark: Tell me, what’s a rich girl like you doing in a shit place like Alabama?
Sheila: Oh, watching poor n****** break their asses in our father’s cotton mill.
Mark: Sweet. What else?
Sheila: Well, listening to rock. You like rock?
Mark: No, I like whiskey.
To shoot it as straight as possible, Eaten Alive! is not a good film. Yet, we did find that it had a cheesy 70’s exploitation charm about it. The plotline goes hard into completely bizarre territory, but remains interesting nonetheless. We still have a problem with watching living animals being butchered alive, and would prefer that they found other filler. You’re either down with Italian cannibal films, or you need to find another genre. Apparently wanton disregard of animal safety is part of the package.
Minimally, we can say with absolute confidence that Eaten Alive! greatly transcends the pile of garbage that defines Cannibal Terror (1980). As far as implausible Italian gore-fests are concerned, this one offers about as much as one could wish for. I doubt this one will make its way to late night American television, but it certainly belongs there.
Eaten Alive! (1980) - Ridiculous, Even by Umberto Lenzi Standards - Malevolent Dark
Director: Umberto Lenzi
Date Created: 1980-01-01 00:00