By 1980, the popularity of the cannibal film had become a matter of competition amongst exploitation filmmakers around the world, each setting out to raise the bar for the next. While the genre had been around since the serials of the 1930's, it wasn't until the 1970's that we were treated to the site of natives actually devouring the flesh of their victims, thus capitalizing on the popularity and formula of the zombie film and putting a new twist on the jungle survival experience. Director Umberto Lenzi was amongst the first Euro-Shock filmmakers to tackle the subject with his 1972 classic Il Paese del sesso selvaggio (Deep River Savages), the film that served as the blueprint for dozens of films to follow. In 1980, Lenzi and company set out to make Cannibal Ferox, the film that would become synonymous with the genre, but due to budgetary constraints and scheduling conflicts, the epic Ferox would have to wait. Mangiati Vivi (Eaten Alive) was hastily conceived and shot on 16mm film for a bargain basement price. To flesh out the film, Lenzi "borrowed" footage from several other genre entries (including his own Deep River Savages, going so far as to cast that film's lead actress, Mi Mi Lai, to make the recycling of her death scene more convincing!).
The film centers around a Sheila Morris (Agren), a wealthy woman searching for her sister. After finding out that she has followed a self-proclaimed prophet named Jonas (Rassimov) into the wilds of New Guinea, where he has set up a "purification" colony. Sheila enlists the aid of Mark (Kerman) a Vietnam War deserter familiar with the jungle. Mark and Sheila find the colony after narrowly escaping from a tribe of cannibals, but soon realize that they are trapped in Jonas' camp with his drugged followers. Now they must choose between certain death in the jungle or the mad Jonas' "ideal" community.
Eaten Alive is typical of the euro-shock cannibal flick in that it features all of the trademarks of the genre, including the highly controversial scenes of animal cruelty that have made these films so maligned in recent years. In the case of Eaten Alive and it's budgetary issues, there are more than the average amount of these scenes, but, to be fair, most of them are from other films. I'm not particularly bothered by those segments since they are not that much different than the staged animal confrontations Disney incorporated into their "documentaries", but those of you who would rather watch an army of infants crawl into a volcano than see a single puppy get hit by a car have been warned.
As for the human casualties, we are shown some truly grotesque scenes of cannibals (and we know they are cannibals because they have bad wigs) tugging on chunks of chicken and animal intestines, chopping off penises, breasts, feet, and, in one very cool scene, tearing open a human carcass and hollowing it out (even though it's probably a pig or a calf, the editing is very good!).
Lenzi, who never shies away from an opportunity to show a little gratuitous T&A, is in top form here, with loads of full frontal shots of the lovely Mrs. Mi Mi Lai and Paola Senatore, as well as Janet Agren's incredibly dangerous looking chest missiles. As a matter of fact, I don't think 10 minutes goes by without a glimpse of some gorgeous lady doing something...well...naked. Clearly, Lenzi knows who is audience is!
Shriek Show's DVD presentation is very nice, with a sharp transfer that retains some of the 16mm artifacting, but is cleaned up quite nicely. The audio track is crisp and free of distortion. As for extras, the disc features interviews, a stills gallery, and an assortment of Shriek Show Cannibal Themed trailers.
While Eaten Alive isn't in league with Lenzi's own Cannibal Ferox, or, my personal favorite of the genre, Ruggero Deodato's Jungle Holocaust, it's still a very entertaining and silly low-budget chomp-fest that will more than please genre fans.