Welcome to The Starlight, a tiny run-down hotel in the back woods of Texas. The Starlight is back off the road some, which makes it the perfect home for its owner, Judd (Brand) and his giant pet crocodile. On one dark and not-so-stormy night, The Starlight finds itself host to a handful of victims…I mean, guests.
The film opens with Buck (Englund) in bed with a prostitute, preparing to get his cowboy freak on. When she won’t follow through, she’s fired and sent down the road to the hotel. In addition to the runaway prostitute (“Death Race 2000” actress Roberta Collins), The Starlight welcomes a bizarre young couple with their daughter. (That trio is Marilyn Burns (Kiss Daddy Goodbye), William Finley (The Funhouse) and Kylie Richards (ER).) Soon, the missing girl’s father and sister arrive to complete the menu…I mean, guest list.
As the search continues for the missing girl, Judd continues to raise the body count. With an active imagination, Judd uses all sorts of tools for getting the job done. His sneering self-hate fuels the violence of the film. The bitter psychopath can’t breathe without being disgusted at his fellow human beings.
Tensions rise in pace and volume, with screams, cowboy songs, growls and whatever sound rats make all at once. Before the sun comes up, The Starlight sees more blood than a meat-packing plant. Will Judd continue his murderous ways? Or is it “Live by the croc, die by the croc” for our crazy scythe-swinging psycho?
Brand, an Army veteran and Broadway star in the 50’s, takes pleasure in his role as Judd. At no point in time would any viewer believe even a degree of sanity from the old gator-loving maniac. Englund rides his role with cockiness, and Stuart Whitman is a pillar as the town Sheriff.
The film sets the tone for a number of trends made popular in later films. There’s the 45-second walk around until you finally die move (see “Bikini Island”), the obvious Lite beer product placement (see “Wayne’s World”) and the two cowboys dancing together and slap-fighting (see “Brokeback Mountain”).
The name Tobe Hooper is synonymous with one of the most influential horror films of all time, 1974’s “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre”. In this follow up, Hooper maintains his dark style, heavily contrasting light and shadow. Lighting, camera angles and point-of-view shots provide an eerie atmosphere around The Starlight. Unlike Chainsaw, much more of the gore occurs on-screen in this violent delight.
“Eaten Alive” is somewhat based on the serial killer, Joe Ball, who owned the Roadside Inn off of Highway 181 outside San Antonio, Texas. He built an alligator pit behind the bar where he would show passers-by shows of animals being fed to the gators. Caught in problems with women, he began killing them and feeding parts to the gators. When he was tracked down by Bexar County deputy Sheriff John Gray, Joe killed himself. (Further details are available on the Crime Library site.)
Englund delivers the line “My name is Buck, and I’m here to fuck” which was later re-visited by Quentin Tarrantino in his film, Kill Bill. Janus Blythe plays a brief role as Lynette. Later in 1977, Blythe played Ruby in “The Hills Have Eyes”.
While one giant croc is more ominous than a handful of smaller gators, it’s less accurate. The digestive system of the reptiles is extremely slow. Eating that much meat would cause it to rot within the animal’s stomach before it was fully digested. Then again, who can pass on the chewy goodness of a dead hooker?
The 2-Disc DVD set includes a fat ton of extras for lovers of the film. Disc One contains the film in 1:85 widescreen format, with English subtitles and Dolby 2.0. There is a gallery of stills and audio commentary featuring Producer Mardi Rustam, actors Roberta Collins, William Finley and Kyle Richards, and make-up artist Craig Reardon.
Disc Two contains trailers, TV and radio ads, alternate credits and title sequences, and a behind-the-scenes slideshow. Also, included are a number of featurettes:
“The Gator Creator: Tobe Hooper”
“My Name is Buck: Robert Englund”
“The Butcher of Elmendorf: The Legend of Joe Ball”
“5ive Minutes with Marilyn Burns”
The featurettes provide great insight into the re-working of the script, the decision on location, the casting process and the careers of some of the stars. Englund’s insight into his role provides some great laughs.