Me Me Lai
Trivia Italian exploitation star Ivan Rassimov plays Jonas, the cult leader, Janet Agren (Fulci's 'City Of The Living Dead') the sister of a missing woman, and Robert Kerman (porn star) (Deodato's infamous 'Cannibal Holocaust') the man hired to find her.
The film's jungle scenes were shot in location in Sri Lanka
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Eaten Alive (1981)
11th Mar 05
A New York woman goes in search of a cult, trying to find her sister who has gone missing in the jungle. Then she finds some cannibals...
It can be argued that Umberto Lenzi kicked off the whole Third World cannibal genre way back in 1972 when his film Mondo Cannibale (also known as Deep River Savages) was released. In fact, the cannibal genre is in fact a very small oeuvre that only contains around 11 or so films, most of which included directors who contributed more than one film (see Ruggero Deodato with Cannibal Holocaust and Ultimo Mondo Cannibale aka The Last Survivor).
It can also be argued that Lenzi buried the cannibal genre when he released Cannibal Ferox in 1981, a film that was supposedly ‘banned in 31 countries’ and marked the final nail in the coffin for these flesh munching Amazonian rain forest movies. Eaten Alive marks Lenzi’s second of his three cannibal movies, and although it’s not a total disaster, it suffers from being released in the same year as Deodato’s Holy Grail of Cannibal Movies – Cannibal Holocaust.
That’s not to say Eaten Alive is not without it’s worth. Beginning at the Niagra Falls, we are treated to the sight of a jungle man with a blow dart killing a man from a distance. Cut to New York, and the same man uses his blow dart again (and again) killing two others, before running off and getting knocked down and killed by a car (no understanding of The Green Cross Code these primitives!)
We are then introduced to a beautiful blonde girl (Sheila – played by Swedish actress Janet Agren, also of City of the Living dead fame) at the cop station, who is told that the killer could be connected in some way to the disappearance of the blonde girl’s sister, Diane, who has reportedly run off to join some religious cult, led by some nutter called Jonas. In Cannibal Film Cliché No. 1, Sheila and the cop sit down to watch some grainy home video footage of some sort of Purification rite, hanging from body hooks and walking on coals. After a little more investigation, they learn the cult has moved on to New Guinea in a bid to establish a sanctuary in the wilderness.
Cut to New Guinea, and Shelia enlists the help of a Vietnam Vet, Mark (played by Robert Kerman of Cannibal Holocaust, porn films and bizarrely Spider-Man fame) to track down her sister, and together the head off to some small village where they are captured and locked in a small hut with a snake. After the obligatory Cannibal Cliché No. 2 (animal deaths – this time a crocodile being sliced open), Sheila and Mark fake their deaths, and make their escape by obtaining the gun and using it on their captors to find out where Diane may be. After hearing that she may be at a nearby village, Sheila and Mark procure some guides and canoes (Cannibal Cliché No.3) and head on up the river.
After another animal death scene (this time a monkey being eaten by a Boa), the expedition is attacked by a crocodile (a rubbish bit of action) and one of the guides is eaten, forcing our heroes onto the riverbank where they find human remains. Then, upon hearing some screams in the jungle, the gang encounter a cannibal attack where a woman is raped, cut open, has her nipples sliced off (Cannibal Cliché No.4) and is eaten. “I’ve seen some terrible things. But this takes the cake,” says Sheila. Quite.
Waking the next morning, they are caught by a tribe and are then to the Purification Sect led by Jonas. Here, they witness a funeral ceremony, and Sheila spots her sister Diane (topless) amongst the cult’s members as Mark comments that she looks “stoned out of her mind.”
It then transpires that Jonas is indeed insane (obviously inspired by Jim Jones and his Cool-aid suicidal ritual in the jungle) and is intending his entire cult to commit suicide. It also doesn’t help that the sect is surrounded by at least one tribe of killer cannibals, and that escape from the village is pretty darn impossible.
From here on in, the film becomes a struggle between Mark and Jonas the leader of the sect, as our hero tries to escape and runs off into the jungle, only to witness a cannibal killing that includes (Cannibal Cliché No. 6) a cock-slicing, although this is obviously fake. He returns to the Sect, and with Diane and Sheila tries to organise another escape route (this time also with another tribal girl who is on their side after being gang raped - Cannibal Cliché No. 5 - by the sect at her husband’s funeral) before it’s too late.
Eaten Alive is riddled with Cannibal Cliches, plodding plot and bad acting and dubbing, but it’s not a total loss, and is better than some other Cannibal flicks. With Eaten Alive, Lenzi adds in a plot concerning Jonas’ religious cult in the jungle, and although this doesn’t work 100%, it’s a refreshing plot device in a tired genre. Unfortunately the film is marred by its insistence on including real life animal deaths – aside from those mentioned above there is also time in the film for a Mongoose fighting a Cobra. None of the animal death scenes are enjoyable, and although they are included to emphasise the savagery in the Law of the Jungle, they just come across as pure exploitation, and uncomfortable exploitation at that.
But what about the fake human gore, I hear you ask? Well, seeing as this is Umberto Lenzi, and it is a Cannibal film, the gore is pretty extreme, yet at the same time extremely effective. The whole gamut of Cannibal death scenes is featured, including cock-slicing, nipples being torn off, flesh being chewed and limbs and chest cavities are hacked open. The first woman, and the man Mark witnesses being killed on his first escape attempt, are just appetisers for the main course, however, as Diane’s death is really the showpiece of the film, and indeed what the title has been trying to tell us all along.
When Diane is captured (alongside the tribal girl Mowara played by Me Me Lai who also appeared in Lenzi’s Deep River Savages and Deodato’s The Last Survivor) we are treated to a true gore grue fest, as Diane initially has her ear sliced off and munched. Her breast is then sliced off and eaten as Mowara also suffers some ear removal. The cannibals hack off and chomp on Diane’s foot as she screams in the background, before they then cut off her arm, and start eating that. She’s still alive. They eat some more, and Diane screams away in the background as Mowara is then also hacked to pieces, sliced open, entrails ripped out and the rib-cage ripped apart. It’s strong stuff – obviously fake – but the fact that Diane remains alive and conscious as the cannibals chew on her limbs is an extremely difficult scene to stomach.
It is the film’s highlight and greatest set piece, and it really should be seen uncut in all its full gory glory for full effect - Eaten Alive indeed.
Eaten Alive is not the greatest entry into the Cannibal genre, but it’s not a bad effort. Aside from the plodding plot and pedestrian acting (and terrible dubbing by the way), the film remains relatively enjoyable in the first part, and it’s only when the heroes find the Purification Sect that the film goes slightly off the rails. Ivan Rassimov who plays Jonas is very prone to over-acting and the absence of plot logic at this point mars a lot of the film (at one point Jonas decides to punish the drinking of alcohol over a murder attempt on his own life by Diane!)
However, take the Purification Sect with a pinch of salt, and you’re left with a solid (although very clichéd) Cannibal movie. All the ingredients are here – nudity, violence, gore, animal deaths and lots of jungle extras running around in loin cloths, It’s nowhere near as good as Cannibal Holocaust or Emmanuel and the Last Cannibals but it pisses all over the rotting corpse remains of Lenzi’s next effort - Cannibal Ferox.
The music is pretty cool in it’s own little 80s synth score kinda way (in fact it was so good it was reused for Ferox a year later), the location photography is pretty good in places and there’s more than enough nudity (watch out for Sheila’s naked body covered in gold paint!) and gore to keep the gore-hound happy. All the classic actors of Italian exploitation are correct and present and Eaten Alive remains pretty much essential (albeint average) viewing for all fans of extreme shock-cinema. Just don’t expect a masterpiece.
Versions The UK version has 5 minutes, 43 seconds cut out of it, including any scene of cannibalism, any animals being hurt, etc
The film is also known as;
Doomed to Die
Eaten Alive by the Cannibals
Mangiati vivi dai cannibali