The cannibal vomitorium (a name coined by Bill Landis in his now sadly out of print book Sleazoid Express) is definitely the deeper end of the sleaze cinema pool. Taking all of the cynical and condescending faux documentary/ethnography ideas of the mondo trend, and pushing them past Italian Grand Guignol gore into reprehensible animal cruelty and often unsafe working conditions for the crew, this is rough stuff by any reasonable metric.
Mainly a decade long tit for tat between directors Umberto Lenzi and Ruggero Deodato (with some lesser entries from other genre stalwarts), cannibal vomitoriums tend to follow the same basic outline:
1. Some woefully underprepared white person heads to a remote region for a reason that is stupid, rather colonialist, or some combo of both.
2. Due to all of the reasons noted in point 1, white person royally pisses off natives, which inevitably involves at least one cannibal tribe.
3. Murder and mayhem ensues, and long pig is on the menu. Finger foods for everyone.
4. Bonus points for making some heavy handed “Who is REALLY civilized?” allegory as a grace note/excuse for every extreme thing the audience just saw.
A relatively minor entry into the gut muncher canon, Eaten Alive is notable for both deviating from formula by adding in a Jonestown massacre facsimile to shake up the plot and the fact that director Umberto Lenzi went fully meta, cannibalizing other cannibal movies to finish this one. Interspersed with the main plot are scenes hijacked from older films (both his own and those of other people), and various stock footage bits, easily identifiable by the stark changes in lighting and film stock. Let’s get to it and guess who is coming to dinner:
Pre credits, we get a trip from the Canadian side of Niagara Falls to New York City, watching this guy rather comically blow gun some random strangers to death at extremely close range. He stops, puffs his cheeks, gives his victims time to make a face of exaggerated horror, and out pops the death Q tip and a bit of prop blood as it hits. Our lo fi assassin then gets hit by a bus while running away from the scene of the crime, roll titles and a funky disco theme.
Meet sweet little Sheila Morris from Alabama, who is talking to FBI agents in what looks like a barely set dressed church basement. As we know, there’s been some funky blowgun murders, and the killer just happened to have a color film reel with the name and address of her estranged sister on it when he got hit by that bus.
The whole scene is basically an info dump, to establish that Sheila and her sister Diana haven’t spoken in six months or so, that there’s a hippie street preacher named Jonas (subtle) mixed up in this somehow, and that the whole cult disappeared off into the wild somewhere. While less awful than she was in Fulci’s House By The Cemetery, Janet Agren’s principle attributes as Sheila are a comically corn pone country accent and some flawless eyeliner.
The agents let Sheila take the film with her, and she enlists the help of a professor to try to figure out where the footage was shot. Together they marvel at fakirs and the strangeness of people who keep time with the beat while dancing. He takes a wild guess at New Guinea (which a junkie former student of his confirms), Sheila books a flight instead of informing authorities, and the filmmakers can brag that celebrity skin Mel Ferrer was in this movie for all of 5 minutes. He does get to deliver the home truth that “Americans will believe in anything as long as it’s tax deductible.”
Enter soldier of fortune, Vietnam deserter and knife fight/arm wrestling mixologist Mark. As portrayed by porn star Robert Kerman, he looks more like the accountant for the forefathers of the Cobra Kai, but sex stardom was very different in porn’s golden age.
He agrees to help guide Sheila to the village shown in the film, but considering he only works for cash, you’d think the fact that she doesn’t have any on her to cover his $80,000 fee would be concerning. Also, you’d think a woman who could find the one adventurer for hire in all of
either Pakistan or Sri Lanka judging by the Pakistan International Airlines flight New Guinea would know how to hire her own helicopter to a remote village. No one in this situation is firing on all cylinders.
Proving my point, our “heroes” manage to get strong armed by a senior citizen about 30 seconds after exiting the helicopter. They get locked in a room with some cobras, Mark finally makes himself useful and obtains a guide and supplies by force, and there’s 3 repugnant animal scenes. One of said scenes is stolen from 1972’s Sacrifice. It’s no less awful the second time, and this entire sequence is just a long winded way to say that your cultists are in another (cannibal filled) castle. Soon our gang is rolling down the river to the most softcore porn music cue you can think of.
The canoe wrecks, one of the guides is eaten by a crocodile, and the one surviving guide steals all of the supplies. He gets all of 30 feet away before being eaten by cannibals, but it’s the thought that counts. Speaking of, it’s a third of the way through the film, and we finally see a cannibal…..in some more spliced in footage from another movie. I like the still above, which clearly captures a man recalculating his life choices as he holds his rubber limb.
If it feels like I’m zooming through large sections of this movie, that’s because I am. Given that this film is roughly 1/3 post consumer recycled material, there’s a lot of padded reaction shots to spliced in footage of snakes and mongoose or whatever. For the sake of brevity, I’m condensing down to things that have some relevance to the actual plot.
Shaken up by the carnage they have seen, Mark and Shiela run all of six hundred feet away to camp for the night. After receiving the classic cartoon “Snap out of it!” slap, Sheila decides to have sex with Mark, and makes him promise to kill her if they are caught by cannibals.
Morning comes, and a chase ensues, with assailants stalking the pair through the jungle lobbing oddly pool noodle-esque spears. Separated and cornered, Sheila faints……
……only to come to with Jonas’ followers giving her some medicine and reuniting her with Mark. More convenient than a whole county’s worth of 7-11s, if you ask me. They take our gang to “Purification Village” and provide us the vision that is Ivan Rassimov as Jonas swanning about in a Delta Burke Collection caftan.
In a refreshing change, we waste some runtime with some footage actually shot for this movie, yay! A native woman named Mowara (Me Me Lai) was widowed, and the community is having her husband’s funeral ceremony that evening. The funeral sequence is mainly an excuse to get a bunch of Jonas’ followers topless (including Paola Senatore as Sheila’s sister Diana), and to get Me Me Lai naked in some ashes for some sex based uncoupling ritual. Never has a woman looked more like she’d rather be washing her hair.
Me Me Lai was a constant in the cannibal sub genre, and her presence here as Mowara pretty much guarantees that she’ll be the sympathetic native who helps our protagonists escape, spends most of the runtime topless, and dies gruesomely for her trouble.
Diana regrets following a junkie J. Jill frequent shopper into jungle hell, Professor Celebrity Cameo FINALLY informs the authorities where Sheila is, and Jonas makes everyone do a test run on the whole drinking the Kool Aid thing. Mark refuses when he smells it is drugged, and is beaten and tied to a pole for his astute observation. Having spent maybe 6 minutes setting up the third act, we get another random kill of a native by Jonas’ enforcer that has fuck all to do with anything we have just seen.
Jungle roofies work FAST, as the very next shot is Sheila being ritualistically prepared for Jonas to assault her with a cobra blood covered hand carved sex toy. Not only is this poor man’s prophet a scam artist and rapist, he’s a scam artist and rapist who chooses to leave fucking splinters, which is next level monstrous.
In color me not surprised news, Mowara and another sympathetic native (told you so) cut Mark loose, and he bolts into the jungle. He gets to react to a bloody castration scene between tribesmen from 1978’s Slave Of The Cannibal God. Got to pad that runtime until the hips match the shoulders.
Mark manages to last the night amongst the cannibals, but comes back to the village and supplicates himself at Jonas’ feet. With 30 minutes left in the runtime, do you think it just might be a trap? Jonas managed to convince several hundred people to join him in the outer reaches of fucking nowhere, but is egotistical/gullible enough to accept this conversion at face value.
Diana is far less dumb than she appears, and meets with Mark in secret regarding his plans, and enlists Mowara to help them all escape.
Having passed out the day’s drug rations to the flock (Mark included), Jonas skips off to perform the solid gold edition of sexual assault on a doped up Sheila. Diana manages to interrupt by attacking Jonas with a knife, but gets whipped for her trouble. What actually saves Sheila is that a follower was caught imbibing the demon drink, and must be cast out into the jungle with a Bible and not a snowball’s chance in hell of survival. Again, more convenient than a TV dinner.
The plan is in place to leave by nightfall, and Mark warns Sheila not to drink anything Jonas may give her before then, as its definitely drugged…..which you think she would have noticed by now, all things considered.
Jonas has a babbling Bible study about the story of Jehu (say that 5 times fast), and once night falls, our crew of the most recognizable actors left in the film is off to the races. Too bad Sheila starts screaming for Jonas the second the team comes to fetch her….what the hell is in those drugs? The effects morph from roofie to hard Ecstasy from dose to dose. She must have forgotten to skip the last dose of Mighty Morphing MDMA.
Mark gives her another come to your senses slap, but it finally takes a gag to stop her from getting them all killed, and she’s fighting all the way as they run for the river, Jonas’ errand bitches not too far behind.
Diana and Mark make the mistake of thinking Sheila is sober, and untie her. She immediately bolts back towards the village, screaming for Jonas. Mark races after her, leaving Mowara and Diana to their own devices.
Jonas men quickly catch up to the two women, and main heavy Karan decides to rape Diana. In a lightning fast case of instant karma, this gives the cannibals time to catch up to them, and eat everyone alive. Sadly, this includes Diana and Mowara.
Even sadder, only Diana gets a proper death scene, and Me Me Lai is sent off with a retread of her death scene from 1977’s Jungle Holocaust.
Mark saves a suddenly sober Sheila, and they both run toward the sound of screams, but it is too late. Mark uses his third (for those keeping score at home) get it together slap to knock Sheila out before she notices this way too cheerful cannibal nibbling on her sister’s severed leg.
It kind of works, but not quite, as Sheila saw some of the bloodshed before passing out. They both agree that they won’t be able to get out of this alive, and invoke their earlier pact to kill themselves before the cannibals did.
Safely back in the USA, the authorities give Mark and Sheila the usual speech about not telling of what they have seen for political and economic reasons, and Sheila makes the obligatory comparisons between the Stone Age and the Space Age, checking off all of the standard boxes we discussed earlier.
Meanwhile….Mark is in the other room, discovering Sheila’s big fat check was also a big fat rubber ball, and bounced for insufficient funds. Diana had given all the sisters’ money to Jonas before she left New York.
We have a mercenary for hire character played by a real life porn star and he didn’t master the basic idea of get the money up front. When I said “woefully unprepared” I absolutely meant it. That’s about the textbook definition of the term. Cut to bits of ripped up check fluttering through the air as the credits rolls and the funk bass kicks in.