Directed By: Umberto Lenzi
Starring: Robert Kerman, Janet Agren, Ivan Rassimov
Tag line: "They have a never-ending hunger for human flesh!"
Trivia: This movie was released under the alternative title Doomed to Die in the United States
After launching the cannibal craze of the ‘70s and ‘80s with Man from Deep River (1972), director Umberto Lenzi returned to the jungle once again for 1980’s Eaten Alive! Featuring a handful of scenes lifted from other movies (including Jungle Holocaust and The Mountain of the Cannibal God), which were then incorporated into its tale of a Jim Jones-like cult in New Guinea, Eaten Alive! is a gruesome bit of exploitation so incredibly off-the-wall that, at times, you won’t believe your eyes.
Upon learning that her sister Diana (Paola Senatore), who had been traveling in the South Pacific, is missing, beautiful southern belle Sheila (Janet Agren) decides to go looking for her. With Mark (Robert Kerman), a Vietnam veteran who knows his way around a jungle, as her guide, Shelia sets off for the wilds of New Guinea, where, with Mark’s help, she discovers that Diana has joined a religious cult headed up by the charismatic Rev. Jonas (Ivan Rassimov), whose commune is smack dab in the middle of cannibal country. Together, Mark and Sheila somehow make it to Jonas’s camp, only to find that Diana has been brainwashed, and doesn’t want to return with them to civilization. Can the two adventurers convince her to leave, or will they instead succumb to Jonas’s charms and join up along with her?
The sheer audacity of some of the scenes in Eaten Alive! will have you staring at the screen in disbelief. Soon after Mark and Sheila arrive at Jonas’s camp, they witness a funeral ceremony for one of the cult’s members. Once the deceased is cremated, his widow (played by Me Me Lai, who appeared in damn near every cannibal movie from this period) climbs onto the funeral pyre and strips off her clothes, at which point her late husband’s three brothers have sex with her as she lies in his ashes (I forget the reasoning behind this bizarre custom, but does it really matter anyway?). Not to be outdone, the cannibals themselves also go to extremes; aside from snacking on the odd foot or arm, they devour a woman’s breast, and even slice off the penis of one of their own when he offends the tribe’s elder (we never do learn what his infraction was, though, based on the punishment, I can only hope it was something very severe).
Alas, much like Cannibal Holocaust, several animals are slaughtered on-screen throughout Eaten Alive!, including a crocodile (a truly nauseating scene) and the odd lizard (these kills were actually lifted from Lenzi’s 1972 flick Sacrifice! and edited into this movie). In addition, we get animal-on-animal violence, most of which would be too disturbing to appear in a National Geographic special. The movie is also misogynistic; along with being brutalized by cannibals, the women in Eaten Alive! are, on occasion, raped, and more than a few get slapped around by their male counterparts (Jonas slugs one or two, but, surprisingly, the hero of the story, Mark, is even more prone to hit a woman).
As a fan of Italian horror from this time period, I did get a kick out of just how outrageous Eaten Alive! was, though I realize that opinion will likely put me in the minority. So, for everyone else, let me sum up by saying Eaten Alive! is an exploitative, mean-spirited, often sickening gorefest. If any of these descriptives pique your interest, then you might want to give it a go. If not, I recommend you proceed with caution.
That is, if you decide to proceed at all.