In the early 70's there was a film by Italian director, Umberto Lenzi, entitled MAN FROM DEEP RIVER, starring Ivan Rassimov, and it was sort of an action/adventure type film about a man who gets captured by a tribe of primitives in the rain forests of Thailand. He slowly starts to adapt to the tribe’s ways, not unlike Richard Harris's character in A MAN CALLED HORSE. For some reason, MAN FROM DEEP RIVER would spawn its own genre of film--the "Italian cannibal film”. Many other Italian/Euro directors would try their hand at the genre; some would take it to new highs (Ruggero Deodato's CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST), and some to new lows (Jess Franco's CANNIBALS--just to name one). The film I'm reviewing today, EATEN ALIVE, is one of the better offerings to the genre. Not as good as some other "cannibal" flicks, certainly one of the most exploitive, but far from the worst.

EATEN ALIVE is the 2nd film in Umberto Lenzi's cannibal trilogy; starting with 1972's MAN FROM DEEP RIVER, and ending with 1981's CANNIBAL FEROX. The three films are not connected in any way, as far as a storyline, but all 3 are similar in their main theme; white people in peril from primitive cannibals that just love the white meat! I don't think EATEN ALIVE is as good as Lenzi’s other two cannibal films, but that in no way means I didn't like it.

The storyline for EATEN ALIVE is actually one of its best aspects; an attractive American woman (Janet Agren), along with a hired Vietnam deserter/commando (porn star, Robert Kerman), venture into the deepest part of the New Guinea jungle to save the woman's sister, (Paola Senatore--she also dabbled in porn, adding more to the film’s already sleazy vibe) from a cult led by a Jim Jones-esque cult leader (Rassimov). To make matters worse, getting to the cult's compound is no easy task (nor is escaping) due to the savage cannibal tribes surrounding it.

One of the main draws to these kinds of films are the extreme levels of violence and gore in the them (whether people want to admit it or not), and EATEN ALIVE delivers on that--more so then MAN FROM DEEP RIVER, but it's still not quite as brutal as CANNIBAL FEROX. It features all the trademark scenes of cannibal carnage that you would expect--severed dicks, entrails munching, violent rape, real life animal kills (easily the worst aspect of these films), tons of nudity, and other depraved stuff that keeps sick freex like me coming back to the genre. Too bad some of the best gore scenes were lifted from other cannibal movies--namely Deodato's LAST CANNIBAL WORLD (open rib cage buffet scene), Sergio Martino's MOUNTAIN OF THE CANNIBAL GOD (dick snip and snake munching scene), and even Lenzi’s own, MAN FROM DEEP RIVER (a scene involving Me Me Lai, I believe). I don't hold this against the film--it just added more carnage, and I have no problem with that. The part that irks me a little is the fact that Umberto Lenzi (in an interview featured on the Shriek Show DVD) denies that that he used these scenes; either he doesn't remember doing it; it was done without his knowing; or he's a lying dago-wop-bastard (I'm leaning towards the latter as I am also of Italian decent, and a fellow dago-wop-bastard).

Speaking of Lenzi, he's a pretty good director; stealing from other films aside. His films have a great look to them; he captures scenery beautifully. The quality of his films would slip in the 80's and 90's, as it did for some other great Italian directors like Deodato and Fulci, due to the growth of the VHS market, and some changes in Italian cinema stemming in part from the U.K.'s Video Recording Act, among other things.

Lenzi also manages to get good performances out of sub-par actors. Robert Kerman does a great job in this film, as well as CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST. Kerman also had a small part in CANNIBAL FEROX, which would have been bigger, but there was problem's with his passport at the time, so he could only film the scenes shot in New York. Me Me Lai is in the film, but mostly as eye candy. The main standout, of course, is Ivan Rassimov--if ever there was an underrated actor, he is one. The man had (still has) a great look, and could play the hero or the villain. Rassimov comes from a small category of actors that can act with their eyes, without saying a word, like Clint Eastwood and Charles Bronson. Too bad the man never nailed the English language, or he could have been a huge star in America—he just has the look.

The score is also the standard in Italian horror/exploitation at the time; synthesizer driven music that is beautiful, yet haunting. Roberto Donati and Fiamma Maglione provide the score, which would reappear in CANNIBAL FEROX to a much better effect. Some people really hate these types of scores, but being someone with an eclectic taste in music, I love them.

EATEN ALIVE is a good introduction in the "cannibal" genre. It’s not the masterpiece that CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST is, but it's still a sleazy, blood soaked, grindhouse-style good time.

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