Severin Films are heroes among home video distributors. From releasing classics Ozploitation films, to sleazy Italian horror gems, to restoring some of the greatest cult films the world has to offer; they never sleep and we are all the better for it.
In recent months they've chosen to celebrate the talented women of Italian exploitation, resulting in this trio of fascinating and entertaining films from legendary filmmakers Umberto Lenzi, Joe D'Amato, and Bruno Mattei. A pair of cannibal films and a rowdy Women-in-Prison classic are put under the microscope, check out the details below
First up in our triptych of titillating terrors is Umberto Lenzi's Eaten Alive, starring the irrepressible Me Me Lai. Lenzi began the Italian cannibal craze in 1972 with his gruesome film, The Man From Deep River. That film, which borrowed liberally from Hollywood western A Man Called Horse, began one of the most disgusting of all of the Italian horror subgenres that would go strong for a decade before petering out in the early '80s. Eaten Alive would reunite the male and female leads of the earlier film, Lai and Italian macho man Ivan Rassimov (All the Colours of the Dark, The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh) in a new, more prescient film, this time with the benefit of hindsight on a decade of gross-out films to guide their process of making one of the most disgusting films of all time.
One sexy-sexploitation film, one part mad religious cult, and one hundred parts offensive native-sploitation madness, Eaten Alive is the story (as were many) of a westerner drawn to the Amazonian jungle in search of lost family members, only to find pain and suffering at the hand of savage natives with a taste for human flesh.
This impetus was not unfamiliar to Italian filmmakers, who used it for pretty much every cannibal film leading up to this one, but Lenzi did have some tricks up his sleeves that make Eaten Alive worth checking out. Most notably there is the existence of a Jim Jones' styled cult, led by Rassimov, in the jungle to set it apart from the other cannibal movies as well as being in incredibly poor taste - another hallmark of Italian exploitation - since the film was released only a few years after the Jonestown tragedy.
Long story short, Eaten Alive is far more entertaining and engaging that it has any right to be. Even more than Lenzi's previous attempts at the genre, which include the above-mentioned Deep River and the appalling (and truly grotesque) Cannibal Ferox. There is enough sex and violence to make even the most hardened gore-hound smile, and enough plot and story to surprise the newcomer to this surprisingly fruitful genre. As little as I think of Lenzi as a filmmaker - I've made no apologies for my position that he was largely a hack - Eaten Alive is a genuinely entertaining film that deserves more recognition than it's gotten.
For its Blu-ray debut, Severin Films has pulled out all the stops on Eaten Alive, a brand new restoration brings into stark relief the elements that make this gut-churning gross-out work so well. The Blu-ray looks surprisingly solid with every disgusting moment of intestine chewing sparkling like never before. Severin have also included three audio tracks, English, Italian, and Spanish on the disc. Spanish is the most problematic, but the other two sound fine, and since the film was post-synced, it's truly up to you how you'd like to experience this gem. I went with English the first time around and am completely satisfied with the result, the dialogue is clear, FX come through, and there is minimal hiss and drop-out on the main track. Can't beat that.
Severin, as is their wont, go all out on the bonus materials for Eaten Alive. Most enticing is the feature length documentary Me Me Lai Bites Back, a documentary on the star of this film and several other cannibal gems from the '70s (Deep River, Jungle Holocaust) whose work has found new life in recent years. The eighty-minute doc features experts from around the globe, including Screen Anarchy contributor Shelagh Rowan-Legg and Sitges Fantastic programmer Mike Hostench in a truly informative and reverent feature that is worth the price of admission. On top of that there are interviews with Lenzi, production designer Antonello Geleng, Rassimov and co-star Robert Kerman, and a 2013 Q&A with Lenzi from a festival appearance, making this a definitive edition of a film that no one thought would ever receive such a release.
Eaten Alive is a must-see for cannibal film fans, and Severin has set the bar high for any future attempts at a release. Highly recommended.