EATEN ALIVE! (1980) Blu-ray
Director: Umberto Lenzi
Severin Films

Severin Films takes a bite out of the Italian cannibal genre with their Blu-ray of Umberto Lenzi's EATEN ALIVE!, available in standard and limited edition packages.

After not hearing from her Greenwich Village-dwelling Bohemian sister Diana (Paola Senatore, EMANUELLE IN AMERICA) for months, cotton plantation Savannah belle Sheila (Janet Agren, CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD) comes to New York in search of her only to be informed that her sister has been implicated in the murders of three men by cobra venom-dipped blow darts in Canada and New York through a roll of 8mm film found in the pocket of the killer who was struck by a truck and killed. Diana had fallen in with a back-to-nature cult run by dope fiend Jonas (Ivan Rassimov, ALL THE COLORS OF THE DARK) – "Americans will believe anything as long as it's tax deductible," Carter quips – and the film features Diana observing native rites that anthropology professor Carter (Mel Ferrer, BLOOD AND ROSES) identifies as those of the Purification Sect of New Guinea who use pain to reunited man with nature. Arriving in Maurake, New Guinea, Sheila offers twenty-thousand dollars to Vietnam deserter Mark Butler (Robert Kerman, DEBBIE DOES DALLAS) to take her to the village of Sakir where the Purification Sect is based. They arrive to find the village deserted and learn from one of Jonas' followers (stunt coordinator Franco Fantasia, MURDER MANSION) that Jonas has taken his followers deep into the jungle and that no one who has gone there comes back alive. Traveling down the river, they lose their canoe and one guide to an alligator attack and the other to the cannibal tribe that lurks in the jungles only to find relative safety at Jonas' riverside compound. While Diana parrots Jonas' philosophies about white civilization's ruination of the world in his presence, she reveals in private that Jonas has scammed her and his other wealthy followers who he controls with armed guards and the threat of cannibals in the surrounding jungles. Mark, Sheila, and Diana plot to escape – with the help of widowed Mowara (Me Me Lai, CRUCIBLE OF TERROR) – but Jonas has decided to initiate Sheila into the cult.

It has been debated as to whether Umberto Lenzi (A QUITE PLACE TO KILL) or Ruggero Deodato (WAVES OF LUST) originated the Italian cannibal genre – an offshoot of the "Mondo" documentaries – with Lenzi's MAN FROM DEEP RIVER featuring only an incidental bit of cannibalism in a story otherwise concerned with a white man turning his back on civilization to become part of a jungle tribe – while Deodato's unofficial follow-up for the same producers LAST CANNIBAL WORLD featured more flesh-eating, animal violence, and native sexual rites, with both men seemingly willing to concede to the other due to Lenzi's distaste for this part of his filmography and Deodato's greater success with his subsequent film in the genre: CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST, the success of which was the impetus for Luciano Martino (THE STRANGE VICE OF MRS. WARDH) and Mino Loy (DEVIL FISH) to commission back-to-back cannibal films EATEN ALIVE! and CANNIBAL FEROX from Lenzi. EATEN ALIVE! once again gooses up its Jim Jones-inspired central story with cannibal buffets, but much of the cannibal scenes and some bits of animal violence were regurgitated from the aforementioned MAN FROM DEEP RIVER (the cannibals munching on a native girl), LAST CANNIBAL WORLD (Lai's death), as well as Sergio Martino's MOUNTAIN OF THE CANNIBAL GOD (the castration of a young native by the chief). What original effects are on display consist of limbs buried in or heads poking out of the dirt while the actual severed limbs look rather waxy under the blood and entrails. Kerman looks a bit fitter here than in CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST but Rassimov quite appropriately gnaws on the scenery here, including a sequence in which he inducts statuesque and statue-like Agren into the cult with a cobra blood lubricated stone phallus or encourages his followers to drink the cobra venom as the cavalry nears. Senatore would suffer a more grueling fate in the overall more entertaining CANNIBAL FEROX, although both include wounds inflicted to the breasts (here, an effect that Lenzi would reuse the same year in NIGHTMARE CITY). The score is attributed "Budy-Maglione" who were Roberto Donati and Fiamma Maglione – the latter wife of producer Loy who also appears here as a drug-addicted prostitute – who would also score CANNIBAL FEROX (a cue of which is also recycled here). Conductor Carlo Maria Cordio would become a prolific genre composer throughout the eighties and nineties with several Joe D'Amato Filmirage scores to his credit. Gerald Grant of Radley Metzger's SCORE has an uncredited but prominent role here as an NYPD police lieutenant, although he is dubbed along with most of the cast by some very familiar Italian horror English dubbing talent.

Given scant theatrical release in 1985 by Continental Releasing as DOOMED TO DIE – Temple of Schlock's Chris Poggiali notes that it was intended for release through 21st Century – EATEN ALIVE was then released by video arm Continental Video as THE EMERALD JUNGLE (presumably to capitalize on John Boorman's THE EMERALD FOREST). Around the same time Grindhouse Releasing put out their special edition laserdisc of CANNIBAL FEROX, Dutch label EC Entertainment put out a letterboxed NTSC laserdisc of EATEN ALIVE for the import market. Shriek Show released the film on DVD in 2002 with an anamorphic transfer, English audio, and interviews with Lenzi, Rassimov, and Kerman. Severin Film's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.66:1 widescreen transfer is imperfect given the mix of recycled film sources – including the cropping of the three scope films – but is generally crisper and more vibrant than the older transfer. The elements seem to have been in rougher shape than CANNIBAL FEROX or Severin's restoration not so meticulous, but I'd place the image above Raro's DEEP RIVER but below Grindhouse's FEROX. Audio options include English, Italian, and Spanish dubs all in lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono – with English subtitles for the Italian track and SDH subtitles for the English one – that sound clean but are not particularly vibrant apart from the brassier portions of the score.

Extras start off with "Welcome to the Jungle" (16:37), an interview with Lenzi who rehashes the story of producers Giorgio Rossi (THE LABYRINTH OF SEX) and Ovidio G. Assonitis (THE VISITOR) recruiting him to direct a script by Francesco Barilli (THE PERFUME OF THE LADY IN BLACK) and Massimo D'Avak (WHO SAW HER DIE?) based on descriptions of native rites from Emmanuelle Arsan and her husband. He does not feel that it is an actual cannibal film, noting that it was released as THE COUNTRY OF SAVAGE SEX in Italy and became MONDO CANNIBALE in Germany, which was where demand for a sequel came from. Lenzi turned down the sequel which became the standalone LAST CANNIBAL WORLD (ULTIMO MONDO CANNIBALE) directed by Deodato with Rassimov and Lai. Deodato's CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST was the impetus for him to direct EATEN ALIVE and CANNIBAL FEROX back-to-back, and he discusses incorporating the Jim Jones massacre into the script as well as discussing Kerman and his reputation as a porn star (as well as his unrequited attraction to Agren).
"Me Me Lai Bites Back" (79:55) is a feature-length documentary that first appeared on 88 Films' UK Blu-ray of THE MAN FROM DEEP RIVER – and presumably the shorter featurette on Raro's edition derived from the same interview sessions – in which extras producer Calum Waddel describes his effort to track down Lai who he discovered was living close by in Essex through her adult daughter who was interested in her mother's career and convinced her to do the interview, leading to some more recent Q&A screening appearances. Amidst the comments of Waddel, Sitges International Fantastic Film Festival chairman Mike Hostench, academic Shelagh Rowan-Legg (who also appeared in Waddel's other feature-length cannibal documentary "Eaten Alive! The Rise and Fall of the Italian Cannibal Film" included on Grindhouse's Blu-ray of CANNIBAL FEROX), and filmmaker Eli Roth (THE GREEN INFERNO), Lai recalls coming to the UK as a teenager when her father was transferred and taking acting classes before landing a couple TV roles and the British features CRUCIBLE OF TERROR and AU PAIR. She recalls getting cast in MAN FROM DEEP RIVER and carried over to LAST CANNIBAL WORLD, her friendship with Rassimov who gave her acting tips and joined her in yanking excitable Lenzi's chain, as well as the difficulty in landing roles in between the former two films and EATEN ALIVE, and her need to find regular work to raise her daughter after her final role in THE ELEMENT OF CRIME. She trained to become a police woman and recalls encountering one of her films during the Video Nasty roundup and planning to deny it was her if recognized. Also included is video of one of her Q&A's with Deodato.

"The Sect of the Purification" (13:03) is an interview with production designer Antonello Geleng (THE CHURCH) who recalls having already worked on MOUNTAIN OF THE CANNIBAL GOD and THE GREAT ALLIGATOR for Sergio Martino, so he already knew where to scout locations in Ceylon when called to work on the Lenzi cannibal films. After an appreciation of the architectural styles, materials, and the local craftsmen who built the sets, he provides some opinions on the actors, the effects (which were all shot in Rome where some of the set was reproduced), working with Lenzi, and the film itself. The archival interviews with actors Ivan Rassimov and Robert Kerman (12:21) from the Shriek Show disc are also included, with Rassimov noting his typecasting as the bad guy in much of his filmography and his opinions on Lenzi, while Kerman recalls having worked with Deodato before CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST on THE CONCORDE AFFAIR and discusses the differences between Deodato and Lenzi (and being seemingly the only actor ever to find Lenzi the more pleasant one). Also included is a 2013 Q&A (23:43) with Lenzi from the Festival of Fantastic Films in which he disappoints the audience by revealing that he has no favorite among his cannibal films because he does not like any of them, preferring his Carroll Baker gialli (PARANOIA, KNIFE OF ICE, and SO SWEET SO PERVERSE) and his poliziotteschi film ALMOST HUMAN. The disc also includes the film's theatrical trailer (3:06). The standard edition comes with a reversible cover with the DOOMED TO DIE artwork on the inside while the limited edition comes with a slipcover and a soundtrack CD. (Eric Cotenas)