Watching the film again I was struck by the odd moments of strangeness - actor William Finley barking like a dog, for no apparent reason, or the surreal cutaways to a caged and starved monkey, balanced by scenes of pure menace, like the sequence where 8 year old Kyle Richards is terrorized by the scythe-wielding Neville Brand (a scene which probably caused the film's brief detention as a Video Nasty in the UK). Hooper had reigned in the bloodshed for The Texas Chainsaw Massacre in an attempt to secure a PG rating from the MPAA but producer Mardi Rustam had no such concerns and the film doesn't shy away from bloody carnage. More problematic are the scenes of nudity which feel tacked on and probably were - Hooper left the film before completion and there are stories of additional scenes filmed following his departure.
Hooper's direction isn't as fluid as his other films, there's little of the show off camerawork that you might expect from the director, perhaps as a consequence of the limited scope of the sets, but the film conjures up a thick sinister atmosphere with its baroque lighting and the eccentric musique concrète soundtrack of tweeting electronics and music box chimes, meshing with the sounds of a radio spewing forth dreary country ditties. And there's the splendidly repellent art direction - the hotel, all mouldering wallpaper and strewn with discarded bric-a-brac, magazines, spectacles and a half-dressed mannequins. Of the cast Marilyn Burns spends most of her time gagged and tied to a bed while a young Robert Englund playing an obnoxious cowboy with a penchant for sodomy bags the film's famous first line. Stuart Whitman equips himself well as the helpful sheriff, Carolyn Jones acting underneath some old-age make plays the wizened brothel madam trying to unload some useless real estate, while a shell-shocked Mel Ferrer looks like he's wandered into the wrong the film. Effortlessly stealing the show however is Neville Brand who seems genuinely beyond the pale and clearly channelling a wellspring of alcoholic rage into his performance. Brand's hard-drinking had just about finished off a distinguished career and despite later appearances in The Ninth Configuration and Without Warning, Eaten Alive is effectively Brand's acting swansong.