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View From The Couch

Evan Almighty, Spider Baby, Troy, more

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EATEN ALIVE (1976). Director Tobe Hooper's first picture following his 1974 horror masterpiece The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is a crushing disappointment, less reminiscent of his classic earlier film than of the senseless slasher flicks that would eventually flood the marketplace (Friday the 13th, the Halloween sequels, etc.). Released under a slew of different titles (among them Death Trap, Horror Hotel Massacre, Murder on the Bayou and Starlight Slaughter), this unrelenting study in brutality finds Neville Brand delivering a bug-eyed performance as Judd, a crazed hotel owner who regularly kills his guests (usually with his scythe) and feeds their remains to the crocodile that lurks in the swamp behind his inn. Texas Chain Saw heroine Marilyn Burns co-stars as a customer who's periodically tortured by Judd, The Addams Family's Carolyn Jones (looking inexplicably mummified at the age of 47) turns up as a bordello madam, and Robert Englund makes an early, pre-Freddy Krueger appearance as a sex-crazed redneck named Buck. Eaten Alive is repetitive nihilism with no sense of style and no trace of suspense, and the examination of rural America as Hell on Earth was far more pointed – and effective – in Texas Chain Saw.

Extras in the two-disc DVD set include audio commentary by various cast and crew members, interviews with Hooper, Englund and Burns, a piece on the real-life story that partly inspired the movie, and theatrical trailers. Best of all, though, are the reproductions of preview audience comment cards, with suggested titles for the film including Croc of Craziness, Swamp Jaws and Bored to Death – and one card reading, "If the title is changed, please let us know so we won't see it again."

Movie: *

Extras: ***

EVAN ALMIGHTY (2007). My parents may have been the ones to plunk down the dough to purchase the classic comedy album Bill Cosby Is a Very Funny Fellow... Right!, but as a child, I think I was the one most responsible for wearing out the vinyl via repeat listens to the famous "Noah" skits included on the record. If there's anything in Evan Almighty, the sort-of sequel to the 2003 Jim Carrey hit Bruce Almighty, that's even half as hilarious as Cosby's routine, I must have had my eyes closed in prayer and missed it. Playing the same part he essayed in Bruce Almighty, that of self-centered TV news anchor Evan Baxter, Steve Carell immediately finds himself neutered by director Tom Shadyac and his passel of writers, as his character has morphed into a typical movie dad who places his own career above the needs of his wife (Lauren Graham) and children. Having been elected to Congress on the platform that he'll "change the world," Evan now finds his hands full delivering on that promise when God (returning Morgan Freeman) appears and instructs him to build an ark. As his hair grows long and his clothing takes a decidedly Old Testament turn, he's deemed a loony by his neighbors and fellow Congressmen, even though all sorts of animals (rendered through hit-and-miss CGI effects) have paired off and wait patiently next to the big boat as it's being built. Asked mainly to pluck nose hairs and evade birds dropping "bombs," Carell is hampered by a script that instantly changes him from preening narcissist to a one-note saint. If I want to see a movie about a warm and cuddly guy with a white beard, I'll just pop Miracle on 34th Street into the DVD player instead.

DVD extras include deleted scenes and outtakes, short pieces on the creation of the movie's ark and the visual effects, an animal roundup game, and suggestions on how to be environmentally sound.

Movie: **

Extras: **1/2

SPIDER BABY OR, THE MADDEST STORY EVER TOLD (1964). It's easy to see why cultists have a soft spot for this ragged, low-budget effort from the 1960s. Also making the rounds under the more gruesome (and less accurate) monikers Attack of the Liver Eaters and Cannibal Orgy, this black-and-white curio – filmed in 1964 but largely released in 1968 due to monetary and distribution woes – possesses a quirky sense of humor as it relates the story of the Merrye family, two sisters (Jill Banner and Beverly Washburn) and one brother (Sid Haig, later Captain Spaulding in Rob Zombie's House of 1000 Corpses and The Devil's Rejects) who all suffer from a peculiar form of mental illness. Only Bruno (Lon Chaney Jr.), the family chauffeur, can keep them in line, but when distant relatives arrive at their dilapidated mansion with the intent of collecting an inheritance, even he can't stop the siblings' murderous antics. Chaney's career had long since disintegrated at this late stage (he would pass away in 1973), but here he delivers a fine performance in a sympathetic role. As an added bonus, he even warbles the opening theme song, with lyrics like "Cannibal spiders creep and crawl/ Boys and ghouls having a ball/ Frankenstein, Dracula and even the Mummy/ Are sure to end up in someone's tummy." Lennon-McCartney it ain't, but it sets the proper schizophrenic tone for this one-of-a-kind oddity.

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