Michael's Horror Lase-O-Rama: Buried Alive (1990, RCA/Columbia Pictures Home Video)

in film •  2 months ago  (edited)


Source: LDDB.com

After attending a lecture by distinguished psychiatrist Gary Julien (Robert Vaughn), a young woman named Janet (Karen Whitter) travels to the Ravenscroft Institute, founded by Julien's father (John Carradine) to work as a teacher. Ravenscroft, however, is no ordinary high school -- it's a boarding facility and reformatory for troubled teenage girls. From the start, Janet's new job causes her considerable stress...and not just from her students. Several young women have gone missing from Ravenscroft. Always in the middle of the night, always taken against their will by a bizarre killer wearing a Halloween mask to hide his identity. The girls are bundled into straight jackets, dumped into small spaces, and bricked up behind the walls, left to die alone of thirst and starvation, and never seen again.

As Janet explores the facility and gains the trust of the women under her care, she begins having nightmares and hideous visions. She sees ants infesting the Institute, envisions a fall into a mysterious underground chamber, and hears a disembodied voice crying out for help. Dr. Julien believes the girls have simply run away, since they are not locked in their rooms and he refuses to treat them like prisoners even though that's what the rest of society might do. But if he's not behind the abductions, then someone at the school isn't telling the truth. What's happening to the young women of Ravenscroft, and does quirky yet menacing Dr. Schaeffer (Donald Pleasence) know more than he's letting on? Whoever's behind things, Janet doesn't have long to figure out the mystery, because staying at Ravenscroft means she too might find herself...Buried Alive!

I'm forgiving, perhaps to a fault, when it comes to giving movies a chance, but holy damn if Buried Alive isn't the single worst movie I've watched all year. I mean, it's not a complete write-off: there are some pretty neat practical effects by William Butler (who also has a small role in the picture) and Scott Wheeler, especially a murder-by-trowel and its aftermath which look pretty gnarly, and its a "girls in prison" type flick so you know there's an obligatory shower scene coming at some point. But otherwise?

Otherwise, I want to know how in the name of @blewitt's big, hairy man-hole French skin flick director Gerard Kikoine got Donald Pleasence, John Carradine, Robert Vaughn, Nia Long, Arnold Vosloo, and Ginger Lynn Allen into a movie this awful. Granted, Long, Vosloo, and Allen were all basically unknowns, still early in their respective careers when this came out, but that still leaves a trio of A-list actors completely wasted in this 87-minute celluloid abomination.

To their credit, Vaughn and Pleasence treat their roles in this turkey with the utmost respect, delivering commendable performances despite a story and script that run all over the place. Watching this, I either felt things were moving entirely too fast to be in any way realistic, or else they were moving too slowly to keep my interest. If, at any time, I'm watching a film and start thinking about all the other things I could be doing instead, that's a failure on somebody else's part. Just by throwing your movie in the player I'm putting in my 50%. An expectation that the film makers meet me halfway doesn't seem outlandish.

Pacing and story problems aside, the acting from everyone who isn't an A-lister is universally abysmal, especially former Playboy model turned actress Karen Witter as Janet. It isn't helped by an incompetent ADR job, which makes it completely obvious when someone went back into the studio to record their lines again for overdubbing: the sound levels jump all over the place, not just from scene to scene, but multiple times within scenes themselves. I get the sense much of this movie was shot with a "We'll fix it in post!" philosophy, but you need at least a competent take to start from if you want to accomplish this successfully.

Most of the actresses playing the girls seem like they couldn't care less about being there. On the one hand, that's exactly what you should be seeing from a bunch of young women in a reformatory. On the other, this is a sense you want to get from characters, not from the actors playing them. I can't put my finger on exactly where the line is drawn, but these girls cross it every chance they get in almost every scene they're in. Nia Long is probably the least offensive in this regard, coming across as a genuinely sympathetic misfit trying to keep up with the pack, but everyone else? Their performances are as canned as the SPAM @blewitt uses as a marital aid during those long, cold, lonely days in the comic shop, while browsing his collection of Funko Pops instead of pricing issues of Razor and Warrior Nun Areala.

Also, if you're going to have a scene take place with a bunch of nubile young women in a group shower, but you're going to have those girls wearing thongs or flesh-colored underpants to spare their modesty, maybe you should make sure your camera never wanders below their waists.

Finally, can somebody please explain to me how this story relates to anything Poe ever wrote? I mean, I get the little tidbits, like an ever-present black cat and the name of the institute containing 'Raven', and yes, someone gets walled up in a basement at the conclusion of The Cask of Amontillado, but how dare you drag Poe's name through the mud like this? For God's sake, the man already died penniless, alone, and probably consumed by Syphilis in a street gutter. Was it too much to ask he be treated with a shred of dignity, instead of associated with this reel-to-reel refuse?

I can think of three small bits of justice with regards to Buried Alive:

  • John Carradine died before its release, meaning he never had to watch this crap-tacular turd.
  • Gerard Kikoine never directed another feature film.
  • The threatened teased sequel never appeared due to how badly this film bombed. Here in the US, it never even received a theatrical release, instead going straight-to-video, which is where you can still find it today, via MGM's print-on-demand DVD service.

For all the nonsense the film itself throws up, the 'Disc is at least acceptable. Though originally shot in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio, there are no video versions which will give you the full picture. Instead, both the LD and the DVD are presented in a 1.33:1 standard aspect ratio, though it's impossible to believe seeing the director's full, original framed edition would improve this turkey in any way. The LD is a single dual-sided 'disc in CLV format, but the picture looks fine. Audio-wise, we've got a simple two-channel Stereo mix on both the digital and analog channels. They sounded identical to me, so use whichever one grates on your nerves less. There aren't any subtitles (which is normal for LaserDiscs), but the lack of Closed Caption support was surprising, given how ubiquitous the service was on most movies released by this time. My guess is RCA didn't want to spend any more money than was absolutely necessary to put this one on store shelves, and I can't say I blame them.

All in all, it's just another 1.5 bricks out of 5 in the wall.

Now, I just dedicated 90 minutes of my life (plus however long it took to type out this review) to explain why you shouldn't watch this $12 million joke, but there's always somebody out there (like @blewitt) who has to see for himself if the movie's really as bad as I'm insinuating. If you insist on joining the club, knock yourself out. Just don't say I didn't warn you:

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