Buried Alive 1990 Review
Buried Alive 1990
Directed by: Gerard Kikoine
Starring: Robert Vaughn, Donald Pleasence, Karen Witter
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
The tag-lines that were sprawled across this colourful cover would lead you to believe that it was more of a zombie adventure. ‘Some secrets are best left buried. But will they stay there?‘ and ‘The dead return!‘ make this sound as if it’s yet another attempt at a Dawn of the Dead rip-off. Bizarrely enough, these marketing ‘errors’ were seen a lot more than they should have been during the eighties, check: Embalmed for proof. I bought it anyway, as it was one of those titles that I had seen many times gathering dust on the top shelf of my local VHS emporium, and I often wondered what it was like. (Stalk and slash films aren’t my only vice, you know.) Anyway it turned out to be pure slasher cheese, right down to a masked killer preying on young female students in an all girl reform school.
I was also interested that this claimed to be adapted from the works of Edgar Allan Poe. By this, they mean the short story (one of his best) ‘Premature Burial’. There’s a TV movie that goes by the identical title and was released during the same year (although this was made twenty-four months earlier) that was also based on that novel.
It opens with some gloomy shots of an eerie looking building silhouetted by the foggy night sky. The sign outside reads ‘Ravens croft Reform School’ and Inside we see a group of teenage girls all deeply sleeping, except for one dark-haired youngster who looks as if she’s packing her things to make a daring escape. She puts her rucksack on her back and heads towards the exit. Just before she leaves, her friend calls her back and gives her a leaving present – a blue switch-blade – and then she says her goodbyes and heads out into the misty night sky.
She hotfoots it through the woods, until she spots a car driving along a road in the distance. She takes a break for just a second, and all of a sudden a masked assailant jumps out from within the bushes and violently knocks her on to the floor. He picks her up and drops her into a man made pothole and she falls into a corrugated steel tube that leads into a dank and spooky underground chamber. She awakes to see the grisly psycho standing menacingly above her. He injects her with a sedative, puts her in a straight jacket and then drags her by the feat to a cramped cell-like room. Once inside the assassin begins to brick and cement up the doorway, effectively leaving her ‘Buried Alive’…
Next we meet a young science teacher named Janet Pendleton (Karen Witter) who has just got a job teaching at the college. We also see the head doctor Gary Julian (Robert Vaughn), his twitchy assistant Dr. Schaeffer (Donald Pleasence) and a group of bitchy female co-eds who enjoy nothing more than pulling each others hair out. (Later quite literally) When another girl goes missing from the campus, Janet becomes suspicious and investigates the history of Ravenscroft, only to find a sincere and shocking secret. But who is it that is violently killing the young helpless girls?
With a cast including Robert Vaughn, Donald Pleasence, John Carradine and porn star Ginger Allen, and a plot that pits a group of saucy female co-eds against a vicious psychopath, Buried Alive should have had enough in its manbag to offer a decent entry to the cycle. Gerard Kikoine attempts to seduce you with his claim that this is adapted from the twisted mind of that famous author, but to be honest, apart from the odd black cat popping up here and there, it’s standard stalk and trash. In fact, it is so weakly put together that even the generous amount of genre luminaries seemed to succumb to the ‘pitiful performance’ bug. I mean, what the hell was Donald Pleasence thinking here? I never thought that I could describe one of his characterisations as ‘obnoxious’ – a million miles away from his legendary Sam Loomis. It probably didn’t help to put him in a dodgy toupee and a give the Nottinghamshire-born Brit a role that required a German accent. Anyway, he is by no means the only one here to be slummmmmmmmmingggggg… (Ahem, Mr Vaughn…!)
The screenplay by Jake Chesi must have been written in the director’s native French, translated to Swahili and then put through the Google translate equivalent of those days to make it look this jumbled. In one scene Miss Pendleton has another of her strange nightmares, which begun plaguing her as soon as she arrived on campus and reached quadruple figures before the final credits rolled. She ends up lying on the floor, panting, sweating and hysterically screaming. Dr Julian witnesses this unsettling episode and instead of rushing to her aid, asks with the oomph of water-logged crisp packet, ‘Is something wrong?’ I was expecting a sarcastic response along the lines of, ‘No, this is generally how I relax myself to sleep’ – but the screenwriter didn’t gives us that pleasure, unfortunately. Also at one point the doctor asks the shaky heroine if she’ll marry him. No harm in that you may think; but the funny thing is, the two of them only met a couple of days earlier. I kept wondering if I had fallen asleep for a while. I’m all for being spontaneous, but Mr Vaughn dear sir, I would at least recommend a substantial prenup.
I enjoyed the creative ways that they dreamed up to kill off the cast though. They included a painful looking electrocution, a trough in the side of the head and a young girl that gets buried up to her waste in wet cement. When she screams for help, she gets her mouth ‘concreted’ to shut her up. The director at least shows promise with a couple of decent ideas, including some morbid shots of the rotten corridors of the creepy chamber, which are accompanied by the victim’s screams as they get dragged off to their demise. Each unlucky individual spots a black cat before they are dispatched, which as I earlier alluded to, is the only real noticeable element lifted from Poe. I remember also at least one very gory scene that will liven you up if you end up nodding off. A female teen is curling her hair on a food mixer (?) when she’s scared by an unseen menace (presumably the masked maniac), and ends up drilling into her head and pulling her hair completely off of her scalp…Ouch!
It’s also worth noting that the killer sports a Reagan mask to disguise his identity. This is interesting because Reagan’s rein was notorious for many things, and one of them was cutting the federal funding for mental institutions across the US, which meant many people still needing treatment were thrown out on to the street. I was thinking that maybe this was a slight dig at those policies, but then I wasn’t sure if I was right in crediting such an inane script with hidden intelligence. There’s really no point in including subliminal political statements in a screenplay, if you can’t develop characters, dialogue or even common sense; but hey ho.
This was the last film that John Carradine worked on before his untimely death in 1988, which sadly wasn’t the greatest to close the curtain on a five-decade career in the movies with. It’s not that it doesn’t try; it’s just that with a cast of sexy youngsters that were only too eager to reveal some skin, a decent enough budget and some senior faces with bundles of experience, the movie really shouldn’t have been this dull. Kikoine had worked with Jess Franco for years and although I am no great fan of his, we could have used some of his exploitation leering to liven things up. It’s occasionally interesting but mostly predictable and long winded.
Although it pains me to steer you away from the slasher genre and into the land of thriller features, I must admit that you’re better off taking a look at the other made for TV flick with the same moniker…it’s a much stronger effort and this one is sadly best left in the bargain bucket…
Final Girl √√