Three escaped convicts, two girls on their way to a Christmas party, one sheriff deputy, and a cannibal mutant trapped in an abandoned subterranean mine. Sounds like a wacky Christmas Carol but it’s not. It’s Trapped Alive (1988) and that’s how I felt for 92 minutes of my own life. Trapped in a boring hodgepodge of ’80s horror movie tropes.
A prison escape and a Christmas party set the stage for this well-meaning stinker. Three escapees (Alex Kubik, Mark Witsken, Micheal Nash) meet two young girls (Sullivan Hester, Laura Kallison) on their way from one Christmas party to another along an isolated, wintery road. The cons overtake the girl’s car and manage to veer off the main road and fall into an abandoned, old mine named the Forever Mine. Setting up further disaster and would-be horror as things get really stupid from here out.
Now trapped underground, they stumble further through the cavernous (and well-lit) Forever Mine in search of a way out. Instead, they manage to come upon an old miner long thought dead and buried alive with his crew many years ago. He survived but is now a deranged cannibal mutant (who looks like a cross between Madman Marz from Madman and John Carpenter) living off of whatever he can find, in this case its three of those unfortunate souls that fell into his mine. The sheriff’s office is alerted by one of the girls’ father (Cameron Mitchell) that they’ve gone missing and a sole deputy (Randy Powell) goes looking for the girls. He winds up trapped down in the mine himself after giving the shaft to the mine’s current caretaker (Elizabeth Kent), who’s also the mutant’s daughter, while her husband sleeps.
After a whole lot of nothing and the cannibal miner’s death by makeshift spear, his daughter turns up, complete with a big horrible wig, to tell us all about her daddy and the monster he’s become through an overlong babbling, psychotic, diatribe. The whole thing wraps up after she blows herself and the deputy to hell as the final girl (Hester) and the con with a heart of gold (Witsken) escape to freedom. Hold on though, of course that’s not all. The last shot we see is of bloody calipers being worked from inside the mine but by who? Who cares? Not me, that’s for bloody sure.
Director/co-writer Leszek Burzynski must have been heavily inspired by earlier releases like My Bloody Valentine (1981) (the whole “forever mine” thing), The Funhouse 1980, and Madman 1981 (deranged, insane mutant/monsters) but Trapped Alive misses the mark by trying to be and do too much while somehow doing nearly nothing at all. Hell, it can’t even get its own title straight. Its working title was Forever Mine, there was even a song written with that title to close the movie out, switched to Trapped, which actually made the opening credits then finally for the VHS release, it was dubbed Trapped Alive. Title aside, the movie would have totally benefited from more kills and/or a shorter run time. Most of the movie is nonsense filler with some scenes trying to pose as social commentary that lands flat and winds up being somewhat comical. Even one of the two obligatory boobs scenes is cringe worthy, especially after learning the actress had serious second thoughts about performing the scene. She does manage to pull it off well enough though. Pun intended.
That loony diatribe and that over-the-top wig are absolutely comical. Both really do have to be seen to in order to fully experience the “WTF did I just watch?” of it all. All the while, Cameron Mitchell, for his five minutes of screen time, is asleep. Seriously, we watch as he sleeps and the clock passes time. The rest of the cast turn in decent performances for what they have to work with, even the loony does well with her outrageousness.
The special effects are decent when used but there are scenes that should have used more than just ketchup applied to skin. There are two kills throughout the movie. One involves those giant calipers that impale a victim while the other, clearly filmed as the movie’s money shot, involves the mutant miner himself as he carries a victim off to be eaten which mostly happens off screen. This scene also raises the question: who operates the pulley that hauls them both up?
As always with Arrow Video releases the Special features are where the gold is at and this one is no different, maybe even making the feature film better after watching them. Maybe not. It was fascinating to learn about the movie studio that was built near Eagle River, Wisconsin on an old girl scout camp ground. Windsor Lake Studios employed many locals and pros from the Chicago theater scene. They built nearly the entire set on the lot they developed for the sole purpose of making movie magic and trying to lure Hollywood to Wisconsin. The mine tunnels are actually really impressive to look at from behind-the-scenes footage as they are being built to the final product. The studio planned on using those elaborate sets for multiple movies involving caves or mine tunnels. They just didn’t have any real idea of what those movies would be about other than cold, dreary caverns. The Blu-ray box art looks great and captures the movie set very well and actually makes the movie more appealing. Well done, Arrow!
Director Approved Special Edition Content includes
- Brand new 2K restoration from the original camera negative, supervised and approved by director of photography Nancy Schreiber
- High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation
- Original stereo audio
- Brand new audio commentary with writer-director Leszek Burzynski
- Brand new audio commentary with makeup effects crew member Hank Carlson and horror writer Josh Hadley
- Brand new audio commentary with The Hysteria Continues
- There’s EVIL Underground…- brand new making-of documentary featuring interviews with director Leszek Burzynski, director of photography Nancy Schrieber, production manager Alexandra Reed, and actors Alex Kubik & Sullivan Hester
- Brand new interview with makeup effects crew member Hank Carlson
- Upper Michigan Tonight – 1988 television documentary on Windsor Lake Studios featuring footage from behind the scenes of Trapped Alive and contemporary interviews with director Leszek Burzynski, producer Christopher Webster, and production designer Brian Savegar
- Leszek Burzynski: The Early Years – The Trapped Alive director discusses his early forays into filmmaking
- Reversible sleeve featuring newly commissioned artwork by Justin Osbourn
Trapped Alive mines deeply from 1980s horror movie themes like psycho slashers on a holiday killing spree to monsters located in isolated places. It wants to be Last House on the Left, Friday the 13th, Madman, The Funhouse and My Bloody Valentine but it’s one boring, flavorless stew that runs too long and has too low a body count for what it aspires to be. Save yourself and skip it unless you’re a die-hard fan of ’80/’90s straight-to-VHS misfires or an avid collector of everything Arrow Video has to offer.