Sunday, 23 October 2016

Halloween 31 For 31: Buried Alive (1990)

Director: Gerard Kikoine
Screenplay: Jake Chesi and Stuart Lee
Cast: Robert Vaughn (as Gary Julian); Donald Pleasence (as Dr. Schaeffer); Karen Witter (as Janet); John Carradine (as Jacob); Ginger Lynn Allen (as Debbie)
A Night of A Thousand Horror (Movies) #47

In another context Buried Alive, not to be confused with the Frank Darabont TV movie of the same year, would be prime trashy and psychotronic material for another blogger to relish. A late production by producer Harry Alan Towers, who I like many will know for his genre films such as those produced with Jesus Franco as director, another blog would have become intoxicated over a plot where teacher Janet (Karen Witter) joins an all female institute for mentally disturbed young women only for the girls to be picked off when they try to leave and, in the sole reference to Edgar Allen Poe in its full title, are usually bricked up alive behind a wall like in the Black Cat short story. There's bad end-of-eighties hair and fashion, bitchy female characters, a girl naked in a group shower wearing sunglasses, a girl being scalped when the electronic whisk she is using to curl her hair in the kitchen backfires, and Donald Pleasance as a pudding bowl haired man who is constantly eating.

All the above sounds in computer text brilliant to see but the execution is different almost always from what you can imagine. Unfortunately barring wonderful exceptions, I find that I can't appreciate trashy movies like this if they cannot generate any sense of mood, or any cohesive glue of atmosphere, not necessarily fog machines or menacing amounts of shadows on the wall, to make it all seem to have some connecting together and stand out further. It neither helps that it's such a tedious film to sit through for the most of it. One is foisted with a bland, dragged out narrative where the only interesting detail about the heroine in the centre of it is her numerous freakish hallucinations of breathing brick walls and thousands of ants crawling out of a toilet, aspects which suggest, when she gets there, she's more in danger of psychological breakdown than any of the girls there and should logically lead to some great things; the scenes I've mentioned themselves are memorable but in-between her concern about what's happening at the institute and its founder Gary Julian (Robert Vaughn) trying to get cosy with her, you're eventually numbed by the lack of dynamic or fun to most of the running length.

Without any sense of mood, that even the schlockiest Italian films of the later eighties could still drip in rivers of, this merely becomes a grab-bag of odd details, snippets that are fun by themselves but without a memorable film around them to allow them to stand out. If one is to take pleasure from the trashy, it only truly works if the entire film is one impactful effect on you, not merely something you can make a minute YouTube clip of its funniest moments of. Inherently a killer in a worn, browned Ronald Reagan mask bricking people up behind walls in a fun and surreal idea I can appreciate as a villain for example, dying for a film as strange as the image itself, but it becomes increasingly obvious once I got into odd films and watched them incessantly that without a metaphorical adhesive to connect these shots into once clear form, even if its utter madness of the z-grade variety of weird editing and narcoleptic acting performances, a standard directed and blandly in-cohesive film like this one fails. Instead even the fun moments start to lose their energy and the entire film drags one's mood down miserably.

Neither does it help I hate something controversially that most people like - that I've never held enjoyment for female characters, from mainly eighties slasher films, who only speak in bitchy comments and snark which makes up a large part of Buried Alive when it's not Janet onscreen. Not even the fact the main offending character Debbie is played by porn star Ginger Lynn can get me over the fact that I find such caricatures on American genre films of this period utterly irritating to see. Especially here, it's obvious how unlike real women these characters are, worst when the cast in mainly women, and that, without the graced penmanship of a film like Heathers (1988), a fine art to catchy and profane insults for any gendered character, the snotty comments and threats thrown by characters here is simple time killing dialogue without humour to it.

Neither does it help the fashion in display is dreadful to the point of being an aesthetic displeasure that effects this particularly film badly rather than a quaint time capsule - it would take a woman (or a transgender man to not limit ourselves by gender binaries) of such charisma to pull off the bird's nests stuck on some of these actresses' heads and look good in them alone. Ultimately it's down to Donald Pleasance (thank god) as the pro he is to add something watchable in his scenes - literally pudding haired with a thinning grey haircut, foreign accent for an unknown country and constantly with a bag of crisps (chips) or food of some sort in his hands as an Igor-like figure to Vaughn's head of the institute. That and spotting Arnold Vosloo in a tiny role as a policeman before he'd end up playing Liam Neeson in the Darkman straight-to-video sequels.

Abstract Spectrum: Psychotronic; Weird
Abstract Rating (High/Medium/Low/None): None
Plenty of moments, if to use the full title, stand out in Edgar Allen Poe's Buried Alive (sic) as being strange. Close-ups of a black cat that have no connection to the plot whatsoever but merely try to justify using Poe in the title. The constant references to ants, one on a plane of glass to many in a toilet bowl. The girl, already mentioned, who is killed by hexed machinery, presumably done through fiddling with the electronics but looking in the scene like the film has supernatural traits, when she though using an electronic whisk with a hairdryer in the institute kitchen in the middle of the night was a good way to style her hair. The fact the basement, full of sinister corridors, also has a giant room with black-and-white tiles and statues. John Carradine in his last role before his death in a wheelchair bond cameo and plenty of other strange sights. However because the film is merely perfunctory in style and lacking a good narrative strand, even if it was a frail thread, to make the scenes connect together fully, they are merely disconnected pieces unable to cohere together and have the impact they deserve for such odd moments.

Personal Opinion:
A film of conflicting aspects. Times utterly memorable for its weird content, but in the end an utter mess without the charisma to get away with it. Not a good film at all in the end.


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