Trapped Alive AKA Trapped AKA Forever Mine (Blu-ray) [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray B - United Kingdom - Arrow Films
Review written by and copyright: Paul Lewis (4th June 2019).
The Film

Trapped Alive (Leszek Burzynski, 1988)

Synopsis: During a Christmas party, lawyer and widower John Adams (Cameron Mitchell) says goodbye to his daughter Robin (Sullivan Hester), who is preparing to leave for another party with Monica (Laura Kallison), John’s PA and Robin’s friend.

Meanwhile, three men escape from prison: the sadistic Face (Alex Kubik), his henchman Mongo (Michael Nash) and Randy, aka ‘Hot Rod’ (Mark Witsken), who is unwillingly dragged along for the ride by the other two.

Naturally, it is only a matter of time before the paths of these two groups cross, the escapees commandeering Monica’s car. Face directs the car towards the abandoned Grever Mine, hoping to hide in the wilderness till the pursuing police call off the search for the convicts. However, the car becomes stuck in a collapsed mineshaft, Mongo critically injured when he flies through the windscreen. The mine partially collapses, trapping everyone inside it.

Above ground, Officer Billy Williams (Randy Powell) investigates and finds himself in the house of Rachel (Elizabeth Kent), who flirts outrageously with Billy. Rachel lives in the mine’s old pay office, which has been converted into a house; her father, a miner, disappeared in the mining accident that led to the mine’s closure.

In the mine, the surviving convicts and their captives venture deeper into the shaft looking for a way out. However, they find themselves hunted by a mysterious presence which looks set to pick them off one-by-one.

Critique: Made in 1988 and originally shot under the title ‘Forever Mine’, Trapped Alive sat on the shelf for five years, failing to find distribution until 1993 when it was released straight to video by AIP Home Video in the US. The film loosely falls into the trend during the 1970s and 1980s for horror-themed films set at Christmas time but with very little to do with the season other than offering an antidote to the message of goodwill to all men. These films included, of course, Black Christmas, Christmas Evil, Silent Night, Deadly Night and its sequels, New Year’s Evil, To All a Goodnight, Dark Angel, Home for the Holidays, Hardcore, and The Dorm that Dripped Blood. Set against many of these, Trapped Alive is, perhaps surprisingly, quite tame for most of its early sequences – till the picture descends into the realms of 1980s softcore with the sex scene between Rachel and Billy. ‘Have you ever been down a mine?’, Rachel asks Billy. ‘It’s like this. You go down, down, down, until you find the shaft. And then you…’, she informs Billy before performing (offscreen) fellatio on him. Following this, the picture features some gruesome visual effects (Mungo’s partially-disembowelled, cannibalised corpse is discovered by Randy) and forced nudity (Face demands Monica strip and ‘wiggle [her] ass’ for him).

The characters are cookie cutter archetypes, from the good girl (Robin) on a party trip with her more experienced friend (Monica), to the sheriff (Billy) and the film’s equivalent of the Victorian ‘mad woman in the attic’ (Rachel). Robin’s friendship with Monica, her father’s PA, is equally familiar: like many other female pairings in films such as Wes Craven’s Last House on the Left (1972), Monica and Robin are polar opposites. From a privileged background, Robin is innocent and somewhat naïve, whereas the older Monica is more experienced and outwardly sexual. ‘Do you realise, innocent child, that just five miles down the road, a horde of beautiful and horny young men are panting for our bodies?’, Monica asks Robin as they leave John’s Christmas party in the film’s opening sequence. The three escaped prisoners are as familiar as can be too: the brain heavy (Face) leads the spiteful dog heavy (Mongo), dragging along with them the reluctant but ultimately well-intentioned criminal (Randy). The behaviour of this trio of ne’er-do-wells, when faced with Monica and Robin, is utterly predictable (‘Now that we’re out, we’re gonna have some of the sweet stuff’, Face says lasciviously after the escapees commandeer the girls’ car). The only character which demonstrates any complexity or deviation from his archetype, arguably, is Billy, who at the end of the picture makes a supreme heroic gesture.

The most impressive aspect of the picture is the monster makeup and gore effects, which include a spectacularly gruesome glimpse of a disembowelled corpse. These effects were by Hank Carlson; whilst Burzynski would go on to direct only one other feature film (the rather good comedy-western Wooly Boys in 2001), writer Julian Weaver would only be credited on two further films (The Inheritor in 1990 and The Chill Factor in 1993, the latter soon to be released on Blu-ray by Arrow Video), and for many of the cast (Sullivan Hester, Laura Kallison, Mark Witsken, Michael Nash) this would be their only notable screen acting credit, Hank Carlson went on to provide special effects for many films, including a stint working with KNB FX Group on Buffy the Vampire Slayer (Fran Rubel Kuzui, 1992) and Army of Darkness (Sam Raimi, 1992).









Video

Filling a little over 25Gb of space on a dual-layered Blu-ray disc, Trapped Alive is presented, uncut and with a running time of 91:27 mins, in 1080p using the AVC codec.

The opening sequence, featuring low-key lighting meant to suggest the prison setting from which the convicts escape, features some funky contrast levels that are reminiscent of shot on video material from the mid-1980s. However, this quickly segues into a more filmic aesthetic, though to be fair many of the sequences set in the mine seem too brightly lit and make use of cold blue light to (not too convincingly) suggest darkness. This is, however, a product of the filmmakers’ approach to shooting the material rather than a ‘fault’ of Arrow’s presentation, which, based on a new 2k restoration taken from the negative, is excellent. Much of the film was too obviously shot quickly and cheaply: the overuse of medium shots results in a picture which feels rushed and has a very ‘television’ aesthetic. (interestingly, the scenes featuring Cameron Mitchell seem more carefully lit and composed.) Lowlight scenes, presumably shot with the lenses wide open and therefore with shallow depth of field, sometimes appear to be slightly back focused.

Though released directly to video, Trapped Alive would seem to have been shot with theatrical distribution in mind. The film is presented in the 1.78:1 ratio, and the compositions work fine in this ratio. Based on a 2k restoration of the film’s 35mm negative, there’s plenty of fine detail present in this Blu-ray presentation. Contrast levels are very good, with defined midtones and a sharp drop-off into the toe. Colours are consistent and rich, with the sharp blue lights denoting the darkness of the mine tunnels being communicated very well. Skin tones are natural. The encode to disc is unproblematic, and the presentation retains the structure of 35mm film.



Some full-sized screengrabs are included at the bottom of this review. Please click to enlarge them.

Audio

Audio is presented via a LPCM 2.0 track, which is accompanied by optional English subtitles for the Hard of Hearing. The LPCM track is rich and deep, with good range where it is needed. The subtitles are easy to read and accurate.

Extras

The disc includes:
- Audio commentary with director Leszek Burzynski. Joe Rubin, the co-founder of the (brilliant) US company Vinegar Syndrome, moderates this commentary with Burzynski. Burzynski is an affable commentator, offering some insightful recollections about the making of the film and his working relationship with producer Christopher Webster, a fellow Englishman. Rubin proves to be an equally good interviewer, asking some probing questions of Burzynski and keeping the conversation flowing very well throughout the commentary track.

- Audio commentary with Hank Carlson and Josh Hadley. Carlson, who provided the special effects for the picture, offers a commentary that is moderated by Josh Hadley. Carlson talks about how he came to work on the picture and discusses his work as a makeup effects artist, reflecting on his career and discussing his relationships with the cast and crew. He discusses how some of the film’s effects were achieved (eg, the crash scene in which Mungo flies through the windscreen of the car), and says that he is ‘glad I started on such a low budget film’ because it made him more inventive in terms of achieving specific effects with limited resources and time.

- Audio commentary with The Hysteria Continues. The ever-dependable chaps from the The Hysteria Continues podcast offer a characteristically insightful and engaging commentary track. Justin Kerswell suggests that whilst Trapped Alive isn’t a true ‘slasher’ movie, it has elements of the slasher picture within its narrative. Kerswell says that he never saw the film until approached by Arrow to provide a commentary for it, and the other members of The Hysteria Continues agree. Despite this, however, the group provide a cogent critique of the film.

- ‘There’s EVIL Underground…’ (30:52). Featuring comments from Burzynski, director of photography Nancy Schreiber, production manager Alexandra Reed and Alex Kubik & Sullivan Hester, this documentary looks at the production of Trapped Alive. Burzynski talks about how he became involved with Christopher Webster; both Burzynski and Webster were Englishmen working in the US, and Webster wanted to establish a film studio in Wisconsin. To be called ‘Windsor Lake Studios’, Webster bought a former Girl Scout camp in the countryside. This was the site on which Trapped Alive was shot. However, they found the Wisconsin winter weather more of a challenge than was previously considered, though Webster, in the words of Burzynski, ‘thought that was a plus’ because it allowed him to make pictures with convincing ‘arctic conditions’. Burzynski talks about how the film was retitled (from ‘Forever Mine’ to Trapped Alive). Michael Berryman was originally cast as Face though this fell through after Berryman attended a table read and began to offer his own directions to the other actors and make script changes. Burzynski suggests Berryman’s behaviour was too ‘distruptive’ to the other less-experienced actors, and the part was recast after Burzynski approached Webster, who fired Berryman.

- Interview with Hank Carlson (18:37). Carlson talks about his special effects for the picture, discussing how he came to be involved in filmmaking through his enthusiasm for horror films and Famous Monsters of Filmland. Carlson got work on Trapped Alive after his father, a contractor, told him about Christopher Webster’s studio, which was being constructed close to Carlson’s home. Carlson learnt the craft of filmmaking and experienced location shooting, which helped him to ‘move forward in my career’.

- Upper Michigan Tonight TV Documentary (22:32). This 1988 television documentary focuses on Christopher Webster’s Windsor Lake Studios. Made during the production of Trapped Alive, the documentary features some behind the scenes footage of the production of the picture and interviews with Burzynski, Christopher Webster and others.

- Leszek Burzynski: The Early Years (9:41). Burzynski discusses his early career as a filmmaker. He began as a floor worker on Are You Being Served?, The Two Ronnies and Morecambe and Wise before moving into the world of filmmaking. In the US, Burzynski wrote the script for the bizarre Tiny Tim-starring slasher picture Blood Harvest (Bill Rebane, 1987), which Burzynski also produced. Burzynski’s recollections of the making of Blood Harvest and working with Tiny Tim are fascinating, particularly given that the recent UK Blu-ray release of this film by 88 Films was quickly withdrawn owing to an issue over the rights to the picture. Burzynski suggests that horror needs to be counterbalanced by humour, and he attempted to incorporate this into Blood Harvest (and, of course, Trapped Alive).

- Image Gallery (3:19).

Overall

The fast and loose nature of Trapped Alive is evident throughout the film, but despite this – and despite the paper-thin plot and all-too-recognisable characters – Trapped Alive is an entertaining little horror film. Its nods to the likes of Last House on the Left and The Hills Have Eyes are all too apparent, and the filmmakers milk the footage involving Cameron Mitchell, presumably shot over no more than a couple of days, for all it is worth. Mitchell’s character appears in several very brief scenes and, other than his introductory scene (in which he is shown at the Christmas party he is throwing, saying goodbye to Robin), has very little to do. In one scene, he is shown talking to a photograph of his dead wife about his relationship with Robin and his fears for her: it’s a prolonged moment whose purpose seems primarily to extend Mitchell’s screen time in the film. One might imagine that when Trapped Alive, shot in 1988, was finally released in 1993, it would have looked noticeably dated (thanks to the very Eighties hair styles of Robin and Monica, in particular).

Trapped Alive is released on a Blu-ray in a special edition that perhaps surpasses what one might consider the film deserves. With an excellent presentation on this Blu-ray disc, the main feature itself, whilst entertaining enough, is perhaps no great shakes, but the contextual material on this disc is excellent and, after viewing it, one has to admire the chutzpah of the team behind Trapped Alive. The documentary, ‘There’s EVIL Underground…’, is an incredibly insightful and frank retrospective documentary, exploring the issues facing such a low budget independent production. The interview with Hank Carlson is equally illuminating from the standpoint of someone interested in special effects. The three commentary tracks are very good too – particularly the track with Burzynski, whose comments offer considerable insight into low budget filmmaking during the 1980s. Though Trapped Alive is far from the best of its genre, Arrow are to be commended for unearthing (if you’ll pardon the pun) lesser known, and forgotten, films such as this for new audiences.

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