Leszek Burzynski/ USA/ 1988/ 91 mins
Available on Blu-ray from Mon 20 May 2019
Another week and another obscure fossil is hauled up from the elephants graveyard of 80s horror. Even among the dubious delights of Reagan-era hack n’ slash, Trapped Alive was practically buried alive, with nothing but an online VHS rip available. Sometimes, alas, some things are better left in their tombs, as this kidnap drama/ slasher hybrid is pretty woeful on every level bar a few credulity-straining plot devices to enliven things a little.
Two young women are kidnapped by escaped convicts while driving to a party, tricked into stopping by the young and handsome Randy (Mark Witsken), press ganged into service for his skills as a driver by the psychotic Face (Alex Kubik) and the massive but stupid Mongo (Michael Nash). Randy’s reputation as a driver appears a little unearned as he crashes the car through a mine shaft, leaving criminals and captives at the mercy of a cannibalistic miner.
If that seems like an intriguing premise that allows for moral ambiguity and shifting allegiances, then you’ll be sorely disappointed. The characterisation and acting is so one-note throughout that there is nothing to raise the pulse. This laziness is exemplified by the stock tropes of our heroines – the forthright and sexually confident Monica (Laura Kallison), and the shy and demure Robin (Sullivan Hester). No prizes for guessing who is most likely to survive the ordeal.
It’s telling that this appears to be the only acting role of any note for the film’s leads, the casting apparently carried out locally to the Wisconsin area where Trapped Alive was shot. You get the impression that the location is supposed to evoke the spirit of local resident Ed Gein, but the ghoulish miner is not by any stretch one of the more memorable antagonists of the genre.
Some unintentional hilarity does occasionally ensue from the bizarre storytelling. The father of Robin appears every now and then lamenting the disappearance of his daughter in cod-poignant monologues. These appear to be padding as Cameron Mitchell, the sole respected thesp in the project, was apparently available and they wanted to give him something to do. The effect is jarring in the extreme, even if the action from which they cut never builds any momentum. Equally weird is a subplot that seems initially to have no bearing at all. A local policeman searching for the girls encounters a bored housewife (Elizabeth Kent), triggering a good-old-fashioned bit of gratuitous 80s rumpy in front of a roaring fire. Hilariously the cuckolded husband is asleep in bed and remains so for the duration of the film. The housewife also happens to have a phone line that goes directly into the mine.
Beyond these fleeting fragments of accidental inspiration, there really is very little to recommend Trapped Alive. It’s relatively competent by the standards of some of the utter garbage released at the same time, but this pretty much guarantees it’ll be forgotten again, at the expense of the enduring sublime and ridiculous of its contemporaries.