There have been few horror writers with the understanding of human nature that Edgar Allen Poe had. We only see one or two in every generation. Likely Stephen King is the closest that our generation has seen. But Poe knew the psychology of horror. He knew those dark special places in the mind where the true terror resides. Most of his characters encountered their fatal demons deep inside of themselves. With source material like that, how can you go wrong? Buried Alive demonstrates that you can still go horribly wrong.
First of all, it should be noted that this 1990 thriller bears little resemblance to the works of Poe. Elements are thrown into the film, it seems at random, just to justify the use of his name in the title. There’s a black cat that appears to hang around bearing witness to the unpleasantness. There are vague similarities in the manner in which the victims are dispatched, but all ties to the master, Poe, end there.
Ravencroft is a reformatory school for girls. Naturally, the girls who reside here are not your typical helpless damsels. They’re more likely to turn a switchblade on the killer than be victims themselves. It’s a pretty good setup. Dr. Gary (Vaughn) is in charge of the school once run by his father (Carradine). He’s an inspirational speaker and manages to capture the imagination of Janet (Witter) who comes to Ravencroft with high ideals and more than a little crush on Gary. From the day she arrives, she notices some rather strange things at the school. The staff are all a bit odd. In particular, there is Dr. Shaeffer (Pleasence) who munches on snacks and carries a permanent demonic smile. More importantly, the girls are disappearing. We know they are being captured and walled up behind brick by a maniac wearing a cheap Ronald Reagan mask. The official story appears to be that the girls are running away. Janet begins to have strange hallucinations and soon develops less esteem for Gary, who now wants to marry her.
The movie is tame by even 1990 standards and would look more like a made-for-television film if not for the topless girls from time to time. The film is notable as the last movie John Carradine ever did. There is a fitting dedication at the closing credits which indicates that Carradine passed before the film was released. I’m not sure it would have stood as one of his proudest moments. His part is merely a couple of cameos that serve as quick scare scenes more than anything else. The truth is that there are several good actors here that all appear to be at a total loss as to what they’re doing here. Robert Vaughn sleepwalks through the entire production. Donald Pleasence is somewhat of a crazy Renfield character here, and the part was unworthy of his talent. He looks rather odd under a bad toupee. Karen Witter shows great promise here and went on to have a moderate television career. It’s too bad she didn’t have something better to sink her teeth into here. The surprising standout is Ginger Lynn Allen as Debbie, one of the students who dominates the other girls through intimidation. Her career ended up as a staple in the soft-core porn industry.
The fault really lies with director Gerard Kikoine. This was his last film, and it doesn’t take the entire 90-minute running time to understand why. He appears lost at pretty much every turn. I’ve never seen a cast of good professional actors look so hapless before. It’s obvious there was no real direction here, and the same holds true for the movie itself. It’s a confusing mess that never really pays off. There’s not enough gore or real kills to satisfy the slasher fan, and there just isn’t any atmosphere or solid filmmaking here to satisfy anyone else.
If ever a movie belonged on this limited edition program, this one absolutely does. I can’t imagine much of a demand at all for this stinker, but if I’ve learned anything at all in my years of doing this it’s that even the worst films have some fans; it might just be the families of the cast and crew, but they will be out there. As for me, “I ain’t takin’ it, Jack. No way.”
But that’s the beauty of the program. They are opening up their library of films to be released on DVD-R’s at your request. If you have a fond memory of the film, it can be yours. You still get a good box-art package and a silk-screened DVD-R. Learn more about the MGM Limited Edition Collection.