Even with the short stories of Edgar Allan Poe as inspiration, Buried Alive, about a serial killer preying on mentally unstable women, is a tedious drag. With all the scares and thrills of a daytime cable movie, Buried Alive squanders the talents of Robert Vaughn, Donald Pleasence and John Carradine with its obvious villain and nonsensical imagery.
Janet Pendelton (Karen Witter) starts teaching at the Ravenscroft Institute, a correctional school for troubled girls. Not only does Janet have to deal with her obstinate and sometimes violent students, but she also is plagued by visions of death and the grotesque. When students start disappearing, Janet thinks her teaching is the cause. In reality, a Ronald Reagan-masked killer is stalking the vulnerable women and burying them alive.
Director Gérard Kikoïne helmed the 1989 thriller Edge of Sanity, a take on the Jekyll and Hyde story starring Anthony Perkins. Here, he attempts to bring the mood of Poe's stories to this melodramatic thriller, but black cats and spooky shadows are basically the extent of this connection. Before each murder comes a new horror for Janet: images of hands dragging her underground, ants covering the floor and a suffocating live burial. Unfortunately, the real kills are few and far between the endless scenes of exposition.
Tension is non-existent. The movie never gives viewers a chance to realize a character is in danger, and is instead content to kill them at random. The kills aren't jump-scene scary either; they just come out of nowhere. For example, in the film's opening scene, the killer calmly walks up to his victim and performs one of the least convincing beatings ever captured on film. The only bright spot is an out-of-nowhere death by electric mixer that is both sadistic and gory.
Along with an early appearance by actress Nia Long, Buried Alive sees Vaughn hamming it up as the school's headmaster. Pleasence has a small role as the school's medical doctor, and Carradine has an important appearance during the climax. Buried Alive is stagey material, and its players overact royally. Witter gives the best performance, but the script has her act irrationally at every turn.
There's no compelling reason to seek out Buried Alive. Aside from one juicy kill and some quick banter between Janet and her unruly students, the film is a laughable slog. Despite its loose inspiration from Poe's work, Buried Alive is forgettable small-screen folly.
PICTURE AND SOUND:
Buried Alive is part of MGM's Limited Edition Collection, a movies-on-demand program for the studio's lesser-known titles. Each movie is presented on a DVD-R without extras. A message before the film indicates that the transfer comes from the best available source, which, in this case, isn't pretty. The 1.33:1 fullscreen presentation looks about as good as the movies I used to tape from cable onto VHS. Buried Alive looks flat and dull, detail is limited and most shots appear more than a little soft. I noticed some interlacing problems, strobe effects, ringing and print damage. Detail becomes non-existent during night scenes, contrast is erratic and there's lots of noise. This is VHS-quality stuff. The 2.0 stereo track is fine. The whole affair is pretty condensed, but hiss and feedback are kept to a minimum and dialogue is clear.
MGM's Limited Edition Collection is a great way to get some previously unreleased titles on DVD, but $20 is too much for Buried Alive, a silly, uninvolving thriller about a serial killer at a girls' correctional school. Marred by theatrical acting and a lack of suspense, Buried Alive is best left underground. Skip It.
William lives in Raleigh, North Carolina, and looks forward to a Friday-afternoon matinee.