Release Date(s)1990 (October 25, 2022)
Studio(s)21st Century Film Corporation (Vinegar Syndrome)
- Film/Program Grade: C-
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: B+
- Extras Grade: B-
Edgar Allan Poe's Buried Alive draws its inspiration from two tales by the author, The Premature Burial and The Cask of Amontillado. Poe’s name in the title of a film immediately conjures images of emaciated neurotics, ominous atmosphere, and Gothic horror. The results can vary. While there are fine horror pictures based on Poe stories, even more of them are disappointing.
Buried Alive opens as Janet (Karen Witter) arrives to teach at Ravens Croft Institute, a reform school for troubled girls. The ringleader of the girls is Debbie (Ginger Allen), who’s tough and not above using threats and violence against those who challenge her. Janet learns that things aren’t as they appear after dealing with often violent students and experiencing bizarre hallucinations of swarms of ants, arms reaching up from the ground, and undulating brick walls. She subsequently begins to investigate the mysterious disappearance of several girls, who are being stalked by a masked killer that buries them alive.
Robert Vaughn, in post-The Man From U.N.C.L.E. mode, plays the head of the institute, Gary Julian, and Donald Pleasence (Halloween) plays Dr. Schaeffer, who’s always lurking about, peering around corners, and turning up whenever danger rears its head. Vaughn is unable to rise above mediocre material and hams up his performance, especially in the third act. Veteran actor John Carradine, in his final screen role, appears briefly in a climactic scene.
Director Gerard Kikoine (Edge of Sanity) tries to infuse this contemporary thriller with the spirit of Poe’s tales, using endless shadowy corridors and a lurking black cat. There are few kills and an awful lot of exposition, which slows the film and undermines the tension. The director does manage some good scare scenes. Arms reach up to grab young women and drag them down what seems like a mile-long chute into a dingy, dank basement of horrors. Thousands of ants swarm about, covering the feet of the unsuspecting. These images may induce a shudder or two but little more.
Ms. Witter, a former 1982 Playboy Playmate, is certainly attractive but not much of an actress. Attired in surprisingly modest suits befitting a teacher, she seems pretty slow to realize that a lot is wrong at the Institute. The viewer is way ahead of her. Her character varies between intelligent professional concerned for the young women who regularly go missing to defenseless horror heroine who has a knack for making dumb decisions that no real person would. Nudity in a scene of the girls showering together serves no purpose other than to titillate.
Edgar Allan Poe’s Buried Alive was shot by director of photography Gerard Loubeau on 35 mm film using spherical lenses, finished photochemically, and presented in the aspect ratio of 1.85:1. Vinegar Syndrome’s Blu-ray release has been newly-scanned and restored in 2K from its original interpositive. The picture is sharp and well detailed, and is particularly good at maintaining detail in heavily shadowed scenes. Outdoor scenes on the institute’s grounds are bright, with a wide green lawn dominating. Director Kikoine uses a varied color palette, with Janet dressed in light colors much of the time. Special effects kick in with stage blood but its use is far more restrained than in typical low-budget horror films. Interiors show lots of moody shadows. The institute’s basement contains endless corridors, the walls covered with moisture. This location contrasts with the professional look of the headmaster’s office.
The soundtrack is English mono DTS-HD Master Audio. English SDH subtitles are an available option. Dialogue is clear and distinct. Vaughn speaks with a slightly sibilant intonation. Pleasence speaks slowly, with an accent of questionable origin. There are screams, sounds of a body being pummeled, bricks being cemented into place, and exaggerated sounds of people chewing their food. In the underground area, footsteps echo as Janet walks with trepidation through dark corridors. Frederic Talgorn’s music does its best to enhance scenes and build suspense but is fighting a script that doesn’t seem to know what suspense is.
Bonus material includes the following:
- Ginger’s Antics (12:35)
- Well, I Wanna Be an Actor (18:38)
Ginger’s Antics – Actress Ginger Allen talks about auditioning for the film, making another film in South Africa called Let the Music Be, working in the adult film industry, being surprised at how frail John Carradine was, and how Donald Pleasence stole a scene from Robert Vaughn. She noted how smoking a tobacco cigarette standing in for a joint made her so physically sick, she couldn’t complete the scene and was yelled at by the director. She finally succeeded in doing the scene, but the downside was that she became a smoker.
Well, I Wanna Be an Actor – Actor William Butler was in South Africa making American Ninja 4 when he was hired for Buried Alive. He read Poe’s stories as a kid and was thrilled to be in a film based on Poe. He talks about Nia Long, who made her screen debut in the film, and how professional and talented she was even at the age of 18. Butler formed a friendship with his idol, Donald Pleasence, who was kind and very approachable. John Carradine was wheelchair-bound and didn’t seem to be fully aware of what was happening. He died shortly afterward in Spain. The film was shot at various locations in South Africa but the basement set was built in a studio.
Edgar Allan Poe’s Buried Alive is not strong enough to appeal to die-hard horror fans, who will find it draggy and lacking in blood and gore. The subject matter, the script by Jake Class and Stuart Lee, and Kikoine’s unimaginative direction have yielded a routine, ho-hum horror picture with just a few good scenes.
- Dennis Seuling