Release Date(s)1988 (June 4, 2019)
Studio(s)Filmworld International/Eagle Films (Arrow Video)
- Film/Program Grade: C-
- Video Grade: A-
- Audio Grade: B+
- Extras Grade: A+
As has been noted many times over, the 1980s saw a bombardment of horror films from different sources as it was one of the most profitable genres to take advantage of. Because so much product was being created, many titles fell through the cracks, either getting the straight-to-video treatment or simply shelved altogether. Made at Wisconsin’s burgeoning and ultimately failing Windsor Lake Studios, 1988’s Trapped Alive (aka Trapped and Forever Mine) was, unfortunately, one of those films that didn’t see the light of day until 1993 when it was finally given a home video release, developing an ultra-minor cult following in the interim.
The story concerns Robin and Monica (Sullivan Hester and Laura Kallison), two young women on their way to a Christmas party when they’re stopped by three escaped convicts: Face (Alex Kubik), Mongo (Michael Nash), and Hot Rod (Mark Witsken). They take the girls hostage but while they’re making their getaway, the car suddenly falls into a mineshaft, trapping them far below. While out on patrol, Sheriff Billy (Randy Powell) discovers the cave-in and climbs in to investigate. Meanwhile, concerned for his daughter Robin’s well-being, John (Cameron Mitchell) is convinced that she may be in trouble after not returning home. As the convicts and the two women attempt to find a way out, they’re unaware of a man-like monster lurking above them, watching and waiting with a set of large calipers to hoist them up and feed on their flesh.
Trapped Alive is certainly no unsung masterpiece. It’s cheap, locally-produced entertainment that’s totally uneven, tone deaf, and long in the tooth. However, there are various aspects of it that make it worthwhile. Not only was the film shot during frigid winter temperatures, but the mine was actually a large set constructed inside a warehouse. It’s also quite well-shot by director of photography Nancy Schreiber (in those days, a rare instance of a woman behind the camera lens). There’s also an unintentionally hilarious and show-stopping performance by Elizabeth Kent (Mindwarp), who is given a one-shot close-up, going completely off the rails with several minutes of tear-drenched, backstory-driven dialogue (think one-minute Oscar).
There are only minor bits of bloodletting, but a surprising amount of female nudity on display, not to mention a highly unusual love song that closes the film (again, the lack of tone). The monster isn’t all that impressive, even though we don’t see him all that much and it takes an eternity for him to take part in the narrative, but by then, we’ve spent almost an hour with characters that are questionable or unlikable on some level or another. To be succinct, there’s not a lot to get out of Trapped Alive aside from very specific moments. However, it looks great and feels much different than most 80s horror films of the era which were all slashers in one form or another.
Arrow Video brings the film to Blu-ray for the first time utilizing a new 2K restoration of the original 35mm camera negative. As the film has only ever been available on VHS, this transfer can be nothing but an improvement. As such, it’s an excellent one, loaded with crisp detail and even grain levels. Blacks are deep and shadow detail is potent, which is important as the film takes place primarily at night and in the shadows. The color palette, though lacking in variety, is splendid when given the opportunity. Contrast and brightness levels are virtually perfect and the frame is entirely stable with little to no visible damage leftover other than minor speckling.
The audio is presented in English 2.0 LPCM with optional subtitles in English SDH. The film’s synth-driven soundtrack is given plenty of room to breathe, but this is not a film that makes any particular use of its stereo-seated environment. Dialogue is mostly clear and even (the mix itself doesn’t always allow for it, but this is a rare occurrence). Sound effects have decent heft to them but they’re not all that impactful. The overall track is also clean and clear with no leftover instances of hiss, crackle, dropouts, or distortion.
Bonus materials include an audio commentary with director Leszek Burzynski, moderated by Vinegar Syndrome’s Joe Rubin; an audio commentary with makeup effects crew member Hank Carlson and writer Josh Hadley; an audio commentary with The Hysteria Continues podcast members Justin Kerswell, Erik Threlfall, Joseph Henson, and Nathan Johnson; There’s Evil Underground..., a new 31-minute documentary on the making of the film, featuring interviews with Leszek Burzynski, production manager Alexandra Reed, actors Alex Kubik and Sullivan Hester, and cinematographer Nancy Schreiber; a new 19-minute interview with Hank Carlson about his career; Upper Michigan Tonight, a 23-minute TV documentary from 1988 on Windsor Lake Studios, Wisconsin, featuring behind-the-scenes footage and vintage interviews with Burzynski, producer Christopher Webster, and production designer Brian Savegar; Leszek Burzynski: The Early Years, a new 10-minute interview with the director in which he discusses his previous work; an image gallery containing 199 promotional, on-set, and behind-the-scenes stills; and a 32-page insert booklet featuring cast and crew information, Forever Mine by Zack Carlson, My Father: The Man Behind the Monster by Brian Dean, and restoration information.
In truth, Trapped Alive is likely more beneficial with a group of friends armed with a few beers and a couple of slices of pizza than as a solo experience. On the other hand, for deep-diving horror fans, it’s another genre oddity brought back to life in the most glorious way possible. Arrow Video’s handling of the title, which includes extras that I would argue are better than the film their based upon, is most assuredly commendable. It’s a great package overall.
– Tim Salmons