Color, 1988, 91 mins. 28 secs.
Directed by Leszek Burzynski
Starring Alex Kubik, Randolph Powell, Elizabeth Kent, Mark Witsken, Sullivan Hester, Cameron Mitchell, Michael Nash, Laura Kalison
Arrow Video (Blu-ray) (US/UK RA/RB HD) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9)
If it weren't for the prominent credits touting its production in Wisconsin, you could easily swear that the 1988 release Trapped Alive was a Canadian tax shelter horror film made years earlier. In fact, by the time this one actually reached viewers several years later after collecting dust on the shelf (presumably because it couldn't cash in on other literally underground horror films like The Boogens and My Bloody Valentine), it had no target audience left at all. Instead this one went straight to video in 1993 where its frequently dark aesthetic turned to complete mud and turned off most prospective viewers in the process; however, with its plinky-ploink synthesizer score and grubby charm, the little programmer (which is also a Christmas movie of sorts, believe it or not) has turned out to be an amusing time killer if you have a taste for regional horror oddities.
Originally conceived under the punny title Forever Mine and bearing a title card that simply reads Trapped, our tale begins with Robin (Hester) bidding farewell to her widower dad, John (Mitchell), to head out for a late night snowy road trip to a party with her best friend, Monica (Kallison). Unfortunately they end up getting stuck in the middle of nowhere in the snow, only to fall afoul of a trio of convicts -- ringleader Face (Kubik), dumb bully Mondo (Nash), and reluctant nice guy Randy (Witsken) -- who have busted out of the nearby prison after killing a guard. Attempted a detour to avoid an upcoming roadblock, they end up collapsing their car into an abandoned mine shaft and have to seek shelter beneath the earth. A passing cop, Billy (Dallas' Powell), also goes exploring to investigate the abandoned car, with yet another new visitor coming along in the form of the mysterious Rachel (Mindwarp's Kent). The usual pitfalls inside the mine seem to be the biggest threat at first, but it soon turns out there's a hook-wielding cannibal on the loose and perfectly willing to make sure nobody lives to see Christmas morning.
Though not exactly a filmmaking mecca, Wisconsin has some credibility as a horror location thanks to films like Blood Hook, The Pit, and The Devonsville Terror. This is among the more minor entries, but the thick atmosphere (around the Eagle River area) and retro charm -- not to mention some juicy splashes of gore here and there -- manage to justify its existence among those aforementioned mine-themed horror films. The presence of MItchell (the only true marquee name in the cast) is really a glorified cameo from a period where he seemed to be in a dozen movies a year, with the rest of the participants operating roughly on a dinner theater level (which is a good thing or a terrible one depending on your personal taste).
Essentially unseen since its VHS bow from beloved bottom-scraping VHS label AIP (complete with hilariously inappropriate cover art), Trapped Alive resurfaced as an unlikely but heavily stacked Blu-ray edition in North America and the U.K. from Arrow Video in 2019. Obviously the "brand new 2K restoration from the original camera negative" will be the first time anyone's had to see this film in watchable quality, and it doesn't disappoint with even the darkest scenes now finally legible and the brighter ones living up to the company's usual sterling a/v standards. The English LPCM 2.0 audio (with optional English SDH subtitles) also sounds perfect. Incredibly, this one comes with a whopping three audio commentaries: director Leszek Burzynski (who wrote the earlier slasher Blood Harvest) in conversation with Vinegar Syndrome's Joe Rubin; special effects artist Hank Carlson and horror writer Josh Hadley; and the slasher-savvy quartet from The Hysteria Continues. Between them you'll get plenty of anecdotes about the perils of shooting effects scenes with Aqua Net, the aborted casting of Michael Berryman, the construction of the sets as an intended start for a mini-cottage film industry in Wisconsin (a la Dino De Laurentiis in Wilmington, NC), and the state of slasher-ish horror films around the turn of the decade. The new featurette "There's EVIL Underground..." (30m52s) provides even more info courtesy of Burzynski, cinematographer Nancy Schreiber, production manager Alexandra Reed and actors Alex Kubik and Sullivan Hester, charting the dream of setting up a local studio via this production with an ex-Girl's Scout camp serving as ground zero. They also go into the cast and crew quite a bit, A separate interview with makeup effects crew member Hank Carlson (18m37s) goes into his own path to the film as a Famous Monsters-loving horror kid and the other projects that were supposed to come after this as well as realized ones like Mindwarp, while a 1988 episode of Upper Michigan Tonight (22m32s) features plenty of production footage and interview snippets with Burzynski, producer Christopher Webster and production designer Brian Savegar chatting about creating their "work of art." Then you get a look back at the director's background up to the late '80s with "Leszek Burzynski: The Early Years" (9m41s), covering his two short films for Paramount and his most famous horror-writing gig (and his brief role in it as a priest). The disc rounds out with an image gallery of stills and artwork, while the package features the usual reversible sleeve options including a (far more appropriate) new design by Justin Obsourn.
Reviewed on June 8, 2019