Color, 1989, 91 mins. 2 secs.
Directed by Gérard Kikoïne
Starring Robert Vaughn, Donald Pleasence, Karen Witter, John Carradine, Ginger Lynn Allen, Nia Long, William Butler, Arnold Vosloo
Vinegar Syndrome (Blu-ray) (US RA HD) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9), MGM (DVD-R) (US R1 NTSC)
Heavily inspired by the tactics of AIP and Roger Corman during the drive-in heyday, Cannon Films and its short-lived spin-off, Menahem Golan's 21st Century Film Corporation, had a funny way of merging trashy horror and semi-respectable literature. In 1989 audiences got a safari-set Cannon version of Agatha Christie's Ten Little Indians directed by South Africa-based Alan Birkinshaw (Killer's Moon), which was followed that same year by two South African, Edgar Allan Poe riffs from Birkinshaw, House of Usher and the maniacally marvelous Masque of the Red Death. Closing out the '89 South Africa cycle (all with the involvement of producer Harry Alan Towers and the recipients of flack from the press at the height of apartheid) is Buried Alive, this time helmed by French adult film director Gérard Kikoïne back to back with his most well-known horror effort, Edge of Sanity. Misspelling Poe's name in the credits, the film has virtually nothing to do with Baltimore's most famous horror scribe apart from the general concept of being walled up alive, the questionable nature of institution authorities, and the occasional presence of a black cat. Of course, that's about as much connection as many other adaptations have as well, so you might as well just sit back and enjoy the gory slasher murders, shower cat fights, and loony casting choices.
At the Ravenscroft Institute for wayward young women, something terrible befalls any of the inmates who try to run away at night: they get snatched up in the middle of the night and interred alive. Enter Janet (Witter, later Karen Lorre), a nervous new science teacher who's welcomed by the founder, Gary Julian (Vaughn), who's working through some revolutionary behavioral methods on the premises. Among the feisty girls who tend to get into scraps in the cafeteria are Debbie (hardcore legend Ginger Lynn Allen) and Fingers (Long in her film debut), while the staff includes eccentrics like the bewigged Dr. Schaeffer (Pleasence). From her first night there, strange things are happening like noises behind the walls, random disappearances, tons of ants, and a mysterious role for John Carradine in his last appearance.
Though Witter is fine as the de facto hero character here, it's Allen, Pleasence, and Long who make the strongest impressions here among a very peculiar cast that also includes South African thespian Arnold Vosloo before he hit Hollywood with The Mummy. It's easily the darkest and grungiest of the Towers-Poe cycle, with the patchwork electronic score by Frédéric Talgorn adding to that hazy, coked-out atmosphere familiar to VHS hounds from the era. Like its companion films, this one was released very widely on home video by RCA/Columbia on VHS and laserdisc with eye-catching cover art, but it went mostly into hiding after for a long time once it transferred over to MGM. Eventually the studio issued a mediocre DVD-R from a dated tape master, but the room for improvement was obvious.
In 2022, Vinegar Syndrome finally gave this film a much-needed upgrade with a Blu-ray release including a standard edition and a limited 5,000-unit slipcover edition designed by Chris Barnes. The new 2K scan from the interpositive is a significant improvement, particularly in terms of color saturation and handling of grain, though there's only so much you can do with a film that's pretty murky and drab on purpose. As expected, the matted 1.85:1 presentation adds info to the sides while removing some extraneous areas from the top and bottom. The DTS-HD MA English 2.0 mono track (with optional English SDH) sounds fine with no significant issues. The lively "Ginger's Antics" (12m35s) features Allen having excellent recall about the production from being cast by Towers to going on safari, watching Pleasence upstage the standoffish Vaughn, and the tension her adult background caused with Long. "Well, I Wanna Be an Actor" (18m38s) features actor and special effects assistant / John Buechler protege William Butler (Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III, Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood), who returned to 21st Century with 1990's Night of the Living Dead, happily chatting about his memories of his director, the party atmosphere of the set, his conflicting feeling about working in South Africa, and his involvement behind the scenes in the makeup effects.
VINEGAR SYNDROME (Blu-ray)
Reviewed on October 30, 2022.