Buried Alive 1990
Directed by: Gerard Kikoine
Starring: Robert Vaughn, Donald Pleasence, Karen Witter
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
The tag-lines that were sprawled across this colourful cover would lead you to believe that it was more of a zombie adventure. ‘Some secrets are best left buried. But will they stay there?‘ and ‘The dead return!‘ make this sound as if it’s yet another attempt at a Dawn of the Dead rip-off. Bizarrely enough, these marketing ‘errors’ were seen a lot more than they should have been during the eighties, check: Embalmed, Ghost Keeper and Zombie Island Massacre for proof. I bought it anyway, as it was one of those titles that I had seen many times gathering dust on the top shelf of my local VHS emporium, and I often wondered what it was like. (Stalk and slash films aren’t my only vice, you know.) Anyway it turned out to be pure slasher cheese, right down to a masked killer preying on young female students in an all girl reform school.
I was also interested that this claimed to be adapted from the works of Edgar Allan Poe. By this, they mean the short story (one of his best) ‘Premature Burial’. There’s a TV movie that goes by the identical title and was released during the same year (although this was made twenty-four months earlier) that was also based on that novel.
It opens with some gloomy shots of an eerie looking building silhouetted by the foggy night sky. The sign outside reads ‘Ravens croft Reform School’ and Inside we see a group of teenage girls all deeply sleeping, except for one dark-haired youngster who looks as if she’s packing her things to make a daring escape. She puts her rucksack on her back and heads towards the exit. Just before she leaves, her friend calls her back and gives her a leaving present – a blue switch-blade – and then she says her goodbyes and heads out into the misty night sky.
She hotfoots it through the woods, until she spots a car driving along a road in the distance. She takes a break for just a second, and all of a sudden a masked assailant jumps out from within the bushes and violently knocks her on to the floor. He picks her up and drops her into a man made pothole and she falls into a corrugated steel tube that leads into a dank and spooky underground chamber. She awakes to see the grisly psycho standing menacingly above her. He injects her with a sedative, puts her in a straight jacket and then drags her by the feat to a cramped cell-like room. Once inside the assassin begins to brick and cement up the doorway, effectively leaving her ‘Buried Alive’…
Next we meet a young science teacher named Janet Pendleton (Karen Witter) who has just got a job teaching at the college. We also see the head doctor Gary Julian (Robert Vaughn), his twitchy assistant Dr. Schaeffer (Donald Pleasence) and a group of bitchy female co-eds who enjoy nothing more than pulling each others hair out. (Later quite literally) When another girl goes missing from the campus, Janet becomes suspicious and investigates the history of Ravenscroft, only to find a sincere and shocking secret. But who is it that is violently killing the young helpless girls?
With a cast including Robert Vaughn, Donald Pleasence, John Carradine and porn star Ginger Allen, and a plot that pits a group of saucy female co-eds against a vicious psychopath, Buried Alive should have had enough in its manbag to offer a decent entry to the cycle. Gerard Kikoine attempts to seduce you with his claim that this is adapted from the twisted mind of that famous author, but to be honest, apart from the odd black cat popping up here and there, it’s standard stalk and trash. In fact, it is so weakly put together that even the generous amount of genre luminaries seemed to succumb to the ‘pitiful performance’ bug. I mean, what the hell was Donald Pleasence thinking here? I never thought that I could describe one of his characterisations as ‘obnoxious’ – a million miles away from his legendary Sam Loomis. It probably didn’t help to put him in a dodgy toupee and a give the Nottinghamshire-born Brit a role that required a German accent. Anyway, he is by no means the only one here to be slummmmmmmmmingggggg… (Ahem, Mr Vaughn…!)
The screenplay by Jake Chesi must have been written in the director’s native French, translated to Swahili and then put through the Google translate equivalent of those days to make it look this jumbled. In one scene Miss Pendleton has another of her strange nightmares, which begun plaguing her as soon as she arrived on campus and reached quadruple figures before the final credits rolled. She ends up lying on the floor, panting, sweating and hysterically screaming. Dr Julian witnesses this unsettling episode and instead of rushing to her aid, asks with the oomph of water-logged crisp packet, ‘Is something wrong?’ I was expecting a sarcastic response along the lines of, ‘No, this is generally how I relax myself to sleep’ – but the screenwriter didn’t gives us that pleasure, unfortunately. Also at one point the doctor asks the shaky heroine if she’ll marry him. No harm in that you may think; but the funny thing is, the two of them only met a couple of days earlier. I kept wondering if I had fallen asleep for a while. I’m all for being spontaneous, but Mr Vaughn dear sir, I would at least recommend a substantial prenup.
I enjoyed the creative ways that they dreamed up to kill off the cast though. They included a painful looking electrocution, a trough in the side of the head and a young girl that gets buried up to her waste in wet cement. When she screams for help, she gets her mouth ‘concreted’ to shut her up. The director at least shows promise with a couple of decent ideas, including some morbid shots of the rotten corridors of the creepy chamber, which are accompanied by the victim’s screams as they get dragged off to their demise. Each unlucky individual spots a black cat before they are dispatched, which as I earlier alluded to, is the only real noticeable element lifted from Poe. I remember also at least one very gory scene that will liven you up if you end up nodding off. A female teen is curling her hair on a food mixer (?) when she’s scared by an unseen menace (presumably the masked maniac), and ends up drilling into her head and pulling her hair completely off of her scalp…Ouch!
It’s also worth noting that the killer sports a Reagan mask to disguise his identity. This is interesting because Reagan’s rein was notorious for many things, and one of them was cutting the federal funding for mental institutions across the US, which meant many people still needing treatment were thrown out on to the street. I was thinking that maybe this was a slight dig at those policies, but then I wasn’t sure if I was right in crediting such an inane script with hidden intelligence.There’s really no point in including subliminal political statements in a screenplay, if you can’t develop characters, dialogue or even common sense; but hey ho.
This was the last film that John Carradine worked on before his untimely death in 1988, which sadly wasn’t the greatest to close the curtain on a five-decade career in the movies with. It’s not that it doesn’t try; it’s just that with a cast of sexy youngsters that were only too eager to reveal some skin, a decent enough budget and some senior faces with bundles of experience, the movie really shouldn’t have been this dull. Kikoine had worked with Jess Franco for years and although I am no great fan of his, we could have used some of his exploitation leering to liven things up. It’s occasionally interesting but mostly predictable and long winded.
Although it pains me to steer you away from the slasher genre and into the land of thriller features, I must admit that you’re better off taking a look at the other made for TV flick with the same moniker…it’s a much stronger effort and this one is sadly best left in the bargain bucket…
Final Girl √√
Directed by: Jamie Blanks
Starring: Denise Richards, David Boreanaz, Marie Shelton
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Director Jamie Blanks split critics with Urban Legend, his debut movie. Some called it brainlessly entertaining, whilst others just called it brainless. Looking back, it was actually one of the better efforts that shamelessly jumped on the Scream bandwagon. Good enough to garner two sequels and it showed that the director knew how to build tension and had an eye for stylish photography. For his return to the sub-genre he loved, Blanks put a popular cast together, including Denise Richards and David Boreanaz and went back to the roots of the slasher cycle’s trappings to terrorize an annual day of celebration. His choice was Valentine’s Day, the same that was (pick) axed in 1981 by director George Milhalka and his gas masked bogeyman, Harry Walden.
Despite its large fan base, the original My Bloody Valentine was not as successful as the producers had hoped for upon its initial release. It was only much later that the film really began to achieve its status as a slasher classic. The Special Edition disc that finally brought back the majority of the gore sequences was a fantastic moment for the genre and the film has acquired a new generation of followers.
Blanks’ second attempt at slashtastic success was released eight-years before the remake of My Bloody Valentine hit screens, and I went to catch it at the cinema on its opening night. Despite not having any link to the aforementioned Canadian classic, I have often thought that the idea here was to at least pay homage to that film. Perhaps the original plan was to produce a remake, but in the end they just settled for a theme that was close instead. Aside from the obvious link that both stories take place on the same date, the psycho has an extremely similar calling card. It’s also worth noting that even though this claims to be an adaptation of Tom Savage’s novel, there’s little more than a few characters and a title that has been ported over from the book to the big screen. This aided my belief that they set out to modernise, albeit unofficially, one of the slasher category’s long standing fan favourites, My Bloody Valentine. Either way, I hoped that Blanks could at least manage to capture some of the vibe that was so prominent over at Valentine Bluffs back in 1981. If that was too much to ask, then duplicating the fun that he had with Urban Legend would be good enough for me…
It starts with a pre-teen valentine disco set in 1988. A bespectacled young boy heads on the dance floor looking for a young female to share a dance with. First he approaches Shelly (later played by Katherine Heigl) who embarrassingly rebuffs him. His charm doesn’t seem to work with Lilly (Jessica Cauffer), Paige (Denise Richards) or Kate (Marley Shelton) either; they all send him packing mercilessly. His luck changes when Dorothy (Jessica Capshaw) actually acknowledges him and the twosome leave hand in hand. They are later caught kissing under a bench by a gang of bullies. In order to save her own self from persecution, Dorothy accuses the youngster of attacking her and so the gang decides to take their own revenge. They cover him in red goo, strip him and chase him onto the dance floor where they proceed to beat him up. You already know that this kind of stuff usually turns someone in to a violent mass murderer.
Fast forward ten years and the girls have become women. No one is sure what happened to Jeremy (the unfortunate kid from the prologue) as he disappeared after that dance. It’s close to Valentine’s Day and they each receive a card signed with a poetic threat to their lives. They soon begin to take them seriously when Shelly is found with her throat sliced. Before long a mysterious masked madman stalks each of them leaving Kate and her boyfriend Adam (David Boreanaz) to work out that she’s next on the psycho’s list…
From the off, Valentine certainly looks the business. The healthy production values have been put to good use and the photography is sharp and confident in places. The director shows some real creativity in some of his twisting shots and I liked how he managed to keep the energy rampant for the first half an hour of the feature. At times, I really felt like I had been transported back to the eighties and I enjoyed the attempts to camp the tone up enough to align the film more closely with its stalk and slash forefathers. Parody is nothing new for these titles after Kevin Williamson, but Blanks demonstrates a fondness for the category and has fun with the trademarks instead of mocking them.
We’ve got a cast of actors that have more experience than usual, but there’s no denying the fact that their attractiveness played a huge part in the success of their auditions. Denise Richards spends the majority of her screen-time pouting and posturing at the camera and even though she looks amazing, it quickly becomes obvious that her performance motivation for the role was something along the lines of, “Denise, just treat the camera like a pole in a strip club”. Sadly, if ever the phrase ‘looks aren’t everything’ could be applied specifically to a movie, then Valentine is that film. It lacks the fundamentals to back up the quality of the make-up and wardrobe department’s work on the faces and bodies of its stars. Fundamentals such as: momentum, intrigue, suspense and realism. It reminds me of those house plants that you see in Ikea that are made of plastic. They most certainly look the part, but in the end, they’re just a hollow decoration.
The murders are surprisingly weak and gore-free (perhaps an attempt to gain the most lenient rating possible), which may have worked for Halloween because John Carpenter used precision to make sure that each killing was extremely suspenseful. The problem here is that Jamie Blanks is no John Carpenter. There’s a chase sequence early on that was tight and brilliantly crafted, but the rest simply felt rushed and unplanned. The nut job does indeed look creepy in a cherub mask and the blood trickling from his nose after he dispatches each victim was a neat little touch. Nevertheless, there aren’t enough of those pleasing elements to add up to a satisfying whole and mostly Valentine fails to excite.
Another problem is that the characters are incomprehensibly self indulgent and morally extracted and it’s simply impossible for them to win over the audience. I know that the story demanded some narcissism from its players, but I still needed someone to root for, you know? Donna Powers’ screenplay was lacking a central character that we could relate to and it really left a heart-candy sized hole in the runtime. What’s wrong with a ‘shy reclusive’ type of final girl? I truly believe that the Laurie Strode style of protagonist was perhaps one of the most successful things about early stalk and slash entries. In fairness, much like the amusing Shallow Hal from a few years later, the film does try to convey a deep rooted message about our current obsession with image. It’s a poorly delivered social commentary though and the point is never made with any class or strength.
Jamie Blanks proved last time out that he has what it takes to be a decent filmmaker; however I would consider his second attempt to be a step-backwards. There are some very good elements (the killer was mega creepy), but as a whole it can’t escape its overall feeling of, well, nothingness. It’s a shame that he couldn’t have made more of the talented cast and a competent budget; but in the end, Valentine just feels like a bottle of vodka on a stag night – totally empty. This mystery aspect and the ‘twist’ just about worked when I saw this in the cinema. So what do Warner Bros go and do? Well they ruined it for home video fans by giving away the killer’s identity on the back cover.
Cupid certainly missed when he fired the arrow of fortune toward this bleeding heart…
Final Girl √
Scream Uncut 1996
Directed By: Wes Craven
Starring: Neve Campbell, Courtney Cox, Rose McGowan
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
When I was growing up on the mean streets of London, I never really shared my love for slashers with the kids that I associated with. I guess it’s because it can be considered a strange hobby. Why do I spend so much money and effort tracking down these rarities? I mean they hardly ever offer any artistic reward. It’s also a topic that can be somewhat misinterpreted. Does the politically correct brigade think it is right for someone to watch horror movie after horror movie? Nowadays I couldn’t care less, but back in those times, it wasn’t something that I particularly wanted to broadcast.
When my girlfriend of the time came around and told me that she’d just seen Scream, she unwittingly opened a crammed can of worms that she probably regrets to this day. I revealed to her my darkest secret – my love of the humble slasher – and took great pleasure in setting up a planned viewing schedule for the next twenty years.
I had an excuse from then on to roll out the stalk and slash collection with lines like, ‘It’s just like Scream’ or ‘Remember, you said that you loved Scream…’! Now you know why we are no longer in contact…
We all know by now that Wes Craven’s tribute to the slasher genre reinvigorated the cycle and gave it another gallon of petrol in the tank that would keep DTV merchants in business long after its day of release. Looking back though after all these years, is it really that good? Does it deserve to share the stage with Halloween?
A small Californian town that is still reeling from a ruthless murder a year earlier becomes the target of a masked killer. A group of youngsters realise that the psycho is playing games that follow the rules set out in the movies. Do they have enough knowledge of the guidelines to know what they need to do to survive?
All great horror movies need the right opening sequence. It’s an unwritten rule. How many truly scary films have you seen that don’t start with an edge of your seat intro? That’s right, there are none that I can think of either. Scream raises the bar from that terrific and startling launch scene; – and the first victim to get slashed is a seasoned Hollywood star. I remember being intoxicated on my initial viewing, especially with the line, ‘I want you to drive down the street to the Mackenzie’s house‘. It was like all my secret passions were being rolled out for examination for a new generation and it captivated me.
Whilst we are on the subject of rules, Scream is notorious for underlining the majority of them and twisting them inside out to make good use of their repetition. Almost every victim here puts up a good fight with the antagonist and none of them fall foul of making the usual bad route of escape decisions. What sets Scream apart from the likes of Return to Horror High and April Fool’s Day, which also attempted to mock the trappings, is that it pays homage with more intelligence and a higher form of cinematic energy that only an adept horror craftsman could have provided. Craven uses every trick in his repertoire and let’s none of them go to waste. Some of the photography here, like the shot of Sidney’s house in the sunset, is breathtaking and I loved the bouncing movement in the looming tracking shots. Despite Craven’s standing in horror as one of the greats, he is not the most consistent filmmaker and is as capable of releasing a big miss (Shocker) as he is of helming a skilled submission (Deadly Blessing). Here he finds the perfect balance of his trademarks and it’s among the best titles of his illustrious resume.
The film’s true quality is in its witty self reference and ability to take each mood to its maximum potential. The gags are fresh and don’t feel overdone, but when Scream wants to be scary, it does so with ease. There’s something foreboding about the way that the killer is always one step ahead of his intended prey and his ruthless ‘games’ take the development of his victims to a new level. These guys don’t want to die and through good acting and smart scripting, you share their suffering. During the first sequence, Casey is dragged to her doom whilst still clenching her phone. When her parents return to the smashed up abode, the first thing they do is attempt to get on the line to the police. What they hear is the dying breath of their daughter as she is pulled along the ground, because she is still connected. It’s a grimly disturbing set-piece and sets a tone that plays in stark contrast with the lighter moments. The fact that a recognised movie face was the one getting slaughtered gives Scream an ‘anything can happen’ vibe and it continues with its panache for breaking limitations. Newcomer Kevin Williamson’s script is sharp, but is guilty of perhaps expecting a tad too much from some of its gimmicks. With that said, it is never feels underwritten or lacking in continuity.
The performances are excellent throughout, with a career best (in movies) for Courtney Cox and a solid turn from all of the youngsters. I especially appreciated Matthew Lillard’s ‘break all boundaries’ portrayal and Skeet Ulrich handled the different depths that we were meant to see in his character with finesse. What I didn’t like about the movie and it is perhaps due to personal taste was the conceited MTV style of its charecterisations. I much prefer a set up like Freak or Coda that casts its characters as normal everyday folk, because it makes the terror seem much closer to home. Take a walk through your local town on a Saturday afternoon, how many rich, beautiful people do you see? Are they the type that fill you with sympathy? Can you truly relate to someone with a sugar daddy and a smug air of arrogance? Maybe it’s because I am a working class kid that grew up in worst parts of London, but personally I prefer to go for realism. I can’t remember the last time that I felt true bonding with a modern day slasher heroine. Perhaps I am just getting old.
Scream’s comedic style hasn’t aged well and it’s interesting that whilst being the launch pad for the modern day slasher, it suffered the same fate as it’s forefather, Halloween and was blatantly copied to death. After not watching this for ten or more years, the movie had lost some of its impact, but that’s only because I have seen all these tricks more recently in poorer clones. Scream still made my heart beat rapidly, which is a feeling that I’m always looking for, but struggle to find in the newer flicks that I watch. Perhaps my biggest regret is that I never saw this at the cinema when it was first released, because I can imagine it being an absolutely amazing experience, especially for true fans of the genre like us.
This is still a SLASH above when it comes to horror films and shows what can be done with the slasher genre if it is well funded and competently produced. Buy some popcorn and a few beers and give it another blast. I’m glad that I did.
Final Girl √√