To Love, Peace, and Happiness
The ’80s rebelled against Christmas. Gremlins took fire to consumerism on the studio side, and the low budget, VHS crud started dropping the Silent Night, Deadly Nights of the world. Then there’s Trapped Alive.
Christmas doesn’t matter to Trapped Alive. It’s there to depict trees, lights, and snow in the background. A holiday party shows people happy, having a decent time mingling. Afterward, there’s only cruelty, cynicism, and vileness – and not just on the rogue mine-worker-turned-cannibal. Everyone.
Shot in 1988, Trapped Alive reviles the mine. It’s dark and restrictive, waiting for another cave-in. While there’s little sense of location (this was filmed in Wisconsin), it’s one of those small towns that probably sprung up around industry. Now that’s gone. No works here anymore. In the tiny population, a lawyer, a cop, a few criminals, and a few women. Trapped Alive treats those women pitifully. So it went for the genre in the ‘80s.
… desperate to titillate a male demographic
… desperate to titillate a male demographic
Trapped Alive sells itself with the depiction of a crazed killer, a cannibalistic one at that. He doesn’t show for an hour. That means spending an arduous 60-minutes watching two women get groped, hit, and otherwise abused in the dark. The local sheriff has a brief fling with a married woman in front of a fireplace, so stodgy as to be recast as porn; a pizza delivery kid is a more viable plot.
Once on the prowl, a few kills involve rock catcher. Unique, if impractical. It’s difficult to chase people with a hook mounted on a ceiling, so the characters need to meander into position like cattle. The few spots of gore don’t excite, and certainly not after Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th mainstreamed murder. That doesn’t even consider the litany of underground video offerings of the time.
Without splashy bloodshed, time is spent finding ways to disrobe the three women in the cast. Trapped Alive isn’t subtle about these efforts. Three escaped convicts carjack two of the women, using them as a device to display their worst traits. Sexually frustrated, they take out years of isolation in minutes. It’s too easy and direct, even desperate to titillate a male demographic. The plodding pace and no-budget slayings won’t do it. So, the camera needs something else to do. What it finds it wholly uninteresting schlock without a redeeming core.
This is not easy material for Blu-ray. Most of this is set in the dark with a thick-grained film stock. Arrow’s transfer then is quite spectacular, with plenty of codec breathing room to resolve soucre texture. Even in darker shadows, little (if anything) is lost.
Short of actual film projection, Trapped Alive needed Blu-ray. Murky shadows probably looked like mud on VHS and DVD can’t handle grain this hearty. Trapped Alive is actually visible now, the shadows dense but not crushing.
Even in this minimal light, Arrow’s transfer shows vivid contrast. That’s helped by true black to create dimension, yet brightness is expertly calibrated. Color is enriched too, with some boldness against the dreary backdrops. Saturation holds flesh tones accurately in place, while primaries stand out on dresses and environments.
Rough recording leaves this PCM mix handicapped from the start. Harsh and hollow dialog receives no help once in an echo-y mine. Everything is made worse by scratchy ambient noises, like footsteps brushing over rocks, crunching like static. Treble is a terror.
Trapped Alive offers little help. Not only aged, much of the audio sounds captured live. It’s coarse, but audible and balanced well. The screechy score blends into action without anything lost. For what this is, Arrow’s work keeps things intact.
Three (!) commentaries come up for grabs, the first with director Leszek Burzynski alone. Track two brings in make-up artist Hank Carlson and Josh Hardy. On the third, the podcast hosts of The Hysteria Continues discuss Trapped Alive’s legacy.
Arrow keeps going. There’s Evil Underground runs 31-minutes, interviewing a number of key players to tell the story not only of this movie, but the studio it came from too. Hank Carlson provides his time for an interview running 18-minutes. A fun 1988 local TV show called Upper Michigan Tonight takes their cameras to the shoot to watch the action happen. Burzynski returns to talk about his early work in another interview, running almost 10-minutes.
Image gallery and trailers mark the finale.
Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.
From an era rich in slasher icons, there’s a reason few recall Trapped Alive, but Arrow Video gives it a lavish Blu-ray treatment anyway.
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