Video Hate Squad! TRAPPED ALIVE

Deformed psychopath convicts, inexplicably glamorous backwoods maniacs and rabid subterranean cannibals are just a few of the unexpected gems waiting within TRAPPED ALIVE.

Dir. Leszek Burzynski / 1993 / USA / Action International Pictures / Not on DVD!

The sultry images on the VHS sleeve promise the scalding sexuality of imprisoned women in tattered clothing...and so what? Most people will experience some type of sex in their lives, and torn clothes and imprisonment are available to anyone. NOT as easily accessible are deformed psychopath convicts, inexplicably glamorous backwoods maniacs and rabid subterranean cannibals. These are the unexpected gems waiting to be exhumed from this straight-to-video turdmine.

Action International Pictures (a very different AIP from Roger Corman's American International Pictures) bubbled up into the video market in the late '80s. Their output was reliably crammed with renegade cops, silver spandex and wildly teased perms, all of which carried major weight in the era's rental landscape. But the coming years saw countless companies crowding the shelves with similarly sub-Hollywood product, and AIP ended up flailing in bizarre directions in the hopes of finding a foothold. Suddenly, their unshaven, rule-breaking lawmen took a backseat to everything from supernatural thrillers (Demon Possessed) to zany post-apocalyptic comedies (Road Lawyers). It was a gamble that didn't pay off financially, but like Hammer Studios, the company's death throes resulted in some of their most memorably unusual output.

Trapped Alive arrived just before these end days, an unclassifiable collision of AIP's lowbrow themes of crime, punishment, nudity and horror. High society dames Robin and Monica are en route to a Christmas party when they're carjacked by a trio of escaped prison inmates. The rat-like leader is Face, a cold-blooded child-killer with a wine-colored birthmark and a propensity for sexual intimidation. His right hand neanderthal is Mongo, a 500-lb hair-coated Baby Huey. The third felon is Hot Rod, a heart-of-gold criminal at odds with the world.

In the midst of a life-and-death struggle, the vehicle swerves off the icy road and into an abandoned shaft of the Forever Mine, an ancient coal plant. The crew plummet into the earth and are forced to work together towards an escape, especially when it becomes clear that a subhuman, man-eating creature is stalking them through the darkened tunnels. The cave-crawling slashmonster eliminates characters one by one as rich girl Robin goes increasingly aflutter for Hot Rod. While hooks sink into flesh and blouses are compromised, a useless rural policeman above ground bumbles into bed with the coal mine's nutty proprietress and eventually sorta stumbles towards half-assed heroism.

As was often the case with straight-to-VHS releases, the images (and Victoria's Secret models) on the video box are nowhere to be seen in the movie. Not a big shock, but what may surprise you is the fact that Trapped Alive is pretty dang good. First time filmmaker Burzynski was afforded the luxury of shooting in 35mm, and despite the fact that the movie takes place 300 feet below ground at 1:00 AM, the sets are well-lit and professionally photographed. The effects team worked overtime on the cannibalistic wildman, and the gore-soaked shots of his handiwork are sometimes genuinely nauseating. Shucks, even the acting is decent. Mongo's only other film credit was in Scorsese's The Color of Money, and genre film megastaple Cameron Mitchell (The Toolbox Murders; Deadly Prey) wanders through the plot for a few scenes, showcasing more effort than in most of his post-'70s work.

Trapped Alive was born too late, strangled by its umbilical cord and buried in an unmarked grave. Copies are available for two bucks on Amazon. You could do a hell of a lot worse.