Lionsgate // 2007 // 83 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // June 17th, 2008
Fasten your chains.
Two girls, a bus and some cannibals: the motion picture.
When a young lady named Maria (Ann Henson) happens upon an abandoned bus on a desolate road and sees the words "Help Me" scrawled in blood on the window, she is compelled to scope it out. Within the bus she finds a young girl chained to a seat, her face covered with a burlap sack. Something is certainly up.
Before Maria can free the girl, the driver of the bus shows up, and, oblivious to the fact that he has an extra stowaway, takes off. The bus eventually pulls into a remote compound, populated by weirdoes with bad acne that like to chew on human flesh. Suddenly it's a survival fest as Maria and her cohort are relentlessly pursued by a fat, bearded maniac with a nasty-looking ball and chain bludgeoning weapon.
There seems to be a glut of these crazed-wacko-recluse-killers-that-live-in-hovels-in-the-middle-of-the-desert horror movies these days and comparisons between this entry and the Hills Have Eyes movies are unavoidable: backwards, out-of-the-way locale with deformed lunatics wandering around harassing busty ladies, check.
The busty leading lady this go-round is the lively Ann Henson who, unfortunately has her scenes consistently stolen by her bare midriff. She occupies the thankless role of Damsel in Distress, essentially fleeing for her life the entirety of the runtime and occasionally having sharp, pointy objects jammed into her shoulder. And while her screaming and wailing is up to par, I have to give props to the wardrobe department for decking Henson out in one of the least-practical, form-fitting outfits I've seen a horror heroine draped in. Low-rise jeans that cling to the pelvis for dear life and a tank top that seems to be about five sizes too small, mixed with scripted scenes that call for lots and lots of lying on the stomach and leaning over equals some kind of cleavage record.
On the villain side of things, you've got the typical unstoppable redneck killing force. He fits the bill: big, mute, covered in skin blemishes, bearded, but there's nothing noteworthy about him as a heavy. Besides the fact he is heavy. Towards the end, when the mayhem starts to get bloody, the guy takes a pretty good beating, which is about right for the genre. Again, he doesn't inspire terror, but you want to see him get his comeuppance, so that's a small victory.
The gore picks up in the end, but the horror here is generated mainly by the suspense of the pursuits and the mystery behind these cannibal wackos. Unfortunately, some of this "suspense" drags on a little too long, slowing the pace. These lagging sequences kick in while Maria investigates the compound. At times the plodding pace seemed liked writer/director Stephen Goetsch was just trying to pad the runtime. But the momentum picks up toward the end, rocketing to the far-out finale and the big reveal of what's been going on in the middle of nowhere.
The 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is soft but adequate, and the 5.1 surround captures the high-pitched female lamentations. Extras: a soft-spoken audio commentary, a making-of featurette and trailers.
Overall, I'd say Alive or Dead is two notches above mediocre. Worth checking out if you're into the yo-yos-in-the-desert horror genre.
Someone send a state-appointed case worker out to this place immediately.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 83 Minutes
Release Year: 2007
MPAA Rating: Rated R