Buried Alive, 1990.
Directed by Frank Darabont.
Starring Tim Matheson, Jennifer Jason Leigh, William Atherton and Hoyt Axton.
A man is left buried alive after a failed murder attempt by his wife and her lover.
Before turning his hand to bringing Stephen King’s material to the big screen with acclaimed adaptations of The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile and The Mist, filmmaker Frank Darabont was earning a living as a screenwriter, churning out scripts for the cult horrors A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors, The Blob and The Fly II. He finally stepped behind the camera in 1990 for his first full-length feature, the made-for-television movie Buried Alive, which now comes to DVD in a move that would have tied in nicely with the premiere of the second season of The Walking Dead, if it weren't for Darabont’s controversial departure as showrunner for the award-winning series this past July.
Not to be confused with 1990’s other Buried Alive – an adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe’s The Premature Burial from director Robert Kurtzman – Darabont’s tale sees blue-collar construction company owner Clint Goodman (Tim Matheson) fall victim to a devious plot by his wife, Joanna (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and her lover, the unscrupulous family doctor Cort van Owen (William Atherton). Hoping to dispose of Clint and gain access to his money, Cort supplies Joanna with a vial of poison extracted from a tropical fish, which she then uses on her husband, bringing about the symptoms of a heart attack. Forgoing an autopsy and wake, Joanna instructs an immediate burial but, as the fiendish lovers celebrate their ‘success’, Clint comes to and finds himself trapped six feet beneath the surface of his local cemetery with nothing but thoughts of revenge on his mind (oh, and escape, of course).
Unlike last year’s fantastic contained thriller Buried, the action in Buried Alive doesn’t stay confined to the pine box for long and Clint soon breaks free, dragging himself out of his grave and heading back home to dish out some payback on his would-be murderers. From this point on, Buried Alive is pure revenge thriller as Clint dons himself some good old-fashioned slasher attire (a nice little welding mask-and-overalls combo) before trapping the adulterous pair in the basement and proceeding to dish out a little torment of the ‘husband scorned’ variety.
Although the plot of Buried Alive is fairly predictable, the film benefits immensely from some inventive direction from Darabont, while a capable cast of familiar faces including Matheson (National Lampoon’s Animal House, 1941), Leigh (Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Single White Female), Atherton (Ghostbusters, Die Hard) and country singer Hoyt Axton (Gremlins, We’re No Angels) also helps to elevate it above your typical TV movie standards. Obviously it isn’t a patch on Darabont’s later cinematic efforts, but Buried Alive is still a solid, entertaining thriller that holds up better than expected and is certainly worth checking out, particularly for fans of its director.
Gary Collinson (follow me on Twitter)