A slightly above average early 90’s TV movie potboiler from Frank Darabont, future director of high profilers like THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION and THE GREEN MILE. BURIED ALIVE is no classic, but a good cast and memorable climax make for a worthy overnight rental (if you can find it, that is!).
I love “skeletons in the closet,” especially when said closet belongs to a brilliant but increasingly sanctimonious filmmaker like Frank Darabont. THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION and THE GREEN MILE are great films, but the “sweet” and “wholesome” PG-rated MAJESTIC was simply god-awful. BURIED ALIVE (1990), by contrast, is a mean-spirited item that gleefully pushes the boundaries of its FCC imposed TV restrictions.
Of course, Frank Darabont started out his career contributing to the scripts of horror movies like A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 3 (1987) and THE BLOB (1988). BURIED ALIVE was his first stab at directing (not counting his 1983 Stephen King inspired short THE WOMAN IN THE ROOM). Although the film, made for the infamous USA network, is standard TV movie fodder in many respects, it does have redeeming quirky elements. If nothing else, the youthful Darabont definitely assembled a solid cast of seasoned pros: Tim Matheson, William Atherton, Hoyt Axton and the much-loved Jennifer Jason Leigh in an unforgettably nasty turn as one of the most hiss-able villains in recent memory.
The affable Clint, a successful architect, would seem to have it all: a thriving career, a big house and Joanna, a cute blond trophy wife. Unfortunately, Clint is a bit of a dope, not realizing that he’s married the bitchiest woman on earth, or that she’s cheating on him with the slimy Cort, a doctor with whom she’s plotting to do Clint in so they can lap up the insurance money. This Joanna does by giving Clint a poisoned drink that immediately causes him to go into seizures…furthermore, she gives herself away by screaming “Die, damn you!” just before he breathes his last.
But wait: Clint’s not dead! The poison apparently only knocked him out for a few hours, after which he awakens inside a coffin buried in the ground. Joanna, it seems, only shelled out enough for a rotting old casket that Clint easily breaks out of, allowing him to dig his way to the surface.
Back at the house, Joanna and Cort are plotting to leave town. Cort, for his part, has a surprise of his own brewing: he’s about to kill Joanna so he can keep all the loot for himself. Before any of this can go down, however, Clint returns home…and the fun really begins!
The final half hour is by far the best part, as Clint locks Joanna and Cort in the basement while he turns his living room into a giant plywood maze…and then turns his captives loose in it! But Clint’s ultimate revenge is saved for the unforgettable final shot, which I won’t reveal here (hint: read the title!).
As I said earlier, this is standard TV fodder in many respects. The story is achingly predictable and simple minded, the characters are all relentlessly one-dimensional and the best I can say for the filmmaking is that it’s competent. That’s not counting what should be the best part, Matheson waking up in his coffin, which flat-out sucks: the interior of the casket looks big enough for a large refrigerator, and is remarkably well lit considering that it’s supposed to be buried in the ground!
Otherwise, though, I don’t have too many complaints about the direction. It does its job. I liked the attention paid the supporting characters (in particular a hilariously jaded morgue attendant and his squeamish sidekick), and the actors, particularly the inimitable J.J. Leigh, are definitely game.
Universal TV Productions
Director: Frank Darabont
Producer: Niki Marvin
Screenplay: Mark Patrick Carducci
Cinematography: Jacques Haitkin
Editor: Richard G. Haines
Cast: Tim Matheson, Jennifer Jason Leigh, William Atherton, Hoyt Axton, Jay Gerber, Wayne Grace, Donald Hotton, Brian Libby, Peg Shirley, David Youse, Milt Hamerman