Buried Alive (1990)

“Buried Alive” is one of the earliest Frank Darabont movies that indicates a lot of what Darabont would have coming for fans of his cinematic outputs. While it’s very much a TV movie, and feels a lot more like an episode of an anthology series than a movie, it’s still a pretty strong revenge thriller overall. “Buried Alive” is dark and bleak from minute one where Tim Matheson is great as an everyday working man and contractor who is a victim of a devious and greedy woman. There’s nothing particularly wrong with his character, he’s just so set in his ways and can’t notice that his wife is a gold digger who has sinister plans for him.

Despite falling backwards in to money, with potential to sell a property for a million dollars, Clint lives with wife Joanna, a young woman who basically puts up with him, and his loyal dog and resents him for passing up an easy payday. Clint is oblivious to Joanna’s affair with a local doctor named Cortland, who convinces Joanna to spike Clint’s drink with a rare poison he extracted from an exotic fish he owns. Despite some initial conflict of conscience, Joanna goes through with the plan and manages to poison Clint who suffers a painful heart attack. So anxious is Joanna to cover up the crime and bury Clint do Joanna and Cortland manage to sabotage their own murder plot. Pair that with a bunch of interesting circumstances that work in Clint’s favor, and things take a turn when he awakens in his coffin and manages to break out with his bare hands.

Anxious to inflict pure revenge on Joanna and her lover, Matheson is great as an average person driven to madness, who becomes something of a monster thanks to his disfigured hands. Clint isn’t a monster when we see him, but gradually he embraces his anger and own darkness, which allows him to inflict painful revenge on Joanna and lover Cortland. Darabont’s “Buried Alive” is deceptively simple, but focuses a lot on the rotten sense of greed and humanity, while picturing a man driven to levels of anger that pictures him about to slaughter his would be widower and her lover with a shot gun. I also really enjoy how Darabont introduces so many interesting plot points that intervene allowing Clint to love through what should have been an easy assassination on Joanna’s part. It’s a neat and subtle hint at fate playing in favor of Clint.

Jennifer Jason Leigh and William Atherton are very good in their respective roles, playing slimy and nasty individuals, both of whom are so rotted with greed that they become each other’s nemeses. All the while Clint is packed with anger and rage, and remains grounded in a sense thanks to the town sheriff who is a good friend of his. All the way through the end what keeps Clint from completely falling prey to evil is his friendship with the sheriff, who is a fine angel on his shoulder the entire time. “Buried Alive” is an underrated and entertaining TV movie that deserves some kind of deluxe edition down the road. The cast are great, and the premise is packed with themes about madness, revenge, and deception that Darabont revels in injecting for the audience.