Jennifer Jason Leigh
Um, bured alive horror?
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Buried Alive (1990)
2nd Dec 11
Scheming wife finds killing her goodie-two-shoes husband isn’t quite as straightforward as she first thinks... especially when he returns from the grave.
Before he went on to direct and establish his name with a few Stephen King adaptations, director Frank Darabont cut his feature film directing teeth with Buried Alive. With a gleefully nasty feel, loathsome characters and characters returning from the grave to exact their revenge this 1990 made-for-TV movie could almost have come from the same pen that later gave Darabont success with the likes of The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile and The Mist.
Construction company owner Clint Goodman (Tim Matheson) is happy with his lot in life. His wife Joanna (Jennifer Jason Leigh) on the other hand is far from it. She is scheming with her doctor lover Cortland (William Atherton) to kill Clint and make off with the insurance money. To do so Joanna pours a harmful drug into Clint’s glass of wine and watches on as he apparently slips out of our mortal plain.
So far so good as Joanna pushes for a quick burial lest the real nature behind Clint’s apparent demise comes to light. With no autopsy Clint is buried intact and untouched. To save on her pennies Joanna elects for burying him in a cheap wooden coffin.
This is handy for Clint as the coffin lacks the strength to hold a freshly buried man, such as himself, who is far from dead with the drug unexpectedly wearing off. How convenient too that he be buried in a shallow grave too! - Always handy when you unexpectedly wake up alive in a coffin and feeling extremely keen to escape to the surface. Once home it doesn’t take Clint long to figure out what’s gone on. Rather than exact a quick revenge Clint takes to converting his former homestead into a trap for his scheming wife and lover.
Whereas TV produce of late, whether they are serials or movie format, have stars and audience figures that would put most Hollywood blockbusters to shame, back at the tail end of the Eighties TV produce was arguably not very good - especially when it came to TV movies in particular. Where Buried Alive pulls above the norm is in having decent camerawork, energetic direction, a terrific score and in the cast a few faces that can actual pull their weight and deliver.
Hoyt Axton is a stand out as Clint’s fishing buddy and local Sheriff Sam Eberly. Jennifer Jason Leigh too is very good but then she always is, even when staring in generic nonsense such as Single White Female. Tim Matheson plays the prematurely buried Clint Goodman with the right amount of all-round wholesomeness but fails to convince in vengeful mode in the latter half. The same could be said of the rest of the movie too.
After a promising build-up ticking off the usual clichés of having an adulteress wife scheming with her lover to kill off her husband things falter hugely when Clint returns from the grave. The momentum changes and everything starts feeling rushed and forced rather than jumpy and playfully mean as in the first half, dragging Buried Alive back to being distinctly average despite the best efforts of generally all concerned.
For those curious to see how the creator-director of the award winning The Walking Dead, and aforementioned Stephen King adaptations, started out - Buried Alive is worth watching. For those seeking out a decent thriller; you’ve seen better - it’s just a shame that the excellent initial set-up evened out to become something distinctly average.