The Shawshank Redemption. The Green Mile. The Mist. Frank Darabont has directed some of the most heart warming, shocking and memorable films of the last twenty years, so when the opportunity to see the directorial debut of such a great film maker comes along you should jump at the chance. But in the case of Buried Alive, you should look before you leap.
The first thing I should say, and it's important to remember, is that Buried Alive was a made for TV movie, meaning that my expectations were automatically low, but this film some how manages to dance on the line of good TV movie and bad theatrical release.
Clint Goodman (Tim Matheson) is a small town boy who has returned to his roots after spending ten years in New York City and he nows runs a small but successful business with a potential big money buy out he doesn't care for on the horizon. Clint's wife Joanna (Jennifer Jason Leigh), an NYC girl who hates her new life in the country, is having an affair with Dr. Cortland van Owen (William Atherton) and they both want Clint out of the picture to sell his business and start a clinic in Beverly Hills.
Not content with hiring a hitman or making sure Clint has an accident at work, Cortland has a plan to kill his lover's husband using the poison from one of his rare fish. Joanna is in two minds over whether or not to murder her husband and bins the poison, but after a row before dinner she decides to bite the bullet and poison Clint's wine. Clint starts to cardiac arrest almost instantly after ingesting his deadly drink and is prompted declared dead by his physician Dr. van Owen.
Wanting her husband in the ground as quickly as possible and refusing to pay for a top of the line coffin, Joanna has Clint buried the day after he dies and promptly sells his business and cashes in his life insurance. However, Joanna's botched her murder attempt by not giving Clint enough of the poison and he comes to six feet under. Having punched his way out of his cheap coffin, Clint climbs out into the night and sets about seeking his revenge.
These days, Darabont is equally known for his work in television having directed episodes of The Shield and shepherding The Walking Dead onto the air but Buried Alive is nowhere near as impressive. The vast majority of the dialogue, costume design, sets and acting are all of a low standard by today's televisual standards and the method of murder is would be considered weak for an episode of Murder, She Wrote.
However, there are some very positive elements of Buried Alive that show glimpses of Darabont's future genius. For the most part the direction is pedestrian at best with some really shocking use of slow motion but the claustrophobia you feel seeing Clint struggle to break out of his leaking coffin is palpable and really well shot given the tools at his disposal.
Clint's revenge is creative bordering on demented, luring his wife and her lover into the cellar and then turning his house into a wooden maze come coffin, something you'd scoff at in the cinema but somehow works really well for a TV movie. The film being on the small screen as opposed to the big allows it to break certain cliches and conventions and as such heightens the tension, not only because there is genuine tension but because we slowly become to expect the unexpected, Clint's “autopsy” being a prime example.
Thanks to some interesting twists and a boat load of cheesy yet impressive one-liners, Buried Alive very much lends itself to being watched on a drunken night in with the lads and holds the honour of being able to both entertain and be ridiculed. It's not a fair representation of Darabont's talent and it's release is no doubt down to the similarly named and themed Buried, but if you're really stuck for a thriller to watch this Halloween you could do worse than Buried Alive.
Buried Alive is available on DVD for the first time through Second Sight from October 17th.