To watch a modern television movie is a much different experience than you would have had thirty years ago. Not even taking into account the debate that rages with streaming films and what constitutes a movie, there are so many high-quality television movies released every year such as the recent Bad Education or The Tale. Back in 1990, the quality of the films that did not have a theatrical run was mixed at best while also being very sporadic in release. This is what makes the creative success of Buried Alive all the more impressive. Developed as a project for USA Network in the summer of 1990, the film rises above its meager trappings in large part due to the talent of director Frank Darabont. The auteur was still a few years away from making classics such as The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile and personal horror favorite The Mist, but this first foray into directing shows clear signs of the innate talent at his disposal. While not one of his best known efforts by a landslide, Buried Alive is a prime example of true creativity breaking through in a made-for-television film.
Immersing yourself in the quaint country lifestyle can be just what one needs to clear their head and forget the troubles of the world. Even if you are not on the placid lake catching some fish for dinner, you are still living where everyone knows you as a friend and people do not rush through life. This lifestyle sounds like paradise to amiable contractor Clint Goodman (Tim Matheson), who returned to his hometown with his wife where they would be in a better place to raise their future children. Unfortunately for Clint, his wife Joanna (Jennifer Jason Leigh) finds the small town life to be a living nightmare, and their attempts to have a baby have not been fruitful. While Clint has been trying to sell Joanna on the perks of country living, Joanna has been finding comfort in doctor Cortland van Owen (William Atherton), who has been making a more and more convincing case for poisoning Clint and running off with him to the big city life in Beverly Hills. Cortland will provide the undetectable poison, and Joanna just has to carry out the deed – which she does. She is finally free to live the life she truly wants after the appropriate amount of fake grieving.
Joanna might want to hold off on popping that champagne just yet. While her use of deadly poison may have made Clint appear deceased, the reports of his demise may have been greatly exaggerated. Sure, he wakes up six feet under ground in the cheapest old pine box money can buy, but that is but a minor obstacle when revenge is on the table. Matheson has been a steady utility player for years, and he does not disappoint in the slightest in this physically demanding role. Matheson has the type of down home charm that makes him feel right at home in the country, but the evil gleam he gets in his eye is deliciously effective in the latter part of the film. Atherton always had something of a knack for playing smarmy with such gusto – just look at Die Hard – and he appears to be channeling all of his past performances into this truly despicable man. As talented as the gentlemen are, it is Jennifer Jason Leigh that proves to be the standout performer of the film. Her character is the worst, but you still kind of love her despite her massive flaws. You want her to get her comeuppance, but you also fear for her life. It is a thrilling balancing act.
Darabont goes for the psychological torture in the latter half of the film as Clint terrorizes these two people who wronged him in such a major way. Rather than revealing his miraculous recovery to the two, he toys with their fracturing psyches in such a fun, deliberate way. The one complaint I would lodge about this film is the unfortunate need to keep things fairly sanitized. The film tackles some dark themes, but there are moments where a bit more visceral violence or some strategically placed cursing could have cranked up the anxiety even more. This is what happens when you have a television network that feels somewhat accountable for the content that makes it to air, and they do not want to deal with offended audience members. Thankfully, Darabont is such a thoughtful talent that he is able to capture the appropriate mood through inventive staging and manipulated aesthetics. Buried Alive might not be considered boundary pushing through a modern lens, but what it was able to pull off over thirty years ago was impressive. All of the individual elements of this production came together to make something truly entertaining that holds up as something noteworthy to this day.
Buried Alive comes to Blu-Ray with a digital AVC encoded 1080p transfer derived from a new 2K master that is quite stunning. The fact that Kino Classics has not only rescued this obscure television film from the deep recesses of the past but has also given it a beautiful presentation is very impressive. This transfer maintains the natural film grain of the source without any hints of digital tinkering. The grain presents as organic rather than overwhelmingly noisy, which allows for greater depth to the image. Overall clarity and detail is incredible, and skin tones are natural and consistent with subtle facial features easily noticeable in closeup. Colors are well saturated with vivid hues popping off the screen, especially in the red of Joanna’s lipstick. Black levels are very deep and hold up well with crush not serving as a noticeable issue. Instances of print damage have been cleaned up immensely, with nary a blemish that stands out. This print is way more lovely than one could ever dream up. Kino Classics should be given major kudos for their work here.
The Blu-Ray disc comes with a DTS-HD 2.0 Master Audio track that accurately captures the intended sound of the film. The rural environmental sounds are rendered well alongside everything else. The bluesy music from Michel Colombier is used well to establish the mood of the story, and this track handles it elegantly throughout the duration of the film. There is never a moment where it threatens to overwhelm competing sounds, and it maintains a good balance so that dialogue comes through clearly. There does not seem to be any majorly noticeable instances of age-related wear and tear. Kino Classics has given this film a perfectly preserved audio presentation that brings the story to life in a most pleasing manner.
- Audio Commentary: Entertainment Journalist and Author Bryan Reesman gives a fact-filled commentary track that is quite lively as he delivers nuggets of information about the talent both in front of and behind the camera, as well as stories from the production. Really worth a listen to have this film put into greater context.
- Interview with William Atherton: A newly-filmed seven-minute interview in which Atherton fondly reflects on his experiences making the film and how its legacy has only continued to grow over the years. It is fun to hear him discuss working with his co-stars and director Frank Darabont.
- Trailers: Trailers are provided for Impulse, Heart of Midnight and Rush.
Buried Alive is a surprisingly effective psychological thriller that shows early evidence of the greatness that was to come from director Frank Darabont. The film conjures up a nice amount of dread without veering too far into anything too exploitative. Kino Classics has delivered a stellar Blu-Ray sporting an unbelievable A/V presentation and some worthwhile special features. If you are a fan of any of the talent involved, you can consider this one a wise investment. Recommended
Buried Alive is currently available to purchase on Blu-Ray and DVD.
Note: Images presented in this review are not reflective of the image quality of the Blu-Ray.
Disclaimer: Kino Classics has supplied a copy of this disc free of charge for review purposes. All opinions in this review are the honest reactions of the author.
Dillon is most comfortable sitting around in a theatre all day watching both big budget and independent movies.