Buried Alive

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.

"The Earth is suffocating. Swear to cut me open, so that I will not be buried alive."

Frederic Chopin

The villain has the hero incapacitated. Maybe he drugged him/her. Maybe he conked him/her on the head with an inanimate carbon rod. Maybe, and this seems unlikely, the hero has willingly given himself/herself to the villain.

Does the bad guy shoot the good guy in the head? Cut his throat? Decapitate him? Stick him in an elaborate, above ground Death Trap? Nope. He's got something far worse planned: he's going to bury the hero. Alive.

Sometimes, he'll tie the hero up before dumping him/her in the coffin. If the villain's a sporting sort of fellow, he'll provide a flashlight or an air canister. Regardless, the villain is going to kill the hero in one of the most appalling ways imaginable.

There's a wide range of reasons a bad guy does this. He might be righteously angry at the hero and is intent on making him suffer for past mis-deeds. ("37 years ago you stole my Froot Loops at recess. Now, it's payback time!") It could be a matter of security; there's no murder weapon and you don't have to worry about disposing of the body, since, hey, you just did. Often, however, it's just a matter of the villain being a sadistic prick.

Of course, as with most forms of killing the hero that favor cruelty over efficiency, the hero frequently manages to dig their way out of this, or a sidekick will pop out of the bushes and dig him up the moment the villain is satisfied and leaves.

Heroes generally don't do this, even to bad guys. It's a pretty awful thing to do to another human being, no matter how evil they really are. The exception to that, such as it is, comes when the hero blows up an ancient building or tomb while the villain remains inside. If the bad guy survives the blast and falling debris, he'll technically be buried alive. But that's not really the same thing, and usually treated more as a Sealed Evil in a Can situation. Another exception is when the villain has already done the same kind of thing to the hero or one of his friends, in which case it can be seen as a form of Karmic Death.

Very popular because it really does touch on something that just creeps the living hell out of human beings. Claustrophobia in general is obviously widespread, and the specific fear of being buried alive is just slightly less so.

Occasionally, cases like these will actually pop up in real life, though obviously not with the same frequency as they do in fiction. In the days before modern medicine, it was more common for it to happen as an accident when the doctors made a mistake about whether someone was really dead. Urban legend has it that this is why people used to have wakes, but there is little to no historical data that supports this.

Overlaps with Sealed Room in the Middle of Nowhere, and sometimes with Quicksand Sucks. A beautiful example of Nightmare Fuel. If this is done to a character because he can't be killed, it's And I Must Scream. Despite its categorization, this isn't restricted to the horror genre, as you can see in the examples.

A close cousin of this is the "Sand Neck Tie", where a character is buried up to their neck in sand, with the intention of death from the incoming tide, dehydration or nasty animal-related death.

Examples of Buried Alive include:

Complete Burial

Anime and Manga

  • Mazinger Z: The Dragon and Two-Faced Cyborg Baron Ashura was originally two persons were buried alive together for being caught trying to break their Star-Crossed Lovers destinies. One half of each body was destroyed, so he stitched them together to create Ashura.
  • Naruto
    • A Filler episode has a villain who isn't satisfied just doing this—he first holds a funeral where all the attendants have to just stand there while the guy in the casket is screaming his lungs out and pleading for his life. Raiga would recall the "good memories" they shared and "forgive" them for betraying his trust... right before proceeding with the burial.
    • There's also Gaara, who can do this with his sand to restrain particularly tough enemies, though he generally prefers the less subtle technique of making them implode.
    • Later on, in the second season, Shikamaru uses explosives to dismember Hidan and then buries him in the middle of a forest. Because Hidan's special power is immortality, his head is cursing Shikamaru as it's buried. However, Hidan is not TRULY immortal; he has to keep killing people with his Jashinist ritual to retain eternal life. So rather than sitting in that filled hole living forever, he gets to die...
  • In Mirai Nikki (Diary of the Future), this trope is combined with Drowning Pit when Yuki's friends, in their effort to rescue Yuki from Yuno's lair, where she has him chained up, find themselves in a Death Trap room that's slowly filling with liquid concrete.
  • Happens to Sango in her first appearance on Inuyasha, though not on purpose. She claws her way out by herself like the Badass that she is, though it certainly helped that is was a rather shallow grave because she was buried en masse with a bunch of slaughtered villagers.
  • Ranma ½
    • Happōsai one time chained Ranma up, sealed him in concrete, and then buried him in the backyard.
    • Ryôga tried to do this to an ensorcelled Female!Ranma after drugging her with sleeping powder. She woke up just as he was digging the grave, though.
  • In Hell Girl, this is how Ai and her parents died.
  • One later chapter/episode of Cardcaptor Sakura has Sakura trapped in the bottom of a magically-sealed pit (so no-one else can get to her). Then, plush sheep start to fill in the pit form above, threatening to bury her alive. Thinking quickly, Sakura escapes the trap by adapting the Erase card to remove the sheep. It was all just another test to hone her magic skills and help her adapt more Clow Cards into Sakura Cards.
  • In the manga Goth, one of the chapters has a murderer who buries his victims alive in his backyard with a bamboo pole connecting the coffin to the air above. Afer keeping them alive for a little while, he sticks a hose into the pole and floods the coffin, drowning the person below. As seen by the number of poles sticking out of the ground in his backyard, you can be sure he's been doing this for a while.

Comic Books

  • One issue of Tales from the Crypt has a tale of a man who was hanged and declared dead. The twist was that his neck was broken but his spinal cord was not severed—so he was still very much alive. He went on to be a complete b*stard to the town that had punished him, because it was impossible to prosecute a legally dead man for any crime. However, some of his enemies decided to use that loophole to their advantage as well, because there is nothing in the world wrong with burying a dead man, either....
  • A story from The Haunt of Fear, "Chatter-Boxed!", set in December 1941, features an elderly man who suffers from catalepsy, making him appear dead when he isn't. He leaves instructions to be buried with a telephone, allowing him to call for help lest he regain consciousness. Sure enough, he is buried after having an episode behind the wheel and does exactly that, only to find every phone line tied. After futilely trying to get a call through and finally running out of oxygen, the operator angrily snaps at the man's blue-faced corpse for being ignorant of what's just taken place: the bombing of Pearl Harbor.
  • Batman
    • This happens in Batman R.I.P. Interestingly, they plan not to kill Batman, but merely wait for him to be permanently brain-damaged, believing killing Batman's mind is more important than killing his body. He escapes. And he's P*SSED....
    • Happens again in a recent Batman story arc, done by The Joker to Dr. Hurt. The guy slips on a banana peel the Joker planted, breaks his neck (paralyzing him), then gets injected with Joker Venom and buried alive while still under its effects. Oh, and Dr. Hurt is immortal, so he's stuck, paralyzed and laughing at himself forever inside of a coffin six feet in the ground. Though it's not like the Joker didn't WARN the guy first (see Batman: R.I.P.), and to be fair Hurt did kind of deserve it.
    • Happened to Nightwing in the later run of his book. Instead of the usual version of going up, Nightwing went to the side, as the grave was near the edge of a cliff.
  • In the first arc, "Public Enemies", of Superman/Batman, Metallo shoots Superman with a kryptonite bullet, and buries Superman and Batman alive. They escape, and Alfred removes the bullet.
  • Done in a Sam and Max Freelance Police comic.

"Buried alive?! I'm alarmed!"
"We're going to shoot you first."
"Oh, thank god."

  • A Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers story centers around Fat Freddy dying. Turns out he was really under some very powerful drugs, and he bursts out of his grave, not at all happy.
  • As part of his final scheme in "Kraven's Last Hunt", Kraven the Hunter shot Spider-Man with a tranq dart and buried him alive outside his estate. Kraven then went on to assume the identity of Spider-Man, until Peter finally dug himself out.
  • Michael Myers kills Lisa this way in the comic Halloween: Nightdance.

Films -- Animation

  • This almost happened in Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs; the Queen figured that once Snow White was apparently killed, her protectors, the dwarves would accidentally ensure her real death by burying her alive. Fortunately, they didn't have the heart to do so.
  • The title character of Tim Burton's Vincent, in the throes of one of his Vincent Price/Roger Corman/Poe fantasies, believes he's buried his wife alive, and digs up his mother's flower bed trying to "retrieve" her.

Films -- Live-Action

  • Pretty much the whole point of the movie The Vanishing, and its Dutch original film and book, which are Spoorloos and Het Gouden Ei, respectively.
  • Budd does this to the Bride in Kill Bill: Volume 2. She escapes, though not without difficulty.
    • What makes it really creepy, however, is that the entire Buried Alive scene is the shown from the The Bride's POV. Which means that several minutes of the movie consists of heavy breathing and total darkness.
    • Interestingly, Budd gives her a flashlight when he does so, as both a sign of respect and knowing it could help her escape.
  • Roger Corman's film adaptations of Poe's stories often played with this trope. His version of The Fall Of The House Of Usher had Roderick purposely bury his sister alive, to keep her from marrying and perpetuating their cursed, criminal family line. Corman's version of The Pit And The Pendulum featured a character being driven mad by the idea that he may have buried his wife alive accidentally. And his take on The Premature Burial ends with the main character seeing his worst fears realized.
  • In the film The Serpent and the Rainbow, an anthropologist goes to Haiti to explore the phenomenon of real-life "zombies": people who have been drugged into catatonic states, buried, and then resurrected to work as slaves. He gets an uncomfortably up-close and personal lesson on what such an experience is like.
  • In Romeo Is Bleeding, this is the fate of the mob boss. He's also forced to dig his own grave.
  • The movie Guarding Tess.
  • In The Prestige Robert Angier does this to Alfred Borden's assistant both for revenge and to keep him busy digging, instead of going after him.
  • There were two Buried Alive movies, each one beginning with a spousal near-death by poisoning and subsequent rushed funeral (which apparently skips autopsy and embalming altogether). After this, the intended victims wake up, dig their way out, and plot elaborate revenge for their unfaithful spouse and his/her lover.
  • In the movie Dirty Harry, Scorpio demands ransom from the city of San Francisco after he kidnaps a teenage girl. He claims his prisoner only has enough air to last until 3:00 a.m. the following morning. When he gets the ransom, he says "I changed my mind. I'm going to let her die." When Harry Callahan catches up to Scorpio on a football field, he uses the Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique to make him give up the girl's location, but when the police dig her up, it turns out the poor girl's already dead.
  • The movie Ghost Story begins with characters telling a scary story about a man buried alive and scratching at the inside of his coffin, yelling out "Still aliiiive...".
  • In The Burrowers, the title monsters paralyze their victims and bury them up to their noses in dirt.
  • The Wrath of Khan: "I've done far worse than kill you. I've hurt you. And I wish to go on hurting you. I shall leave you, as you left me... as you left her. Marooned for all eternity in the center of a dead planet -- buried alive!"
  • The Val Lewton Film Isle of the Dead. There's a character who's greatest fear is being buried alive. At the end of the film, while she's in a cataleptic trance and is mistaken for dead (there's a plague going around at the same time), someone seals her in a coffin and sets it in an empty room. The camera pans away.
  • At the end of The Candy Snatchers, a woman is buried alive... and a child with Down's Syndrome accidentally shoots her captors before they can either dig her up or inform anyone of where she is. Then the child walks away, quickly forgetting what just happened, condemning her to death. A rare effective Diabolus Ex Machina.
  • In the movie Oxygen a kidnapper (played by Adrien Brody) buries a rich woman alive and demands ransom from her husband within 24 hours.
  • In Blood Simple, Ray does this to Marty, more out of panic (he's discovered that Marty's still alive, after assuming that Abby shot him to death) than sadism.
  • In Casino, Frank Marino and company do this to Dominic and Nicky after beating them senseless with baseball bats.
  • The '70s Made for TV Movie The Screaming Woman concerned a wealthy woman who hears screams emanating from beneath the grounds of her estate and realizes someone has been buried alive there, but cannot get anyone to believe her.
  • Ashley Judd's duplicitous husband does this to her in Double Jeopardy. As she tries to follow her "son" through a cemetery, her husband comes up behind her, knocks her out, and drags her into a mausoleum. When she comes to, she is horrified to realize that she's been placed in a coffin. Though she technically hasn't been buried.
  • The entire point of the film Buried, in which Ryan Reynolds plays a civilian contractor in Iraq who has been kidnapped by insurgents and, well, buried. The film follows his various attempts to secure a rescue via a cell phone with a dwindling battery.
  • Hellraiser Hellworld A vengeful father has dosed the party-goers with a powerful hypnotic, and buried them in a row of coffins. He leaves them ventilation tubes so he can influence and listen in on their nightmarish hallucinations.
  • In the film Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence, Celliers is buried up to his neck in sand as a method of execution.
  • One of the victims in Uncle Sam is knocked unconscious with spray paint, has his leg broken, and is knocked into an empty grave, which is then filled in.
  • Imhotep was wrapped up and buried alive in The Mummy for attempting to raise the dead Anck-es-en-Amon. The remake ups the ante by burying him alive with flesh eating scarabs.
    • In the backstory of the 2017 remake, Princess Ahmanet is given this as punishment for murder, the "tomb" she is interred in being designed as her prison.
  • This accidentally happens to the doctor's wife in Tremors when one of the Graboids drags the car she is hiding in underground.
  • This is averted in What Did You Do In The War, Daddy?. Captain Cash is mistaken for a German Colonel who is believed to be dead, and while he is unconscious, he is put in a coffin for burial. But when the Germans bury the coffin, it falls through into the catacombs beneath the city, the coffin breaks, and Captain Cash wakes up and climbs out unharmed.
  • Godzilla gets buried during an avalanche in the arctic at the end of Godzilla Raids Again.
  • This is the apparent fate of Mother Superior in St. Agatha; but the cliffhanger ending shows the well-meaning police opening the coffin and letting her escape...


  • In Book 15 of the Lone Wolf series, The Darke Crusade, High Warlord Magnaarn traps Lone Wolf inside an underground temple, which he brings down on the hero. Lone Wolf isn't killed by the collapse but is buried alive and has to tunnel a way out during sixteen days with only the food and water he was carrying. He still survives thanks to his Magnakai powers and determination, but is very weakened by the ordeal.


  • Edgar Allan Poe was fond of this:
    • "The Premature Burial", for one, published back in 1850, making this Older Than Radio. In fact, it was so common in the bad horror literature of the time that this story is actually a parody. It ends with the reveal that the narrator freaks out over waking up in a confined shipboard bunk, then stops reading horror stories "such as this" and gets a life. His catalepsy turns out to be all in his head.
    • "The Fall of the House of Usher", which had the insane Roderick Usher accidentally entombing his sister alive in the family vaults.
    • "A Cask of Amontillado", in which the narrator uses this method to exact a Disproportionate Retribution upon Fortunato.
    • "Berenice", in which burial alive is not the worst thing which happens to the title character... considering she is dug out and found to be alive, not consecutively.
      • Poe wasn't so much fond of this, as frightened to DEATH of it. It was his one worst fear, so naturally he wrote his horror stories about it.
  • In the second novel of The Shadow, one of The Shadow's helpers is buried alive by the villains despite the fact that the villains have killed and buried all previous visitors to their house. Harry is rescued by The Shadow, who tunnels sideways into the grave from a nearby tomb.
  • David Eddings had his sorcerer Belgarath do this, near the end of The Belgariad: Zedar the apostate was Buried Alive for eternity in the center of the earth for a millennia-long life of crimes, the last one being the brutal murder of Belgarath's daughter's beloved mate Durnik (he got better). Belgarath later said (roughly remembered) "Whenever I wonder if I went too far with him, I remember what that bastard did to Queen Ilessa of Nyissa.[1]"
  • Jack Vance's Dying Earth novels mention the Spell of Forlorn Encystment, which keeps its victims alive indefinitely inside solid rock some sixty kilometers underground. A few victims are (accidentally) released and found to be in near-catatonic states.
  • Pre-subverted in the third Artemis Fowl book. Mulch Diggums, a dwarf whose entire race can dig through the dirt using only their jaws and hands and breathe while doing so (and we've known he can do this for three books), convinces two dumb henchmen to do this to him. Needless to say, he has a good laugh about it afterwards. Hell, he has a good laugh during the burial, which he passes off as "shaking in fear". Right, Mulch.
  • This happens to the main character of What Happened to Cassie McBride, though if this is meant to kill her or torture her is up to reader interpretation.
  • The protagonist of the Stephen King story Dolan's Cadillac (found in Nightmares and Dreamscapes) does this to the title character as revenge for the murder of the protagonist's wife.
  • In Tanya Huff's Blood series, vampire Henry Fitzroy started his unlife by being buried alive for three days before his sire could dig him up. Several hundred years later, this is still a Very Unpleasant Memory.
  • In The Sharing Knife: Horizon, Fawn Bluefield is buried alive when the talisman that protects her from malices burns through so much of her life energy that she appears dead to anyone without groundsense. (Less traumatic than most instances, since she's unconscious the whole time.) However, one person with groundsense may have realized she was alive and allowed her to be buried out of jealousy. The others were just trying to give her a proper burial.
  • In Les Misérables, Jean Valjean arranges for himself to be buried alive in order to get out of the convent in which he's hiding. Due to unforeseen circumstances, it doesn't go as smoothly as planned; he passes out from lack of air and freaks out the gardener who's agreed to dig him up.
  • While not a case of being buried alive, in the Inferno of Dante's Divine Comedy, the punishment for simony (i.e. selling holy objects or clerical positions) is to be buried in the rocky ground of Hell for all eternity. Head first. With your feet on fire. And the heretics are entombed in flaming tombs. The final circle, where the worst traitors are entirely frozen in ice, may also count.
    • Seeing as how those are all eternal punishments, they would fit more under And I Must Scream.
  • In David Gemmell's The Swords of Night and Day, Queen Jianna buries an advisor alive inside a large stone chamber after he speaks his mind too freely. She later decides to reverse the decision, but by the time he's dug up he'd found a way to hang himself.
  • The short story The Extension dealt with a man who was so afraid of being Buried Alive that his funeral arrangements include a phone line to his crypt in case the coroner misdiagnosed him. His worst fear comes true, and the whole story has him desperately calling everyone, trying in vain to convince them that he's Not Quite Dead. Ultimately, Fridge Logic hits and he asks the operator how long they'll keep the line connected, and is assured the service will remain indefinitely. He realises this is probably his personal Hell, but also that he's got to keep calling and trying to get out...
  • An interesting take on this trope came from The Count of Monte Cristo when Edmond makes his escape from the prison. He plans (rather hastily) to switch places with the body of his friend and mentor and once he is buried in the shallow grave, dig himself out. He has to change his plans rather quickly when, instead of burying him, the guards proceed to chuck him over a cliff into the ocean.
  • Part of the backstory of The Three Coffins by John Dickson Carr was a jailbreak by Buried Alive. There was a plague epidemic going on in that prison, and the escaper counted on the burial detail being in too big a hurry for little details like nailing the coffin lid tightly or shoveling very much dirt on top.
  • The Criminal Minds book Killer Profile mentions a serial killer whose MO was burying his victims in homemade coffins, which had pipes leading to the surface, so they could breathe. The guy also enjoyed giving his victims false hope by leaving them with a bit of water and hammer they could try and escape with.
  • Used in the Mary Higgins Clark book Moonlight Becomes You, which starts out with the protagonist buried alive and desperately pulling one of the aforementioned bells to signal for help. The story then flashes between the present and to several weeks earlier, showing how she came to this fate and leaving the reader to decipher who her would-be killer is, all the while inserting her frantic efforts to remain conscious until help arrives, which it does at the last minute.
  • Dutch novel The Golden Egg has a girl undergo this treatment when travelling Europe. Her boyfriend spends the rest of the novel trying to find out where she is until at the end he meets his girlfriend's killer, and says he'd do anything to find out what happens to her. The killer proceeds to drug him and bury him as well.
  • Discworld
    • A variation of the trope occurred in The Light Fantastic. One particularly old wizard was not at all interested in a close encounter with Death, so he'd holed himself up in a box that nobody and nothing could get into once it was shut. Including light and, more importantly, air.

Death: Dark in here, isn't it?

    • Windle Poons from Reaper Man got a taste of this trope, but only a small one, as he was a zombie when his University colleagues buried him. Lack of oxygen wasn't a bother, but he got so bored and fed up with the situation that he soon dug his way out again.
  • This happens to Lisbeth Salander, after she was shot in the fucking head in The Girl Who Played with Fire. She digs her way out with a cigarette case and then shoves an axe through the face of the man who put her there.
  • In Michael Crichton's The Great Train Robbery, the characters exploit the fear of being buried alive for their benefit. Because it was a serious concern at the time (so says the book), coffins were rigged with bells and escape latches and such which would pop open if the person moved around inside the coffin. They fake a dead body and have the coffin open on the platform, grossing out the police inspector who otherwise would have searched it and found the hidden man.
  • In one Stephanie Plum book, Stephanie is trapped in a coffin by the bad guy. The coffin isn't actually buried but Stephanie doesn't know that and reacts as such.
  • Ambrosio keeps Antonia in a tomb for a while in The Monk to secret her away before he rapes her.
  • The villain in the young adult novel The Executioner attempted this on the protagonist in revenge for his brother's death, but was stopped by his father before he could finish.
  • In Volsunga Saga, evil King Siggeir has Sigmund and Sinfjotli entombed alive in a gravemound. (They escape, though.)

Live-Action TV

  • Walker, Texas Ranger: Several episodes have featured one of the main characters or an underage person (usually children) being buried by the villians, and Walker and the Rangers racing against time to stop the bad guys and locate the victim. Three such episodes aired within months of each other in 1996 alone:
    • "Deadline": With the state facing a budget crisis, state senator vows to disband the Texas Rangers as a cost-cutting move ... then won't allow Walker to help find his daughter when she is kidnapped and buried alive by a gang of bank robbers. Only when Walker does find her (and of course, beat the bad guys) does the senator realize the value of the Rangers.
    • "Miracle at Middle Creek": Walker and a young boy are trapped in an underground crevice, having been forced there by a band of bank robbers. Why? To ensure cooperation by the boy's father when the heist does take place. This time, Trivette saves the day.
    • "Cyclone": A sadistic extortionist and his band of thugs hijack a school bus full of children—the bus just happened to be driven by C.D., and Alex was the chaperone—after a trip to the museum; the bus is driven to a landfill, parked in a ditch and then literally buried (with everyone inside) with tons of dirt and fill. Walker and Trivette race against both time and a threatening storm system to rescue the kids before the bus crumples under the weight of the fill and/or the air runs out.
  • An episode of the Tales from the Crypt TV series, which was adapted from a comic, has a magician do this as his final trick. A doctor had transplanted into him the organ that gives cats nine lives, so he could die and just come back. After using this to make a small fortune at a sideshow, his final stunt (before he ran out of lives) was to be buried alive in front of hundreds of witnesses. Only once he's in the ground does he start reminiscing about what an interesting life he's had, before he realizes he didn't count the death of the cat among his lives. He's on his ninth, not his eight....
  • Happens to Nick in CSI. He is rescued, though not until he's suffered quite a lot.
  • This happened to Monk on more than one occasion, with attendant freak-outs.
  • This topic is darkly explored in the TV adaptation of The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes: The Disappearance of Lady Frances Carfax in which Holmes and Watson foil a con artist's attempts to bury a drugged woman alive. Unfortunately the woman is so mentally scarred by the experience that she's become a veritable vegetable.
  • Smallville: Psycho Lesbian Tina Greer does this to Lana.
    • Chloe is also buried alive, but Clark manages to rescue her. She is later shown to traumatized by the event. The man who did it, was a cop who wanted the credit of finding her. Whether he would have done so before or after she died is unclear.
  • Big Wolf on Campus - When Merton discovers that Corey Haim is a real vampire, Corey knocks him out and buries him. Merton phones Tommy, whose werewolf senses are sharp enough to pick up where he is.
  • In an episode of Good vs. Evil, Chandler is buried alive by Morlocks, and spends most of the episode talking to Henry on his cell, going over the details of the previous night, hoping to figure out where he is. He's being used as a hostage, so that the Corps will release a Morlock prisoner: Emmanuel Lewis.
  • Alias
    • In the final episode, Sloane, who has become somewhat immortal due to a Rambaldi thingy, has this happen to him. He's trapped in a cave with his legs pinned after Jack (a good guy) blows himself up.
    • Sydney herself had this happen to her as well in a previous episode, leaving Marshall to find out her location before she suffocates.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the Season 1 episode "Nightmares". Rumor has it that this trope is one of Sarah Michelle Gellar's greatest fears. Apparently, Joss Whedon does not settle for merely tormenting his characters.
    • He had her claw her way out of her grave in the Season 6 premiere. Bastard. This was, in fact, an interesting variation of the theme, as she was actually dead when they buried her. Willow used a ressurection spell to revive her and thought it didn't work. It did, and Buffy... didn't react well.
  • Angel
    • This was done to a previous occupant of Cordelia's apartment. In the apartment walls!
    • Connor welds Angel into an airtight coffin and drops him to the bottom of the Pacific Ocean at the end of season 3. Angel being immortal, this won't kill him, but instead makes him sorta really insane. Which was kind of the point.
  • In The Incredible Hulk, David Banner faced one of his most horrific situations when he is confused for a lookalike gangster and rival gangsters capture him, ignore his protests that they have the wrong man and take him to a construction site. There, they force him into a shallow grave, put a sheet of clear plastic on him and pour concrete on him to bury him alive. When you see that kind of murder method, you're on the edge of your seat until the very last image of Banner just before his head is covered is his eyes going green to start his change into the Hulk.
  • MythBusters checked out survivability on this, and deemed it Busted. First, they found that human beings couldn't punch their way out of a cheap pine casket, much less a top of the line one. Then they found that even if a human could break out, there was no way a human being could dig their way up through six feet of dirt, and especially no way they could do it within the half hour or so they'd have before they ran out of air. Basically, anyone buried alive would be crushed by the weight of the dirt or suffocate.
    • A much earlier episode also highlights how unlikely this is to occur by accident. In an interview, it's pointed out that undertaking practices(which, among other things, included draining all of the blood from the deceased) ensured that if you weren't dead when you came in, you most certainly were by the time you were in the ground.
  • During a Dream Sequence in the "Doppelganger" episode of Stargate Atlantis, Sheppard begins to bury Ronon alive. Ronon wakes up at that point.
  • Heroes
    • In a rare example of a hero doing this, Hiro assures the other heroes that the immortal Adam Monroe will never hurt another person. Cut to Adam screaming in a coffin, buried in the same cemetery where Hiro's father (who Adam killed), was interred.
    • Also, as retribution for all the crimes he had committed against not just the world, but Parkman's wife only minutes before, Parkman locks Sylar in his own mind, alone and powerless. Not only that, to prevent anyone from finding him and trying to help, he seals Sylar up behind a wall in his basement. Not only THAT, while Sylar was trapped in his own mind doomed to wander New York City alone forever, his super fast brain had an increased perception of time, making every second he spent in reality feel like days. Even though he got better and was really only buried alive for about half an hour, over three years had passed in his mind.
  • In Being Human, being buried alive is used as a form of punishment for vampires. Their nature means they won't suffocate or be crushed by the soil, but they will grow very weak and slowly go insane from hunger. Suren was buried alive for over 80 years, and Season 2 ends with Aidan being buried alive.
  • Bones, Temperance Brennan and Jack Hodgins are buried alive (in a car!) by a kidnapper/serial killer called the Gravedigger.
    • They'd previously helped identify the remains of twin boys who'd died after the Gravedigger left them buried alive inside a metal tank. As the name implies, this villain's M.O. was to subject victims to this trope, then demand a ransom in return for information on where they were buried.
  • In the Criminal Minds episode "Scared to Death", there was a killer who, under guise of "getting you over your phobia," trapped you in your worst fear and then waited until you scared yourself to death. The final victim was a bit more direct cause of near-death—and this was the trope to do it, too.
    • In the episode "Revelations," the killer forced Reid to start digging his own grave so he could bury him alive. The BAU saves the day, though.
  • Torchwood
    • In the finale episode of series two, Jack's brother Gray has Jack buried alive sans coffin; bear in mind Jack can't die. Or rather, he does die, but returns to life a few minutes later. So Jack spends 2000 years choking to death on soil over and over again!.
  • A couple of implied instances in Highlander the Series
    • Nefertiri took poison and was mummified after the death of Cleopatra. As far as the audience knows, she stayed unconscious for all 2000 years until set free by Duncan MacLeod.
    • Quentin Barnes was executed for murder 30 years ago and was accidentally freed by a construction project. It turns out Barnes was the split personality of Duncan's friend Michael Moore. Moore experienced those years as a nightmare.
    • Another Immortal was wrapped in chains and tossed into a river during World War II. It took him 50 some years to free himself and come back for revenge.
  • Recently done in Eastenders. There were widespread complaints due to this going out pre-Watershed, which were upheld by Ofcom.
  • On Lost, Nikki and Paolo are buried alive, but it's because the Losties think they're dead.
  • Supernatural
    • Happens to Dean. Similar to the Buffy the Vampire Slayer example, he wakes up in his coffin and has to claw his way out.
    • Dean and Sam also earlier do this to an immortal murderer. He's also chained into his coffin.
  • In Roswell, this happens to Laurie Dupree. Luckily for her, the attacker specifically wanted to keep her alive, so set it up that she could breathe.
  • One episode of Crossing Jordan involved a serial killer who buries his victims alive—with a walkie-talkie so he can hear their dying pleas. Shudder.
  • Cold Case had a similar episode where a teenage boy had been buried alive. The killer in question walks into the station 20-something years later to confess to the murder—and reveal that he has just buried another victim. The episode is spent trying to determine his motives for both attacks and find the second victim before he suffocates (fortunately, they find him).
  • Alfred Hitchcock Presents
    • The classic episode, "Breakdown", has Joseph Cotton paralyzed in a car accident and taken for dead. He is saved at the last minute when an alert coroner notices a tear glimmering in his eye.
    • The Eighties version of the show had an episode where a woman tried to escape from prison by hiding in the coffin the next time someone at the prison dies. Unfortunately, the next to die is the man who was supposed to dig her up. Worse yet, she doesn't find out until after they're buried.
  • One episode of Carnivale has this happen to Ben after he is robbed by some backwoods hicks who turn out to be his cousins. They hastily dig him up after realizing their error.
  • Law and Order SVU
    • A copycat serial killer kidnaps the only surviving victim of the original killer. He locks her in an old fridge with an air tank and holds her for his bargaining chip when the detectives finally caught him.
    • In another episode, a pedophile buries the little girl he has kidnapped just before the SVU investigators catch up with him. They dig her up just in time.
  • Dark Shadows
    • Friendly Neighborhood Vampire Barnabas Collins bricks the witch-hunter Reverend Trask up in a wall a la The Cask of Amontillado. This comes back to haunt him (literally) a century later when his ghost breaks free.
    • Barnabas himself was trapped in his chained-shut coffin back in colonial times by his father, who couldn't bring himself to drive a stake through his vampiric son's heart. Presumably Barnabas wasn't conscious during the intervening centuries, as he isn't a raving basket case when a would-be tomb robber unchains him.
  • The X-Files
    • "Apocrypha". A Body Surf alien uses Alex Krychek to get back to its spacecraft which has been left in an abandoned missile silo. The episode ends with Krychek locked inside the silo eighty stories down, hammering on the door and screaming to be let out.
    • Also happens in the end of the episode "Fresh Bones" to an evil Marine sergeant in charge of a Haitian refugee camp, who turns out to be using the Haitian's native Voodoo to incapacitate/kill whistleblowers who were going to expose his ordered abuse of the refugees.
    • And technically, even Mulder himself was buried alive during the episode "Deadalive".
  • In the British sci-fi drama Misfits, we have a rare case of this trope being played (mostly) for laughs. And it happens to the main character, no less. Nathan, after suffering a brutal death some days before, turns out to have the power of Resurrection. He's thrilled to find himself alive and starts gloating ridiculously about his newfound power, actually uttering the phrase: "Who's laughing now?!" When it sinks in that he's buried alive (yes, he's a bit of a dumbass) he gets furious and starts hurling hilariously futile abuse at no-one in particular. Then he just lies back and begins casually listening to his ipod. And this happened in the season 1 finale. In the second season opener a telepath visiting his grave overhears him masturbating and arranges for him to be exhumed. Unfortunately, his parents don't react well to the news that he is alive, and the best excuse he can give them is that his "death" was an insurance scam - they aren't happy. Exactly why he wasn't embalmed before burial isn't explained, but then, such things rarely are.
  • In the America soap opera Days of Our Lives, some 16 years ago, crazy Vivian hated Carly so much she injected Carly with some Chinese herbs, forcing her into a seemly dead state, had an open casket funeral with all Carly's loved ones, buried her with a radio to taunt her, some water and enough oxygen to prolong the slow torture and the rolled over her grave, laughing. Carly was saved just in time, though she seems quite traumatized by it all to this day. Not that we can blame her.
  • This trope is often seen on soap operas. Several examples have the villain trapping his or victim in certain situations—a building collapse, a cave-in—rather than using a coffin.
    • General Hospital: Ryan Chamberlain faked his death to escape from the asylum.
    • Passions: Sheridan Crane's death was faked (to escape criminals who were pursuing her) and she was buried to continue the ruse. Unfortunately, plans to rescue her immediately were hindered when the criminals in question kidnapped her would-be saviors, leaving her in considerable peril (Sheridan's claustrophobia didn't help matters much). Although she was ultimately rescued at the end of the "day", the scenes played out for over a month.
    • A rather gruesome example on All My Children, which had the evil Dr.Madden buried alive while the voice of his unseen abductor tormented him, refusing to release him until he revealed the location of a missing child. This went on for several days before the man finally drowned when a rainstorm flooded the vent that had been providing him with oxygen.
  • In The League of Gentlemen, Herr Lipp buried Justin to stop him telling anyone about his peculiar habits. Don't worry, he left him a straw.
  • One episode of Boomtown featured the body of a dead gangbanger wrapped in plastic and hidden within the walls of a house. Investigation of former friends eventually reveals that he was knocked out dead during a hazing ritual and his freaked-out friends wrapped the body in plastic and hid him inside the walls. Only near the end of the episode is the awful truth revealed: The gangbanger was alive when they hid him inside the walls and the last shot of the episode shows a flashback from the gangbanger's POV, waking up inside the walls, wrapped in plastic and unable to have his screams heard because of the loud rap music
  • There was an especially vindictive instance of this in Oz, where the preacher for the Christians was beaten, tied up, sealed behind a brick wall in the cafeteria and then there was an industrial sized freezer placed in front of it, and the whole deal was orchestrated by his former second in command. After being freed after an explosion (though as a charred, barely alive husk) he was shown to have stood up, as if rising from his grave, still covered in 3rd degree burns, after seemingly appearing to other inmates and making them try to kill the one responsible, and then he disappeared. Guess where they found him a few episodes later? Sealed behind another wall, only this time dead for real.
  • In 1990 Universal produced the made-for-TV movie Buried Alive, in which Clint Goodman (Tim Matheson of Animal House fame) is imperfectly murdered by his wife (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and her doctor lover (Ghostbusters' William Atherton) and... He claws his way out of his coffin, only to turn the tables on her, by burying her alive with her dead lover in his own grave. The film was successful enough to inspire a gender-flipped remake, Buried Alive II (1997) with Ally Sheedy as the unfortunate not-quite-a-corpse and Matheson both directing and reprising his role as Clint Goodman.
  • Are You Afraid of the Dark?: "Tale of the Dream Machine" features this happening to one of the characters.
  • The Pretender
    • The victim in "Back From the Dead Again" was buried alive.
    • In "Red Rock Jarod", the villain of the episode buries a hostage alive in a remote location—with an air pump, but if he doesn't get what he wants before the pump runs out of fuel...
  • 1000 Ways to Die: In "Dung For", this accidentally happens to a farm hand after he is caught having sex with the Farmer's Daughter.
  • Leverage has two examples:
    • Parker did this to herself once as a child to cure herself of a fear. She thought it was a normal thing to do. The team told her it was not.
    • Then in the season 4 episode, "The Grave Danger Job," as the Leverage crew investigates an embezzling funeral director, Hardison is buried alive in a cemetery by a Mexican drug cartel to whom the funeral director has been selling ID information stolen from the deceased who go through her funeral parlor.
  • The victim in the NCIS episode "Left For Dead" was buried alive.
  • NCIS: Los Angeles had Sam being buried alive in a prior mission, alongside with a partner of his, by Croatian soldiers. He was the only one who survived the event. Because of this, when a girl was buried alive by two boys whose uncle was an ex-con, Sam took up the mission without hesitation, focused on it with resolution like no other, and was fully ready to beat them up when demanding where she was, due to this being a very personal traumatic experience and a very huge Berserk Button for him. Luckily, she managed to be digged up before she ran out of air.
  • Murder Call: In "The Burial", the Victim of the Week is as obnoxious ad executive who is buried up to his neck in the sand on the beach as an endurance test. The killer attempts to make it look like he passed out from the alcohol and was drowned by the incoming tide, but he was actually killed by having sea water forced down his throat.


  • Avenged Sevenfold has a song called "Buried Alive". Guess what it's about?
  • Referenced in the Scissor Sisters song "I Can't Decide" (where what can't be decided is "whether you should live or die"): "Or I could bury you alive / But you might crawl out with a knife / And kill me when I'm sleeping".
  • Referenced in "The Mariner's Revenge Song" by the Decemberists:

Find him, bind him / tie him to a pole and break his fingers to splinters / drag him into a hole until he wakes up naked / clawing at the ceiling of his grave...

  • The Creature Feature song "Buried Alive", as a tribute to Edgar Allen Poe, is unsurprisingly about this concept. It isn't the only song that mentions this. They also have it on "Such Horrible Things" (My Brother Was Quite Dull/So With Laughter In My Skull/Pushed Him In A Hole/Then Buried Him Alive) and in "A Gorey Demise", a parody of Edward Gorey's poem "The Gashlycrumb Tinies" (E is for Erik who was buried alive).
  • Lupe Fiasco's "The Cool" has this happen to the main character in the first verse, and he digs himself out during the second.
  • A subversion bearing the trope name: the traditional song "Buried Alive" as performed by musicians like the Dropkick Murphys is not about someone doing this to someone else deliberately, but the occupational hazard inherent in being a coalminer.
  • "Dynamite Mine" by Murder By Death (the band), also about the occupational hazards of being a coal miner who pissed someone off in the past.
  • Several My Chemical Romance songs off of Revenge and Bullets reference crawling out oh holes in the ground. Presumably buried alive, unless you're gonna run with the story line involving a guy killing 1000 evil men for the devil in order to get his life back.
  • In the Music Video for the song "Buried Myself Alive" by The Used, Bert is on his way to being buried alive.
  • The Creepshow have a song called "Buried Alive", which is about just that.
  • The final disc of Thrice's The Alchemy Index has "Child of Dust", a funeral-like dirge which ends with the last two lines muffled and the sound gradually receding into unsettling silence. The group actually buried their microphones while recording the song, presumably to give the listener the sensation of being buried. Sweet dreams!

Pro Wrestling

  • WWE wrestler The Undertaker has fought in several Buried Alive matches, where a grave site is created near the stage area of the arena, and the objective is to bury one's opponent alive. Usually these end with Undertaker buried, and disappearing for several months, only to come Back from the Dead (hey, he's practically The Grim Reaper; he can do that) with a new look, thirsting for revenge.

Tabletop Games

  • In Vampire: The Masquerade, the Sabbat use this as part of their embracing ritual when there's a need for a large surge of Sabbat shock troopers. They beat the would be vampire senseless, turn them, bury them alive en masse with other candidates, and see which ones come up. The ones that don't? No need to waste time digging them back up, they weren't even worth the blood to embrace.
    • A popular Sabbat pastime is to go out, find a grave with a failed inductee, dig them up and try to kill them. Since the released vampire is both insane and probably in frenzy, this is not a safe form of entertainment.
  • Dungeons & Dragons
    • The "Imprisonment" spell, which was inspired by Jack Vance's "Spell of Forlorn Encystment" (see above). It bury a victim in suspended animation deep below the surface.
    • A non-official sourcebook introduced the "Entombment" spell, which bury alive a creature on the spot. If a saving throw is passed, the subject is only buried to the waist... but if the spellcaster memorized the spell twice and casts it a second time, then the victim no longer has a saving throw.
  • Geist: The Sin Eaters
    • There's mention of a geist, the Gravedigger, who in life did this to his murder victims (hit them with a shovel, bury them alive, listen to them scream). He met his end when he didn't hit one hard enough—the man woke up, retrieved the shovel, knocked the Gravedigger out and buried him alive (upside down, to boot). Fortunately for everyone, although the Gravedigger came back as a geist and hooked up with a miner who'd eaten his coworkers to survive a cave-in, the first krewe they met instantly pegged them as bad news and destroyed them.
    • This is also what's necessary to activate the Oracle Manifestation using the Grave-Dirt Key. It allows the user to astrally project, but they need to effectively be suffocating from their burial. Once they get back into their body, however, they erupt spectacularly from the ground with all the damage from suffocation healed up. At the highest understanding of the Oracle, a Sin-Eater can effectively wander freely as long as they want; the corebook makes reference to an urban legend amongst the Bound about a Mafioso who was buried in wet cement while knocked unconscious and has been using the Oracle for decades to keep his body in suspended animation.
  • This comes up sometimes in Magic: The Gathering, for example the card Claustrophobia [1] depicts someone in a cramped space with wood above him and the flavor text "Six feet of earth muffled his cries."

Theme Parks

Video Games

  • The Allied ending of Red Alert had Stavros bury Josef Stalin in the rubble of his ruined Kremlin, after gagging him.
  • In the Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas mission "Deconstruction," you have to stop a nearby construction company from screwing with your newfound gains. Smashing up their portables would have been plenty, but C.J. goes the extra mile by also trapping the foreman in a porta-potty, pushing it into a hole, and filling it up with concrete, all while listening to him scream "OH GOD WHY!" Stone. Cold. And the reason C.J. did this? The guys who were working for the man called Kendl, C.J.'s sister, a hooker, and C.J. wanted to teach them some respect.
  • Baldur's Gate 2
    • There's an optional subplot about finding some evil criminals who are robbing guys and burying them alive.
    • Not to mention the Protagonist is threatened with a magical version of his by a loony Harper—Imprisonment is a spell which basically traps a person underneath the earth and rendered immortal during this time.
    • And the various demiliches, mages and superpowered imps who show up in the expansion or as Bonus Bosses and who have "Imprisonment" as an at-will ability. Whack 'em quick, or you've got a 1 in 6 chance of an instant game over per round.
  • Happens to Stan in Monkey Island 2 Le Chucks Revenge, where Guybrush has to get Stan to jump into one of his own coffins and nail the lid shut so he can steal a key from his office. Stan subsequently stays shut in the coffin until the sequel, where Guybrush can finally open Stan's casket after the two are shut in the same crypt together.
  • Dwarves in Dwarf Fortress have an amusing tendency to do this to themselves. Due to a quirk in how they build walls, they will always prefer to build them from the west side. This occasionally results in them walling themselves into an enclosed area and dying of dehydration.
  • Eternal Darkness
    • The game has the quicksand variant as a hallucination effect—every so often, your character will sink into the ground, whether it's sand, dirt, or solid concrete!
    • On a more serious note, Roberto Bianchi is commissioned to aid in the construction of a monument. At the end of the chapter, he and several other architects are chucked down into an oubliette-styled hole. And then the concrete pours in. The end of the chapter's final shot is Roberto's face and body as he tried, in futility, to escape his end.
  • That's one of the ways to die in Lode Runner. To be buried alive inside bricks.
  • You survive this at the start of Fallout: New Vegas thanks to a certain robot.
  • The "Buried Alive model" of Pokémon creepypasta fame. According to one site, "the Buried Alive model appears to be a decaying human corpse attempting to crawl out of the ground". Even scarier? You're SUPPOSED to lose to this guy. And when he does, he EATS you, and every time you turn on the Game Boy, the screen jumps to the scene of Buried Alive eating you. That's OK, I wasn't planning on sleeping, anyway.
  • Saints Row 2: After making the MASSIVE mistake of picking a fight with Gat during Aisha's funeral, Ronin leader Shogo is given an utter ass beating by Gat. Gat then drags him to a coffin, dumps out the corpse already in it, and tosses Shogo inside, burying him alive, as he screams for mercy. Even The Boss is unnerved by this.
  • Happens to Yoshiki in one of Corpse Party's Wrong Ends.
  • Though this never happens in-game, the Nameless One in Planescape: Torment is warned by one of his past incarnations of the extreme danger that being buried (alive or dead) held for him. Given his immortal nature, he would be doomed to an eternity of terror, suffocation and amnesiac reawakening.
  • Heiankyo Alien revolves around digging holes to trap aliens in. Once an alien is trapped, the hole has to be filled back in.
  • In Monster Girl Quest, should Luka be defeated by the Mandragora, she has her way with him, and then drags him underground, holding him in an unending embrace and telling him he can keep from starving by eating her leaves as she sleeps. Of course, seeing as he seems to prefer that to starving...

Web Comics

  • One Penny Arcade strip featured Gabe doing this to Tycho as his latest April Fool's joke. The previous two were telling him his birth father wanted to meet him, and creating a billboard identifying him as a pedophile.
  • Bug tells us that if this happens to you, you may be getting older.
  • This happens early on in The Fancy Adventures of Jack Cannon, to the titular character. He gets out of it.

Jack: Oh, what, that underground thing? I just punched my way out.
Craig: What? What?! That doesn't make sense!!! You were over there when I buried you!
Jack: Right, yeah, I punched in your direction.
Craig: In my direction?!
Jack: It's not my fault if I can hear your incredibly nasal voice underground.

Web Original

  • Sarge of Red vs. Blue once allowed himself to be buried for his funeral when his obsessive dedication to orders caused him to think he'd died and been replaced. He survived due to the ground giving out beneath him and landing him in an underground cavern before he ran out of air.
    • This happened earlier to him in an April Fool's Day episode when Grif mistook him for dead in a Warthog explosion. He survived because, as he put it, "I ate my way out! The soft earth was like a delicious butterscotch brownie to me."
  • Deus Ex Machina. Plague deliberately built a pipe to the surface so that he could still breath. He managed to stay down there for four days before he escaped. Lots of bad people died when he escaped.
  • "Why there is no moloch13"

Western Animation

  • Brock Samson from The Venture Brothers, in the episode, "Dia de Los Dangerous!", is buried alive, after being shot with at least 20 apparently lethal tranquilizer darts and hit by a van, all while keeping a brutal death grip on a poor enemy soldier. Nonetheless, he still manages to dig himself out, with the only side effect of all of this being Brock's extreme rage and being really thirsty.
  • Done to Gwen on Total Drama Island, as part of a challenge where the campers have to face their worst fears. Trent forgot to dig her up on schedule, causing a rift in their budding relationship.
  • In The Simpsons episode "Make Room for Lisa", through a freak series of events, the sensory deprivation tank where Homer is floating is found by Flanders, who mistakes it for a coffin and buries it. Fortunately, it is right on top of a water pipe, and Homer's struggle causes it to fall through, being sucked into the sea and washing ashore.
  • A Freaky Stories plot involved a man who was deathly afraid of being buried alive, a fact his wife learned when he had a panic attack from the rice being thrown at their wedding. She promises him that if he died, she'd install a hot line phone that linked directly to the house, where she would wait for a year so he can call her to get him out if he's still alive. The rest of the plot involves her actually going through with this promise after her husband dies suddenly. Her friends finally convince her to go out for the evening on the 365th day. Just after she leaves, the phone rings.
  • In an episode of Justice League, telepathic psychopath Dr. Destiny (John Dee) does this via a nightmare to Hawkgirl (she's claustrophobic) while her friends get visions related to Power Incontinence. Notably, while the others get over their fears, Hawkgirl doesn't and is rescued only when Batman kicks Dee's ass. Then again, you can't really blame her for being scared given the circumstances.
  • In "The Boardwalk Booby Trap" episode of The Perils of Penelope Pitstop, the Ant Hill Mob buried Penelope in the sand at the beach. Unknown to any of them, the Hooded Claw had mixed cement into the sand, hoping that the Bully Brothers would flatten Penelope with a steamroller.
  • An episode of Jimmy Two-Shoes, had Heloise about to do this to someone, only for her to be distracted by seeing Jimmy with Jez.
  • General Fong of Avatar: The Last Airbender decides the best way to induce the Avatar State in Aang, to be used as a weapon against the Fire Nation, is to bury his friends and make him fight to save them. Instead, this induces the Avatar State as a weapon against the dumbass who thought this was a good idea.
  • Villain Jambalaya Jake does this to Darkwing Duck at one point, using a box and lots of see-ment.
  • Occurs in Thomas the Tank Engine, for some value of "alive". After Henry refuses to budge from a tunnel, he gets bricked into it "for always and always and always", a fate that the narrator encourages us to believe that he thoroughly deserves.

Real Life

  • This was a very real fear in the 18th and 19th centuries. Back in those days, most civilizations had unreliable ways to identify death, and so stories of the recently buried screaming for help were not uncommon. We can't know how often people were in fact buried alive, but the sheer horrific quality of being buried prematurely led to the creation of Safety coffins, which were essentially coffins with a bell or flag stuck above ground to give the recently buried a method of communication with the outside. One of these can be seen in the movie The First Great Train Robbery.
    • Mary Roach's Stiff includes a section on live burial, the bizarre methods doctors once used to try to distinguish death from mere unconsciousness (e.g. an automatic tongue-pulling device!), and so on. She notes that the "coffin bells" never once saved a person who'd been prematurely buried, although some were disinterred when the corpse's decomposition caused its weight to shift and sound a false alarm.
    • These days, accidental live burial would only be possible if the person's body was neither autopsied nor embalmed. In most jurisdictions, one if not both procedures are required by law for the majority of human burials.
      • And if you were unlucky enough to get to the mortician or the coroner while still alive, the autopsy and/or embalming process will definitely kill you before you are buried.
    • Alfred Nobel was so afraid of being buried alive that he left instructions that the doctor who pronounced him dead were to cut open his neck arteries as well, just to be safe.
  • Real life example: Standard punishment for anyone who betrayed Ukrainian guerrilla fighters in '44.
  • Another Real life example: In 1968, the young heiress Barbara Jane Mackle was kidnapped, drugged, placed in a coffin and buried alive as her captors demanded a $500,000 ransom from her family. After three days, she was found weakened yet still alive. She wrote a book about it named 83 Hours 'Til Dawn.
  • In 1976, a gang of kidnappers in the American Southwest actually did this to an entire school bus full of children. Thankfully, everyone escaped.
  • On his deathbed, George Washington requested that his body be kept unburied for two days to make sure he was actually dead.
    • This is actually still common practice in the form of the wake. A wake, for those who do not know, was when the family and friends of the deceased would place the corpse, in the coffin, in a prominent place in their home. The said family and friends would then sit up with the dead in case they woke up. This was done for 1 to 2 days before burial.
      • The Irish folk song "Finnegan's Wake" provides an excellent example of why this was done.
  • Harry Houdini once tested an escape in which he was buried six feet deep without a coffin, and had to dig his way up. Once. He lost consciousness just after his hand broke the surface, and had to be pulled out.
    • He also spent over an hour in a sealed, underwater coffin to demonstrate that it could be done, to disprove another performer who claimed to use mystical powers to accomplish the feat. There was another buried alive escape planned, but it's not clear if it was ever performed prior to his death. Although rather ghoulishly the coffin that was to be used in the escape was put to use transporting his remains.
  • 33 Chilean miners buried alive for 69 days in 2010. Their rescue was watched by the world in awe at the things humans can achieve when properly motivated.
  • Beaconsfield miners Todd Russell and Brant Webb did it first, gaining international fame after surviving for a month underground. There was a play planned for the event, A Symphony in a Flat Minor.
  • The "Baby Jessica" incident, when 18-month-old Jessica McClure fell down a 22' deep, 8" wide well shaft in 1987. Three days' efforts to rescue her constituted one of the first major around-the-clock news stories covered by then-fledgling network CNN. Jessica survived the experience relatively unscathed, and recently received full control of the trust fund to which thousands of people sent donations after viewing the story.
  • There's a snopes article about it, which includes a story from 1994.
  • In the wake of the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in 2001, a number of rescue personnel were trapped for days in the rubble of the fallen towers. The plight of two of the pinned firefighters was portrayed in the Oliver Stone film World Trade Center.
  • In the Roman Empire, the Vestal Virgins were killed this way if they ever broke their oath of chastity.
  • Subverted with Anthony Spilotro, on whom the character of Nicky Santoro from Casino was based (see the entry in Film above), and his brother Michael. While sand was allegedly found in their lungs, indicating live burial, it was confirmed years later that they had been murdered in a basement before being buried in the cornfield.
  • In an interview, JK Rowling said that her own boggart would be her being buried alive.
  • An incident in the Gulf War involved a few hundred Iraqi soldiers attempting to make a Last Stand in a network of trenches, only for coalition forces to instead bury these enemy soldiers using bulldozer equipped tanks.

"Sand Necktie" variation

Anime and Manga

  • In Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water, Count Herton gets this treatment from the Grandis Gang. Not to let him die, though, but just to teach him a lesson, as his madness was making him quite annoying.

Comic Books

  • Wolverine once did this on a beach, with the tide coming in, to an old man who had, decades earlier, tormented him while Wolverine was in one of his endless experimentation/black ops involvements. He made note of the fact that the man had repented and spent years trying to make up for it, but buried him anyway. Given the sheer amount of punishment Wolverine goes through on a daily basis, it seemed rather excessive.

Films -- Live-Action

"I can hold my breath for a long, looooooooooong time!"

  • Happens to the title character (played by Dwayne Johnson) in The Scorpion King—next to a massive colony of inch-long fire ants. Apparently this is a standard method of executing criminals, as two thieves received the same fate. One of thieves, somehow, manages to free himself; but the Scorpion King himself needs to be rescued.
  • This is done to a character in The Gods Must Be Crazy II in order to save his life.
  • In Jeremiah Johnson, this happens to a side character when he gets captured by hostile natives. Since he was bald, they decide that scalping him would be a waste of time.

"Say, you wouldn't have an extra hat on you, would you? Shade's getting' scarce in these parts."


  • In David Eddings' Malloreon, the heroes come across a flock of vultures feeding on something on the ground. It turns out the bad guys have a habit of burying escaped slaves up to their necks in sand and leaving them. And this is in the middle of a desert.
  • In Jerzy Kosinski's The Painted Bird, the main character is buried to his neck by superstitious peasants who wish to "cure" him of a fever. This leads to a flock of crows pecking at his head.
  • The Dresden Files: Harry Dresden does this to a ghoul in the desert, and leaves a trail for fire ants to follow to it. He later gives it a Mercy Kill.
  • Discworld
    • In Soul Music, the Klatchian Foreign Legion once did this to Death, who'd enlisted in a vain attempt to forget his troubles. It was intended as a torturous form of discipline, but the Grim Reaper merely found it dull.
    • One of the capital punishments from the days when Ankh-Morpork still had conventional laws was to be tied to one of the city bridge's pilings at low tide, then left there for 24 hours. As the Ankh, like the Thames in London, rises with the tides, this is functionally equivalent to the "sand necktie", as per the example below. Also possibly equivalent to conventional live burial, depending on whether the Ankh's toxic sludge really qualifies as "water".
  • Happens to Nancy Drew in the 5th book in her Files series, although she's actually tied to a piling, not buried in sand, though the villain's intent—her drowning as the tide comes in—is the same.

Live-Action TV

  • This one was confirmed as an effective Death Trap by the MythBusters. It took Tory 80 minutes to get out of dry sand and Grant gave up with wet sand after 10. Consider that neither was actually tied up.
  • Red Dwarf, "Better than Life"—with ants. And jam smeared on their faces....
  • This happens in an episode of CSI.

Music Videos

  • In one scene of the music video for "If This Is It" by Huey Lewis and the News, this happens to the News.

Newspaper Comics

  • One Far Side cartoon features two cowboys buried like this by Indians. One is gloating about the shadow cast by his partner's hat. "Sure is nice in the shade, yessiree."
    • Another features two Indians dragging a cowboy overlooking several different anthills, each with neon signs advertising their cowboy-torturing skills.


  • The entirety of the Samuel Beckett play Happy Days is about a woman buried up to her chest and later her neck. Somehow; causality was not important to Beckett.

Web Comics

Western Animation

  • In an episode of SpongeBob SquarePants, one of the local residents is buried under the sand at the beach and promptly forgotten. Cue the incoming tide. He is seen later as a ghost.
  • In one episode of Chip 'n Dale Rescue Rangers, Gadget suggests this to the Pi-Rats as a way of torturing a pair of recently captured enemies. This doesn't make sense as she's one of the captured enemies.
  • On Jimmy Two-Shoes, this is Lucius' definition of grounding someone.
  • On South Park, Cartman buries himself in snow this way in order to freeze himself to get a Nintendo Wii faster.
  • This was Gwen's fear in Total Drama Island, so she was put in a coffin and lowered into a grave on the beach for a challenge.
  • More fun for Darkwing Duck. The ones that come to mind are being planted/buried in the ground with an angry Bushroot coming at him with a lawnmower, and being encased in ice while under the second biggest duck-smasher he'd ever seen.
  1. He talked her into assassinating the Rivan royal family with a false promise of immortality, knowing full well it would result in a bloody revenge war that would get her and her people massacred