From Hugo to Hitchcock

It’s a trite observation that the classics have inspired countless other stories and works of art. The ties that bind the old and the new are many, and recently, I picked up on a little thread involving, of all things, coffins.

In Hugo’s Les Misérables, Vol. 2 (VIII), Jean Valjean hatches a plan to escape undetected from the Petit-Picpus convent, where he and Cosette unwittingly found themselves after scaling a wall and escaping the clutches of Javert. An undetected departure from the convent was necessary as males were such a threat to chastity within the walls of the nunnery that even the geriatric gardener, Fauchelevent, had been forced to wear a bell around one leg to give the nuns and convent girls ample time to scurry away upon his approach. Valjean’s plan was this: to be put in a coffin with a dead nun, moved out of the convent to the cemetery, buried alive, and then dug out by Fauchelevent. Fauchelevent knew the gravedigger to be a notorious drunkard who could be befuddled with a few drinks, thereby giving Fauchelevent the opportunity to dig Valjean out. All goes according to plan, until Fauchelevent discovers the gravedigger has been replaced…

When I recently read this part of Les Misérables, it tweaked a memory of a TV episode I saw in my early teens. A quick bit of internet research lead me to the episode: Alfred Hitchock Presents, “Final Escape” (1985) (screenshots above, episode here, which was in fact a re-make of the 1964 version). It was not hard to recall the episode, because I remember it scaring the dickens (pun intended) out of me when I was a kid. I don’t want to include any spoilers, so let’s just say it involves a Valjean-esque coffin escape, with a twist ending which is definitely a nod to Hugo.

While we’re on the topic of vivisepulture, or premature burial, many of you will know that Uma Thurman was famously buried alive in a coffin in Kill Bill, Vol. 2. However, she doesn’t have anyone to dig her out (it wasn’t an escape plan). Instead, she uses her kung fu powers to bust out of the coffin and dig through six feet of dirt! Sadly, according to the TV show Mythbusters, such a feat is not even remotely possible, although that seems to be stating the obvious.