Horror Movie A Day: Quint on I BURY THE LIVING (1958) I destroyed them… something in me killed them.
Published at: Oct. 15, 2008, 11:35 p.m. CST by quint
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with today’s installment of A Movie A Day.
[The regular A Movie A Day list has been frozen in order for me to do an all-horror line-up for October. I’ve pulled many horror titles from my regular “to see” stack and have ordered many more horror and thriller titles to make sure we have some good stuff. Like the regular AMAD column all the movies I’m covering are films I have never seen, but unlike the regular AMAD column I will not connect each film to the one before it. Instead I will pull a title at random every day and watch whatever the movie Gods determine for me.]
Just kidding, I got a full review for you today! I ain’t no bum!
Today’s move is I BURY THE LIVING a ‘50s atmospheric shocker. This movie is basically a long TWILIGHT ZONE episode.
The center plot device is a cemetery plot board containing black and white pins. Black are plots that are filled, white are plots that are reserved, but the owner… well, isn’t ready for it yet.
Richard Boone, playing small town store owner Robert Kraft, is elected by town officials to oversee the cemetery. Apparently, it’s a temporary position that requires little more than a monthly check-up and payroll deployment that the fat cats of the town allocate (via committee) every year.
Boone reluctantly takes it up and is initiated by creepy Scotsman groundskeeper… no, not named Willie, but McKee (played by Theodore Bikel).
A pair of Boone’s friends, newlyweds, come by before heading off to their honeymoon. There’s a condition of the marriage that, for some reason, is that they order their funeral plots before they get their dowry, so they do.
Boone mistakenly puts black pins into those plots instead of white pins. Sure enough, the couple dies in a fiery car accident.
Now, Boone starts to suspect that he has some kind of paranormal power. He and his girlfriend see each other in their mind’s eye at the same time, and can even communicate that way. That’s not developed much, but it gives us a background to where the power lies.
Is it with this map? Have previous overseers had this power? Or does the power lay within Boone?
As the movie progresses, it goes beyond a shadow of a doubt that whomever Boone gives a black pin dies. Some are older, some younger and in perfect health. No foul play is suspected, even when Boone contacts the local police to tell them about this ability.
Boone becomes more and more desperate to try to figure out this power and deal with the immense guilt.
This device is a great one, but ultimately it does feel like they tread water after about half an hour. How many more times are we going to see someone make Boone give a random plot a black pin in order to prove how it’s all just coincidence?
It takes them an hour to get to the question I was posing after 15 minutes. If replacing a white pin with a black kills someone, what does replacing a black pin with a white one do?
Now, the answer to that question is fairly disappointing, at least for me. If I was a studio looking for a film to remake, this one would be high on my list precisely because I think it drops the ball with the ending and taking the premise as far as it could go.
That said, the movie brings a ton of atmosphere, poses some real moral issues that Boone does a wonderful job expressing and gives us a lot of really memorable characters. Director Albert Band (PREHYSTERIA, DRACULA’S DOG and producer of TROLL and ROBOT JOX) does a fine job of visualizing the hysteria and overwhelming guilt surrounding Boone.
Theodore Bikel deserves a mention as the creepy Scottie groundskeeper, who always seems to be hovering just out of frame, or outside a window. He knows more than he’ll admit and holds the film’s secrets. What makes him extra creepy is the fact that he couldn’t have been much more than 30 years old, but he’s playing a man at retirement age, so he’s got this period’s typical cheaper old man make-up on… you know, baby powder in the hair to make it look white, etc. It looks off, but not bad, so it only makes him really effective in being off-putting.
Final Thoughts: It’s an effective, but unfortunately flawed film that doesn’t take the best advantage of the gimmick premise. The acting is great, the set-up is great, the characters are mostly well-developed, but the ball is dropped quite a bit in the actual plotting of the last act. Luckily, the atmosphere and real sense of despair hold the film’s head above water, but I think there’s a much scarier and haunting version of this film that can be told. Even though I hardly ever advocate remaking classics, I think this film would be a perfect example. As long as they keep the cemetery map board looking like a pair of tits as drawn by Picasso.
Here are the titles in the drawing pool for the rest of October:
Wednesday, October 1st – Friday, October 31st: H-MAD! Horror Movie A Day! Check out the list here!
Added two more titles to the drawing pool! Click above to check out the noobs!
Now’s the the time to pull the next HMAD!
Next up is: