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The Premature Burial


Title: The Premature Burial
Year Of Release: 1962
Running Time: 81 minutes
DVD Released By: MGM Midnite Movies
Directed By: Roger Corman
Writing Credits: Edgar Allan Poe (story), Charles Beaumont, Ray Russell

Starring: Ray Milland, Hazel Court, Richard Ney, Heather Angel
Taglines:
1: Within the Coffin I Lie...ALIVE!
2: As His Coffin Was Laid To Rest, His Brain Screamed – "I Am Not Dead!"
3: It’s Going To Happen!
4: Your Are There In Sudden Darkness When The Heart Beat Starts
5: Will You Be The First To Crack?
Alternate Titles: None Found

Review Date: 10.16.05 (updated 1.1.10)

Shadow's Title: "The Premature Catnap"

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The Masque of the Red Death / The Premature Burial (Midnite Movies Double Feature)

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Premature Burial, the [VHS]

Characters
Guy Carrell – He is utterly convinced that he's inherited catalepsy from his father. Positive that his sire was buried alive, he now lives in fear of the same thing happening to him, so he broods a lot, hangs out in crypts and paints really weird paintings that only LSD users would appreciate.
Emily Gault – Emily is in love with Guy. Their relationship was fine until he had an experience with an exhumed body. Afterwards he was all doom and gloom, writing her a "Dear Jane" letter. Not accepting that as proof that their love has died, she forces the issue and convinces Guy to marry her.
Miles Archer – An old friend of both Guy and Emily, having known them for some time. He's a doctor and works with Emily’s father. He loves his research and one of his favorite toys is his dead frog zapper (a galvanic battery) which he uses to zap dead frogs and watch their muscles twitch.
Kate Carrell – This mean looking broad is Guy’s sister. The epitome of the sexually frustrated woman, as she appears to be a spinster. That may be why she is so damn grumpy all the time. Men may get blue balls but women just get mean when they ain’t gettin’ any boom-boom action.
Dr. Gideon Gault – Emily’s father. He is a medical physician, which for the time puts him one step above Witch Doctor on the list of people you’d want to go to when ill. This guy loves digging up dead people. I suppose there just wasn’t an adequate supply of stiffs on which to experiment.
Sweeney – He is one of the gravediggers who moonlights as a grave robber. Bury the casket, dig up the casket, bury the casket...talk about repetitive work! And back breaking, too! I hope those grave diggers had a good union, or at the very least a good medical plan.
Mole – Mole here, besides having questionable taste in hats, is another gravedigger. He works with Sweeney putting dead folks into the ground and then digging them back up for Dr. Gault, who employs them both in his never ending quest to gain dead people to experiment on.

 

The Plot Hold your cursor over an image for a pop-up caption

Title screen on the DVDOriginal theatrical title screenWe start off in a mist shrouded graveyard at night. Gathered around a grave are a group of men who watch while two more guys go about the business of digging up a grave. We see that Guy Carrell, Miles Archer and Dr. Gideon Gault are part of the gathered men. Soon enough the two gravediggers, one of who is whistling an annoying tune, reach the coffin buried within this particular grave. They pry loose the lid and hand it off to Guy and Miles, who both notice that the interior side is covered with scratch marks and dried blood. The gravediggers then begin to freak out, barreling their way out of the grave with all the expediency of a sailor running for the local red light district after a year at sea. Looking into the open coffin, the assembled men see that the body – that of an older man, is sporting a horrified expression…the kind usually reserved for men who have just been told that their mother-in-law is coming for a six month stay. The camera zooms in on the corpse and we realize that this poor old bastard had been buried alive, and had clawed desperately at the coffin before giving up the ghost (still beats six months with the mother-in-law IMO).

We now get our title screen, with the frozen visage of the dead guy as a background. The music swells and as the opening credits unfold, we see a carriage making its way through a spooky landscape that seems to have two distinct features: sporadic trees and lots of fog. The conveyance pulls to a stop before a really creepy house that is surrounded by…you guessed it – mist and fog. Inside the carriage is Emily Gault, who now exits and walks to the front door while the carriage and driver vanish into the night.

Hey! It’s Shadow Manor…my house!A manservant answers the door and bids her welcome by name, so I guess she has been in these parts before. She is about to say whom it is she has come to see, but before she can get it out, Kate Carrell appears and very pointedly asks Emily what she wants. Emily says she wants to see Kate’s brother Guy, but Kate says that he does not wish to see her. Emily wants to hear that from Guy himself and mentions something about "deserving an explanation." Kate grudgingly acquiesces and allows Emily inside, telling her to wait while she fetches her brother. While she waits, Emily decides to be a rude pest and begins monkeying around with a music box. Kate suddenly returns and tells her that Guy does not wish to see her. She was only out of the room for less than ten seconds! How could she have gone to wherever Guy was, told him that Emily was here to see him, receive his negative response and then return within that time span? She could not! Thus, she is lying! Emily realizes this and again stresses that she will only accept such an answer from Guy himself. She breezes past Kate, intent on finding Guy.

Guy happens to be painting. I have ZERO eye for art…it all looks like crap to me, and this painting is no different. Emily knocks on the door, calls his name and then enters. Guy tells her that she should not have come. She responds by saying that she deserves more than just a letter. Then she asks Guy if he loves her. He admits that he does and that that is the reason why he sent her the letter – he loves her enough to set her free. He suggests she leave and forget that she ever met him. I’m starting to get the impression that these two were an item and that he called it off via a letter. Do you get that impression? I thought so. Anyway, she says that she knows "what happened" and that her father told her. He talks about his decision and says something about not running away from what was inside "that coffin" but rather, what he knew to be inside himself. I’m guessing that he is referring to that opening scene in the graveyard. She tells him that she does not understand. He will explain it to her, hoping that once she understands, she will know why there can never be a marriage between the two of them.

Am I the only one who is lost? Just what the f*ck are they talking about? Ok…they were engaged, or at the very least courting, I get that. But something about seeing a dead guy changed his mind about marriage? Was the dead guy holding a sign that said, "don’t do it?" Did the stiff sit up and proclaim his ardent support of the bachelor life? Did his headstone say "killed by marriage?" What?!

So Guy now leads Emily out of the room and through the house, Kate watching them. He takes her below the house to the cellars, where they store both wine and…dead people. Along the way they are menaced by a couple of rubber bats on strings. It seems this is where the family crypt is located. He gives her a tour of the place, telling her that this is where his ancestors are entombed. He talks about how death has affected his family…his father suffering the worst death of all. He is about to tell Emily just what happened when Kate appears and interrupts him. She is there to remind Guy that it is time for him to take his medicine. Emily wants to know what medicine he is taking and he explains that without it, he cannot sleep.

Guy now begins blathering on about how he should not have gone with Emily’s father and the other doctors on that night and how he is interested only in private research. So he is some kind of doctor, eh? He goes on about the dead guy they all saw that night. He mentions the corpse’s eyes, hands and fingernails – all of which gave evidence supporting the fact that the poor bugger had been buried alive. Guy now reveals that for years now, he has been afraid of such a fate befalling him as well. He goes on and describes in vivid detail what it must be like to find oneself in such a predicament. The way he goes on and on about coffins, burials and death, you’d think this guy was the poster boy for Goths everywhere! He tells Emily that everyone in his family has met with a violent death and that he now awaits his turn. She asks him how his father died, and he tells her it was due to catalepsy. She is unfamiliar with such a condition, so he describes it for her: how the victim gives every outward sign of being dead, but in fact is not (Republicans!). He goes on to say that he was thirteen when his father died of a supposed heart attack. After the elder Carrell was entombed, the young Guy heard his father crying out from within his coffin, begging for release. Guy pleaded with everyone to let him out, but no one believed him.

Kate now speaks up, saying how the story is not true – their father did die from a heart attack and was not buried alive. Guy disagrees and insists that he heard their father on that night. Kate believes that he only heard their father’s voice in his mind. He insists that he knows the truth of the matter. He tells Emily that in addition to his father’s money, he has inherited his catalepsy condition…and this is why he called the marriage off.

Ya know, I have heard some weak excuses in my time, but that one really takes the cake.

Emily is persistent. She tells him that she loves him and that she wants to be his wife. Kate states that her brother is ill, hoping to scare her away, but Emily just promises to nurse him back to health. She looks at Guy and tells him that if he truly loves her, he won’t shut her out of his life. Guy seems to think it over and then approaches Kate. He thanks her for looking after him, but reminds her that he must make some decisions alone. She asks if he has made his choice and he responds by holding out his hand to Emily, who takes it. I guess there is gonna be a wedding after all! Kate looks extremely unhappy, and says of his decision, "then let it be upon your own head." What a killjoy! I think the old maid is jealous.

Now some time has passed. We see lightning streak across a cloudy sky. Indoors, Guy and Emily are gettin’ hitched! I don’t know about you, but getting married on a dark and stormy night is not the most positive way to start things off. What is really funny is that when the priest gets to that part where he asks if anyone objects to the union between these two people and should speak now or "forever hold his peace," thunder and lightning instantly erupt. Not a good sign, people! Despite that ominous note, the remainder of the ceremony goes off without any trouble…though Kate looks mighty upset.

A short time later at the reception, Guy’s good friend Miles Archer makes a toast in their honor (it was also at this point that I accidentally and unknowingly hit the Audio Stream button on my DVD player while toggling back and forth between the film and the word processor –and wondered why everyone was suddenly speaking French!). Guy convinces Emily to play something on the piano so as to entertain the guests. As she plays, Guy chitchats with her father, a Dr. Gideon Gault while Miles approaches Emily and compliments her on her playing. It's quite obvious that his "admiration" for her is more than just that.

"I never thought I’d say this, but please stop playing and put on a Yanni album."On the other side of the room, Guy takes note of the attention Miles is giving Emily and begins to tune out Dr. Gault. He clenches his eyes shut as if he is in sudden pain and then excuses himself, leaving a confused Dr. Gault. Guy walks up to where his new wife is at the piano and asks her what she is playing. She gives him the name of the tune and he asks her to please stop playing it. She asks why and he responds with a much louder and adamant, "please stop playing it!" The whole room stops and takes notice. The guests are concerned for Guy but he just wants everyone to leave him alone. He runs up the stairs and while leaning against the banister, gets a vision of that dead guy they exhumed at the beginning of the flick. Then he runs to his room and collapses on the bed.

He is awoken by Emily who is decked out in her nightie and tells him that all the guests have left. Hey! This is the wedding night! It’s time for the traditional wedding night Boom-Boom! Emily asks her husband what happened to him earlier and he tries to explain that there was something about the music she was playing that reminded him of that annoying tune the gravedigger was whistling during that opening scene. Man, this dude sure is developing some major neuroses over that incident! Emily assures him that it is just the two of them now and firmly plants a long kiss on his lips. The smooch is interrupted by what sounds like a scream coming from outside.

Guy jumps up to investigate, more interested in whatever made that sound than about getting laid. Moron. He takes a candle and heads downstairs. He makes his way through the house and outside, where it is raining pretty good. He wanders through the trees and mist, eventually coming face to face with a horrid creature stalking the night! No, it’s not the Wolfman, but his sister Kate! She is standing over the body of a Collie. She says the lightning must have killed the animal. Guy says that he will bury the dog. Kate agrees but for now she ushers Guy back towards the house where it is dry. They’ve barely taken a few steps when a dog’s whimpering can be heard. They stop and turn around to see the dog picking itself up off the ground. Kate remarks that the lightning must have only stunned the animal. Guy is horrified…but not at dogs coming back from the dead. Nope, he is spazzing out because he realizes he almost buried a living dog. Fade out.

Fade in. Guy is standing in the graveyard, the place covered with the omnipresent mist and fog. Emily approaches and after she notices that he is holding paper and pen asks him if he is sketching . He says that he is drawing up plans. She tries to get him to spill the beans, but he won’t reveal anything just yet. To change the subject, he tells her that he has the ability to kiss a woman without touching her. She doesn’t believe him, so he bets her a Shilling that he can do it. She agrees and then he plants one on her. Then he takes out the money and hands it to her, confirming that he lost the bet, but the kiss was worth far more to him. Somebody poor water on Mr. Romance here. Emily now brings up the topic of their honeymoon. She was expecting a trip to Venice and so far Mr. Romance here has not produced. He tells her to be patient with him, so she dedicates herself to brightening up "that dreary old house." She plucks a few wild flowers and when she shows them to Guy, he violently pushes them away. She is confused, so he explains that he loathes flowers and wants her to promise that she will never bring those sickly "funeral decorations" into the house. She tries to talk sense to him but he is firm in his resolve, so she promises to do what he wants.

More time has passed by now. How much? Don’t ask me. Emily is sitting by the fire doing needlepoint when the butler walks up and informs her that Dr. Miles Archer has arrived. She asks him to show Miles inside and then goes to greet him. Miles makes it clear that he has come in response to a message she sent him. He asks if anything is wrong and she says yes. She tells him that Guy is ill. They have not left the house since the day they were married. She claims her husband is a changed man and begs Miles to help him. He says he will do what he can and has her take him to see Guy. She leads Miles across the misty moors to the graveyard and a new crypt that has been constructed. She tells him that Guy started building it a month ago (that is how much time passed by). They approach the door and Emily knocks on it. She calls out to Guy, who answers back by telling her that he is busy and that she should leave. She persists (women always do) so Guy opens the door. He notices Miles and apologizes for his rudeness, saying that he has been ill. Miles offers to help but Guy says that such help will not be necessary, as he is helping himself. Emily and Miles want to know how he is doing that, so Guy invites them inside to show them.

The latest novelty: Jack-in-the-Box coffins.The latest novelty: Jack-in-the-Box coffins.Inside is the homiest crypt I have ever seen. It even comes stocked with a liquor cabinet! Guy pours them all a drink and makes a toast to death. Emily and Miles look positively confused. Guy now proceeds to show Emily and Miles all the upgrades he has made to the crypt. Fearing that he may fall victim to catalepsy and be buried alive, Guy has installed all sorts of neat features into the place to ensure his survival. First up is a coffin that has a flip top that pops open and is activated from within. It even has some tools inside just in case the flip top mechanism fails to work and Guy is forced to break his way out. Up next is a rope that activates a bell, letting people outside know that he is alive. In case no one hears the bell, another rope triggers a device that unlocks and opens the crypt door. However, if the door should stick, a third rope releases a rope ladder and opens a small doorway in the ceiling. In the event that all those ropes fail to work, he has a chest of tools nearby that he can use to gain egress. But tools can break, too! So that is why he also has some dynamite sticks to blast his way out of the crypt. Now, in the unlikely event that all of these things fail to work, he has supplied the place with enough food to last for several days as well as music and things to read. Over time, he can try and get the attention of those outside. Finally, if after all of this and with his supplies exhausted he has been unable to escape the crypt, he has one last course of action to stave off a slow lingering death: poison. Now, raise your hand if you think that in spite of all these precautions, Guy here will find himself buried alive and trapped. Ok, hands down.

Returning to the house, Emily and Miles discuss the situation. Since Guy has never shown any previous signs of suffering from catalepsy, and since it isn’t a condition that can be inherited from a parent, Miles believes that the incident at the cemetery (you know…the one at the very beginning) has caused Guy to become obsessed with this one particular fear. Miles mentions a new line of thinking amongst the medical crowd – that the body and mind are not the separate entities previously thought, but are in fact connected. He thinks that Guy’s constant fear may manifest itself in catalepsy-like conditions through sheer belief, despite no such ailment having existed before. Emily asks what can be done but Miles is not sure. He just knows that Guy’s mind is very fragile and that the smallest thing could set him off. Long about now Kate can be seen eavesdropping out in the hallway. She hears Emily wish that Miles could stay with them and help Guy. Miles then remembers that there is a laboratory downstairs that Guy once offered the use of to him – if he were to accept the offer, it would give him an excuse to drop by more often. Miles then leaves, but not before giving "Dear Emily" a chaste kiss on the hand. Ha! I saw the looks he was throwing her way earlier. He has the hots for her!

Now we see Miles working in that lab, the usual mad-scientist trappings filling the place, including a gizmo that has an exposed arc of electricity (I think those were standard lab instruments prior to 1960). Miles is working with a dead frog, demonstrating to Guy how applying electricity to the body causes its muscles to contract. He tells Guy to return to his own field of research in order to help clear his mind of his troubles, but Guy doesn’t seem eager to do that. Then Miles advises him to take some time away, perhaps by taking Emily on that long overdue trip to Venice. Guy says he will think about it and leaves Miles to his dead frog experiments.

Now we see Guy and Emily walking outdoors. Well, the number of trees and all the fog tells us it is supposed to be outdoors, but any observant eye will tell you that it is a stage set they are traversing. Guy is saying that getting outside has made him feel somewhat better and Emily says that all they need in order to be happy is each other. In the midst of all this happy talk, Guy freezes. He tells Emily to listen, but she claims to hear nothing. He, on the other hand, can clearly hear the sound of whistling…but not just any whistling. Yep, it’s that same damned annoying as hell tune that the gravediggers were whistling at the very beginning. Guy freaks out and runs away through the trees and mist, the whistling becoming louder and louder as well as increasing in tempo. He stumbles around for a bit, panicking and then pauses by a tree. He turns to move on and comes face to face with the very same gravediggers that were responsible for belting out the tune at the beginning. Guy then promptly passes out. Jeez, made of iron, this guy.

Purple haze all in my brain. Lately things just don’t seem the same. Actin’ funny, but I don’t know why. ’scuse me while I kiss the sky.What follows next is every LSD user’s worst nightmare – a really bad trip through surreal images and sounds. Guy finds himself trapped in a coffin. He pulls the cord to open it but nothing happens. He yells for help, but no sound issues forth from his mouth. Continuing to yell and writhe around within the coffin, he manages to unbalance it and knock it off its dais. The coffin breaks open and Guy comes spilling out. He finds himself in the crypt of his own design, but none of the gizmos he has prepared to ensure his escape from a premature burial will work for him. He pulls on the various ropes and they just come loose in his hands. The dynamite sticks just crumble when he touches them. There is only one course of action available to him – drink the poison. He takes the cup and lifts it to his lips, but it only contains squirming maggots. He lets out another silent scream and things begin to fade…

…Miles and Emily are trying to get Guy to wake up. He is sitting under the tree where he passed out and he tells them that he saw the two "filthy grave robbers" coming for him. He is sure Emily saw them, too but she says that she did not. Guy is convinced the grave robbers were coming to get him, but Miles thinks it was his imagination. Guy gets a little upset at what he perceives to be their patronizing him, but allows them to lead him back to the house to get some rest.

Back at the creepy Carrell house, Guy is lying down in bed and promising to join Emily downstairs in a bit. She leaves him and heads downstairs to where Miles is waiting. They talk about what Guy claims to have seen outside. Miles thinks the grave robbers did not exist, except in Guy’s mind. He begins talking again about how the Human mind can create something out of nothing, which makes Emily fear that her husband is going mad. Miles dismisses that notion, believing Guy’s fears to be rooted in reality. He mentions how Guy’s father was prematurely interred, at which point Kate enters the room and counters that thought by saying it was not so. Miles asks how she knows that for certain and she says that she went to her father’s crypt to look for herself.

Upstairs, Guy is jolted out of his peaceful rest by that same whistling again. He gets up, leaves the room and begins stalking the halls. He eventually makes his way to one door and opens it. The room behind it seems to no longer be in use, as cobwebs cover everything. An open window lets the wind blow into the room, creating a soft whistling sound as it enters. Kate appears in the door leading to the hallway and tells her brother that all he hears is the wind. He approaches the open window and when he looks out, there is the one of the grave robbers staring back at him. Guy is startled and jumps away. Kate calls to him and he tells her that "he is there!" Naturally, when Kate goes and looks she doesn’t see a thing.

Some time later, Emily and Miles are talking about Guy’s condition. She says that ever since that night on the moors, he has changed and she hardly knows him any more. Miles suggests that she ask Guy to go away with her, but she says that he won’t leave the crypt he has constructed and will not allow her inside. Miles confesses that there isn’t much they can do, as treating mental conditions isn’t exactly a science yet, as it will be someday. He does have an idea for one approach they have not tried and Emily eagerly asks what she needs to do.

Now we see Guy out in his crypt, where has been painting. He hears Emily at the door, so he covers his painting and lets her in. He is cold towards her, wanting to know why she is interrupting his work. She sees the covered painting and asks to see it, but he thinks she will not find it very pleasing. She presses the issue so he uncovers it. Revealed is a ghastly painting that depicts all the horrors of hell itself: people being tortured for all eternity in a variety of gruesome ways (I’m sure someone is being forced to listen to Yanni albums nonstop) and enormous demons that carry out their hellish work with sadistic glee. Emily is horrified but continues on with her mission. She is here to give Guy an ultimatum. She is tired of Guy’s obsessive brooding over his fears and tells him to either put them behind him and move on with her, or stay hidden away in his self imposed tomb without her. She wants to take care of him but cannot do it when he locks himself away from her. She promises that she will never allow anyone to take him down to the family crypt. She then says that if he does choose to move on with her, then he must destroy this crypt he has built for himself. She asks him what his choice will be: death by himself, or life with her. He says nothing and just walks away. A pained expression on her face, she leaves him to his solitude. However, once she has gone, Guy comes to his senses and calls out to her. He runs after her and makes it clear that he chooses her. They express their love and devotion to each other once again.

Next we see Guy’s crypt going up in flames. Miles tells Guy that it took great courage to destroy his former sanctuary, but Guy says it was fear that motivated him. The fear of losing something more valuable to him than his life: Emily. Miles says that now they can finally get to that long overdue honeymoon. Guy agrees but before that, he is holding a party on the forthcoming Friday night and wants Miles to attend. Miles agrees to drop by and the group moves away from the burning crypt, Kate stealing one last glance at it.

It is night now and we see a black-clad figure making its way down the stairs to the family crypt and then removing a key from a storage cabinet. The figure unlocks the tomb where Gideon Carrell is interred and then enters, closing the door behind it. The family butler comes down the stairs and sees the key compartment open. He calls out but no one answers. He closes the key compartment and heads back upstairs.

Now it is Friday night and Guy’s little shindig is going strong. Everyone (which happens to be Guy, Emily, her father Dr. Gault, Miles and Kate) is seated around the dinner table finishing up their meal when Guy makes a toast to life. He then invites Dr. Gault and Miles to have cigars. Miles says he will be along shortly and stays behind to talk with Kate and Emily. He remarks on how well Guy appears, but Kate says that looks can be deceiving.

It was almost too late when Guy realized he had mixed up his cigars and dynamite sticks.Elsewhere Guy and Dr. Gault are lighting up their stogies. Gault congratulates Guy on his recovery, but Guy credits both Emily and Miles with lifting him out of his funk. Emily, Kate and Miles then arrive and there is some pointless chitchat. Guy suddenly hears something odd. Emily says that it is just the cat, but Guy wonders why it would be crying like that. He asks where the cat is at but Emily doesn’t know. Kate says that the sounds are coming from near the wall. Miles thinks the animal is stuck. He knocks on some wall panels until he finds which one the cat is trapped behind. He works loose a panel and frees the cat, whose plaintiff cries are starting to affect Guy. In fact, the whole affair seems to be affecting him oddly.

Miles now notices that Guy doesn’t look too well. Guy asks what would have happened if they had not heard the trapped animal. Miles then realizes that guy has not put his fears of being buried alive behind him. He admonishes Guy for not trying hard enough. He tells Guy that his fear of catalepsy is rooted in his belief that his father was buried alive. Guy sticks with his story on how he heard his father calling for help on that night. Miles asks him to prove it. He wants Guy to take him down to the family crypt and show him his father’s body. Guy refuses. Miles thinks that this is because Guy knows that his story is not true. Guy says he would give anything to learn that it was indeed not true. Miles then says to take him downstairs to see that proof. Guy agrees. Emily tries to stop him but Guy says he has put this off long enough.

So the whole gang heads on down to the family crypt. Guy opens the key compartment and realizes the key to his father’s tomb is missing. Miles wonders if Guy himself removed it at some point and just doesn’t remember doing so. Guy decides to break the tomb open. He grabs a metal bar and heads to his father’s tomb. At the last minute he says that he cannot do it, but Miles says that he must or risk being haunted forever. So Guy begins prying open the door. He gets it open and a spring loaded skeleton jumps out at him. Guy collapses in shock, his eyes frozen open but unseeing.

They carry his ass back upstairs where Miles places a mirror close to Guy’s face. There is no visible breath. It seems Guy is dead. Dr. Gault looks him over and pronounces him dead from a heart attack. Miles wants to hook Guy up to his gizmo contraption that shocks dead frogs (actually a galvanic battery), hoping to get certain proof that Guy is dead. By what, zapping the shit out of him and making sure he’s dead? Unbeknownst to any of them, Guy is still alive and in a cataleptic state. His cries for help are heard only by the audience and within his own mind. Miles zaps him with his gizmo but there is no change. Miles is convinced that Guy is dead and closes his friend’s eyes. Dr. Gault says that they might as well take Guy back down to the crypt but Emily reveals her promise to not let anyone take Guy down there.

Now we see the funeral services for Guy. Everyone is in church where a priest gives a speech over an open coffin. Inside the coffin, Guy is still talking within his mind, but no one can hear him. They close up the coffin, which has a small glass window situated right over Guy’s face and carry it to the burial site. Along the way, Guy manages to get his eyes open. He can see through the coffin window that he is not being taken to the crypt. Still, he cannot move and is unable to get anyone’s attention. The procession stops in the graveyard where the coffin is lowered into a hole in the ground…those two creepy gravediggers/robbers looking on from behind some trees. No one notices that Guy’s eyes are open and eventually they all leave. Then the gravediggers begin to fill in the hole, while Guy screams "I’m alive!" within his mind.

Back at the house, Kate asks Emily if she will be leaving soon after the reading of the will. Emily wants to know why she asks that, but Kate just passes it off, saying that under the circumstances she thought Emily would find staying in the house somewhat disturbing. Miles now speaks up and says that what happened in the crypt, along with everything else, was obviously planned by someone. He thinks it was Guy himself who did it, operating under some strange desire to die. Emily spazzes, running out of the room visibly upset.

 

Note - It is at this point that the movie enters its final segment, so if any of you really feel the need to watch this film and not know the ending ahead of time, skip the rest of this section.

 

Out at the graveyard, the two creepy gravediggers/robbers are hard at work digging up Guy’s grave. Sure as shit, one of them is whistling that damned annoying tune. They banter back and forth and it becomes clear that the person responsible for sending them out here to dig up Guy’s body is none other than Dr. Gault himself. They finally unearth the coffin and one jumps out of the grave to retrieve a crowbar. The other manages to get the coffin open, but two hands lunge forth, startling him and grabbing him by the neck. It seems good old Guy has gotten his movement back. The other grave robber is looking through some tools, trying to find the crowbar when Guy approaches him. Guy grabs the crowbar away from the frightened man, and as the poor shmuck pleads for his life, Guy impales him with it.

"Simon says…spasm!"We see a single figure moving through the darkness, a body draped over its shoulder. It enters the Carrell house and the laboratory where Dr. Gault is playing with a bone. I mean it. The old coot is playing with a bone. The Doctor sees the figure and assuming it’s Sweeney, one of the grave robbers he employs, he chastises him for bringing the body there instead of to his own place. The figure dumps the body in a corner and steps back. Dr. Gault bends over to look at it and sees that the body is that of Sweeney himself, dressed in Guy’s clothes. He turns to look at the person behind him and realizes that it is Guy, now decked out in Sweeney’s clothes (which no doubt stunk something fierce). "You’re dead!" he cries out. He tries to get away, but Guy chases him down and knocks him unconscious. Then he hooks the old guy up to Miles’ nearby dead frog zapper and looks on in morbid glee as the older man’s body begins to spasm from the electricity.

Upstairs, Emily is lying in her bed with Miles nearby. He is talking about how there is nothing wrong with her and wonders why she sent for him. She claims that she is afraid to be alone. He thinks that she should leave the Carrell house. She invites him to come sit on the bed, which he does. Then she launches into a speech about how she is in need of someone to give her solace in this time of mourning. She mentions how she and Miles were very close once and they recall their younger days. She suggests that it may not be too late for them, unaware that her supposedly dead husband, Guy, is watching from the window.

There is a knock at the bedroom door and the butler enters. After a nervous glance towards Emily, he asks Miles to come with him and take a look at something. Miles tries to get the man to seek Dr. Gault’s help but the servant is sure that Dr. Gault would want Miles to take care of the matter. Miles agrees to go and as they walk down the hall the butler informs him that he heard a sound from the laboratory a short while ago. "See for yourself" he tells Miles when the latter asks about what he found.

In her room, Emily is now up out of bed and sitting before her mirror, brushing her hair. She hears the door open and close and calls out to Miles, thinking it is him (why she thinks he has returned so damn quick is beyond me). Alas, it is not Miles but rather, Guy who has entered. She stares in shock as he wonders where his welcome may be. She gets up and walks toward him, but faints as she gets near, forcing him to catch her.

In the laboratory, Miles is examining the body of Dr. Gault, who has been killed by Miles’ own dead frog zapper. The butler points out a body that is lying nearby and Miles sees that it belongs to Sweeney the gravedigger. With that he runs out of the room quite hastily, as if he just remembered that his dinner was getting cold or something.

Out on the moors, Guy is carrying an unconscious Emily through the foggy trees. Back in her bedroom, Miles shows up and stays just long enough to verify that she is gone, but not before finding the late Sweeney’s hat, which Guy must have dropped. He goes rushing out of the house and onto the moors. How the hell did he know where to go? Eventually Guy brings Emily to the very same grave in which he was deposited earlier in the evening. He drops her on the ground and binds her hands and feet; She comes to and calls out to him. He accuses her of lies, deceit and treachery but she denies it all. He talks about how clever she was in her plans. She asks if he is going to kill her and he says no. Just as she did not kill him, but had him buried alive, he will now bury her alive and let the earth claim her. With that he dumps her into the grave and begins filling it with dirt, her screams are quickly muffled….and a good thing, as she was really starting to belt them out like a heavy metal singer.

Along about now, Miles comes running up, having been drawn by Emily’s horrible racket. He sees Guy filling in the grave and calls to him. Guy tells him to stay back, as he does not wish to harm him. Miles is not deterred and tries to take the shovel from Guy. A lame ass fight ensues. Guy eventually gets the upper hand and is about to plunge the raised shovel into Miles, who is laid out on the ground, when a gunshot pierces the night air and Guy collapses...dead. Standing a short ways away with a gun is his sister Kate.

Kate drops the gun and goes to her brother while Miles works feverishly to uncover Emily. He pulls her from the dirt but it is too late...she has suffocated and is now dead. "Thank god," Kate responds, which greatly puzzles Miles. Kate shows Miles a necklace hanging around Emily’s neck. On it is the missing key to the Carrell family crypt. Kate explains that it was "sweet, beautiful" Emily that was behind everything all along. Once she had learned how easy it would be to use Guy’s fear to kill him, she went to work. First she hired the grave robbers to torment him, then she purposely trapped the cat behind the wall and finally desecrated the tomb of Gideon Carrell.

The fate of the audience.Kate breaks down and begins talking to the deceased Guy, saying that she knew what Emily was doing and wanted to tell him, but she knew he would never have believed her. She had to wait for proof, but ended up waiting too long and was too late. Miles helps the crying Kate to her feet and the two walk off into the mist.

The End.

 

Review



There are a lot of things people fear, especially when it comes to the many ways one can die. Some people are afraid of being devoured by some beast, whether it be a shark, tiger or Tyrannosaurus Rex. Others fear drowning or being burned alive. There are those who quake in terror of falling from some great height or those who spaz out at the mere thought of sharp objects getting near their tender hide. Then there are the fears that are the product of current society and/or technology, such as the fear of dying in a plane crash. For some of us, death via Yanni music is a very real and frightening possibility. Regardless, the list of ways to check out of this existence is seemingly endless. However, way back in the nineteenth century there was a particular fear that took root in the mind of the general population: being buried alive.

This fear was born from the reputations of physicians who lacked modern medical knowledge and ended up pronouncing people dead prematurely. This anxiety became so wide spread that the Society for the Prevention of People Being Buried Alive was formed and aided in preventing such fates from befalling people. One method was to let a body lie in its coffin for days or weeks before burying it (imagine the smell when they started getting ripe). A more simple practice was to include tools in a dead one’s casket, in case they required them to effect an escape later. One man, George Bateson, became quite wealthy from selling his device, known as the Bateson Revival Device. Consisting of an iron bell placed above ground, connected by a cord placed in the deceased’s hand, it enjoyed brisk sales despite there being no record of it ever having saved someone’s life.

Naturally, such a morbid concept as being interred alive was not ignored by the writers of the day. As this was decades before the film industry arose, people made do with the written word to get their regular dose of horror fiction. Perhaps the most famous of such stories is Edgar Allan Poe’s The Premature Burial which remains today a classic example of short horror fiction (personally I prefer The Masque of the Red Death but that is just me). Fast forward about one hundred and ten years, and we arrive at the point when Science Fiction and Horror films are shifting away from invading spacemen and giant monsters. Pioneering this trend was American International Pictures, the small outfit led by James H. Nicholson and Samuel Z. Arkoff, which saw great success with their cheap, youth oriented films. Looking for a new type of film to exploit, they took a risk and spent the money usually allocated for two cheap black & white films in order to make a single color picture with more lavish sets and costumes. They hired Roger Corman to direct along with Richard Matheson to pen the scripts and produced a string of profitable films based on the stories of Edgar Allan Poe. As 3Beerman puts it over at 3B Theater, "Based on is a relative term. The films and books were based on each other in that they were both in English." The success of these Poe inspired films caused Pathe Laboratories, a film developing and print making lab, to get in on the movie making business. They hired Corman to direct The Premature Burial, but since Vincent Price was under contract to AIP, they opted to go with Oscar winner Ray Milland instead. Once Sam Arkoff at AIP heard about this, he threatened to pull away all of the business AIP was sending in Pathe’s direction. Pathe sold the project to AIP, which completed the production.

This is another film for which words seem to fail me. Not that such a situation is a bad thing. It is just that I really do not know what to say about this movie. Is it good? Well…yeah. Is it bad? Not really. Is it slow and potentially boring? Definitely. It seems to hit all its marks, accomplishes the task of telling its story in a mostly satisfactory manner and visually looks great. Yet, there is still a vague empty feeling left in the viewer when it is over, as if something was left out. The problem is, I haven’t got a clue as to what that something may be. It just feels like a five thousand piece jigsaw puzzle that once completed, is missing a mere handful of pieces. Not enough to ruin the overall image, but enough to be a distraction.

The Storyline.
I will confess right here and now that it has been at least twenty years since I read Edgar Allan Poe’s The Premature Burial, and over the course of those two decades I have retained nothing from the story. Hence, I have no idea at what point and with what elements the movie differs from the original. I know that the film must have taken some liberties, as even at barely eighty minutes, the movie is far too long for a literal adaptation, thus something was added to help pad out the running time. I do know that the story on display isn’t that bad. It is told in a straightforward manner, with no flashbacks, no multiple story threads and no confusing plot twists. It simply goes from A to B to C and so on. We all know that despite his best efforts, Guy is going to end up buried alive. We all know that such a condition cannot represent the end of the film, as that would be supremely disappointing. Therefore we simply wait until the movie reaches that point by watching what leads up to it. To be fair, the movie does do a good job of keeping things on track and interesting. Well, interesting for us die hards. The ADD crowd will be out the door within minutes, as this film has lots of talking.

Characterizations & Acting.
This is the film’s strongest point. With very little in the way of onscreen action (of any type), the film must rely on its characters, their personalities and their personal actions to keep the audience engaged. This is accomplished very well through the finely acted characters. While some of them may be perceived as super duper annoying, and may conjure up the desire in some viewers to reach into the TV and smack the hell out of them, they still manage to keep the audience watching. In some cases this is because the viewer may empathize with them while in others it is because the character is so screwed up (Guy), we watch simply to see where the poor bastard is going to bounce next. Ray Milland does a good job at bringing Guy’s torments to life. I don’t know about any of you, but I could totally believe that this guy was royally screwed up and in no mental condition for marriage. Despite a few fleeting moments of happiness, Milland plays Guy as a man who is constantly on the verge of going insane. On the other hand, Hazel Court turns in a great performance as Emily. Her emotional pain at seeing Guy so tormented is very real and her concern seems so genuine. The revelations at the end only serve to strengthen both the character’s and the actress’s job.

FX.
The story here really does not call for any fancy visual FX. I think the most elaborate it ever gets is during Guy’s LSD-like dream, with all the strong purples and greens. Other than that, there really isn’t anything. That is definitely one way to keep the budget down.

Music.
The original music by Ronald Stein and Les Baxter (uncredited), both of whom were AIP regulars, is really great is some spots, barely noticeable at other times and downright annoying at still others. The latter is definitely represented by that annoying whistling that pops up numerous times. On the flip side of that coin, the opening theme – which itself uses an orchestral version of that same whistled tune, is really quite outstanding. The rest of the film is filled with your standard horror fare, which means to say that it serves its purpose by accenting all the right moments but is not distracting.

Technique.
The look and "feel" of the film is spot on when trying to capture the macabre atmosphere evoked by Poe’s tale. The sets are gorgeous, illuminated well enough to see the detail that went into creating just the right look, yet with enough shadows and dark corners to help convey that feeling of gloominess. The costumes are striking, reminding us that this is a different time but are not flamboyant like some period piece films tend to showcase. Overall, both elements combine to create a believable world for the story being told. The use of color really aids in this and I just cannot see how a black and white film could have managed to convey the same sense of darkness and dread. It is almost as if the film is reminding us that beneath the bright colors of life, there is the eternal darkness of the grave, and this is why the film achieves a "drab" look on occasion, despite the color film stock. This is accented in a scene near the end when a character meets their demise via Miles’ Dead Frog Zapper. The person’s spasms are only seen as a shadow on the wall, which makes for an eerie middle ground between darkness and light, life and death. The only drawback to this whole feeling of the macabre are the sets used for outdoor scenes. While the dreary trees and low-lying fog look really cool, one cannot help but notice that these are obvious sets. This aspect provides a tiny crack in that illusory onscreen world.

Summation.
While not exactly bursting with chills and thrills, the film still has plenty of style. This slick look and feel compensates for what is basically a rather tame story. It is easy to see why American International Pictures enjoyed so much success with their Poe-inspired series of films. They may have been cheap in comparison to big Hollywood studio efforts, but good old James H. Nicholson and Samuel Z. Arkoff were masters at stretching a budget and getting the most bang for their buck. They hired young directors eager to prove their talent and it shows time and again in their Poe series. The Premature Burial may get overlooked because it did not star perennial AIP favorite Vincent Price, but in this Shadow’s opinion Ray Milland turns in an excellent performance, adding to a film that may prove taxing to some, but rewarding to others.

 

Expect To See:
Haunted Houses
Haunted Houses - Well, the Carrell house is not haunted per se, but it is a very creepy looking gothic abode. I’d feel right at home there.
Macabre Hijinks
Macabre Hijinks - Based on "king of the macabre" Edgar Allan Poe's story, this has all the requisite ingredients: a nineteenth century setting, fog, graveyards, crypts, tombs, etc.
Romance
Romance - Usually reserved for romances that develop during the film, I still included this one as Guy and Emily seem to rekindle their passion partway into the movie.
Violence
Violence - Screams denote one man being impaled and a shadow is what we see when another is electrocuted. A gunshot victim keels over like he was suffering from narcolepsy.

 

Movie Stats:
Shadow's Commentary:

Body count: 9 including 1 Dog and 1 Frog
Total deaths: 6 including 1 dog
Times death was prematurely diagnosed: 2 including 1 dog
Times that damned annoying tune is heard being whistled: 4
Percentage of movie actually filmed outdoors: 0%
Times Mile’s Galvanic Battery (AKA the Dead Frog Zapper) is used: 3
Times that we hear cataleptic Guy’s thoughts: 9
Bats on strings: 2
Spring loaded skeletons: 1

00 Mins - A nice night for grave robbing, but...did someone sell tickets?
02 Mins - My house!
06 Mins – Rubber bats on strings.
13 Mins - I think God objects!
15 Mins - Everyone is a freakin’ music critic.
36 Mins - This is the movie on drugs.
59 Mins - Spring loaded skeleton.
77 Mins - Was he shot or did he just pass out?
81 Mins - The end. Fade out.


Shadow's Drinking Game: Any time a dead body is seen - from any species - take a drink.

 

Images Click for larger image

"I hope she doesn’t realize that
this is cubic zirconia."



BURP. "Excuse me."


That frog had better be thankful that it's
dead, with that thing shoved up its butt.

"Haha! I am invisible. You cannot see me!"

"Oh, shut up and get your hand out of
my face."


Scare the hell out of misbehaving kids by
telling them that bad children go here when
their parents sell them.


"Look at the size of the termites in this dump!"

"Maybe you’d get better results if you stuck
one of the leads in his ass."

"Can we hurry it up? This guy weighs a ton
and I wanna get home to watch Lost."

"I’m beginning to think that this story of yours
about pirate treasure buried in your back
yard is a load of crap."


How gramps got his nickname of Boner.

Sadly, capturing and tagging loose women
for studying and tracking purposes fell
out of habit.

"I can’t be buried in this gown,
it doesn’t bring out my eyes!"

 

Immortal Dialog

Miles explains a new theory amongst witch doctor…er…physicians.

Miles: "You see, most people tend to think of the body and the mind as being totally different. Two separate entities. Whereas in point of fact, they’re actually linked."

Shadow’s comment: Based on this theory is the method by which the doctor stomps on your foot to relieve your headache pain.


Guy prepares to bury Emily alive.

Emily (screaming): "Guy, no, not that!!"
Guy: "Yes, my beautiful, my perfidious, my treacherous love…THAT!"
Emily: screams

Shadow’s comment: Women ALWAYS react that way to back-door love.

 

Keep In Mind
  • Grave robbing is a spectator sport.
  • Deceased family members should be buried directly beneath your house.
  • When a woman makes up her mind to get married, nothing can stop her.
  • Dogs are lightning proof.
  • The sun never shines in Italy. In fact, the entire country is covered in a perpetual fog.
  • Crypts should be well stocked with food, and more importantly, booze.
  • Bad scares can induce LSD-like nightmares.
  • Cats should be stored within a wall.
  • Nineteenth century therapeutic techniques included busting into your own father’s tomb.
  • Coffins should always include a viewing window installed in the lid.



This Film & Me

Up until recently, I have made an unconscious decision to steer clear of AIP’s Poe inspired films from the 1960’s. I’m not sure why that is. I can hypothesize that it originates from viewing a couple such movies as a kid and being sorely disappointed with them. Hey, I was a kid! I wanted to see giant monsters, not people talking endlessly in period costumes. Whatever may be the reason, I have managed to go until quite recently without watching any of those films. In fact, The Premature Burial is only the second such movie I have watched in the last twenty years, the other being The Tomb of Ligeia…and both of those were viewed within the last few weeks. Needless to say, I have no history with this film that stretches back to when I was Lil Shadow. My first time seeing it was within the last month while preparing for this review.

Shadow's rating: Six Tombstones



The Good

  • Great performances
  • Beautiful set design
  • Cinematography really brings out sets and colors
  • Great atmosphere
  • Good music

The Bad

  • No real outdoor locations at all - everything is shot indoors
  • Somewhat slow moving
  • That damn annoying tune
  • Guy is a whiny bitch

The Ugly

  • Rubber bats on strings
  • Spring-loaded skeleton

This review is part of the Rogue Reviewers Matinee of the Macabre Roundtable:

Review Round-Up
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