July 10, 2012

Movie Review: The Premature Burial (1962)

Edgar Allan Poe and Roger Corman were a formidable combination back in the 1960's. It is interesting to think what they could have made had they been contemporaries. With the said, I have found I need to brush up on the adaptations that Corman brought to the big screen. I like to say that I am a fan of both artists, but I also freely admit that I need to see a few more of them. The first one I came across is 1962's The Premature Burial. Surprisingly, one that does not star Vincent Price, this time around it is Ray Milland. Let me tell you, Milland turns in one fantastic performance.

There is actually an interesting story why Price is not in the film. Apparently, there was a dispute over revenue from a prior film between Corman and American International Pictures, so he went to make he film with a different studio. The problem was that Price was under contract to AIP and could only make Poe films with them. That is when turned to Ray Milland. Funny thing, just before photography began, the other company (I do not recall their name) was bought out by AIP. Now, as awesome as Vincent Price is, I am not sure he cold top what Milland did here.

Milland stars as Guy Carrell. The man is terrified of being buried while still alive. You see, his father suffered catalepsy, a condition that pretty much mimics death. During a bout with the condition, the man is buried. Now, Guy is, a child at he time, swears he heard his father's cries from the tomb. Ever since he has an almost paralyzing fear of suffering the same fate, despite not showing any signs of inheriting the condition.

Early on he marries his sweetheart, Emily (Hazel Court). It is not really a happy marriage, as Guy retreats further and further into himself, giving in more and more to his fear. He has gone so far as to build a crypt with all manner of ways to get out should he be buried alive. There is a trick coffin that opens from the inside, rope ladders to the roof, and even a goblet of poison should everything else fail.

The Premature Burial is an interesting character study of a crumbling man's psyche. Ray Milland gives us a man who is coming apart at the seems. He is a man consumed with the idea of being put to rest before his time. It is made even more interesting in the fact there may be other factors contributing to his increasing paranoia. Could his beloved Emily, or Friend Miles Archer, or Emily's grave robbing father, Dr. Gault be encouraging the problem? It is certainly interesting to watch it play out.

I do not want to give it away to those who are unfamiliar with the macabre tale, but let me say that it does the pretty intense the closer you get to the conclusion. Milland gives a wonderful performance, internalizing the fear, never overplaying, but always drawing you in with him.

Now, there is a lot more to like than just Milland's performance. Corman is a master of doing a lot with a little. Many of the sets on this film were repurposed from a couple of prior Poe adaptations, and used to great effect. In conjunction with his director of photography, Floyd Crosby, they get some great looking angles, bright colors, and some gorgeous fog. It may be a low budget outing, but they make it look like a whole lot more, this is classic gothic horror.

One of my favorite creepy moments actually comes up a few times. It is the whistling of the grave robbers (one played by the great Dick Miller). There is something about it, eerie and infectious, that just gets under the skin and makes the hair on your neck stand on end. It's best appearance is leading into the final act when Guy's paranoia is at its peak. Great scene.

Seriously, this is a really good film. Poe really knew how to get into a person's essence and build the horror from within. This is not about monsters and gore, but the horror of humanity. Charles Beaumont and Ray Russell do a fine job of adapting the story for a screenplay.

They just don't make movies like this anymore, there is a very distinctive feel to it. It is definitely worth spending time with, hopefully you will enjoy it as much as I.

Highly Recommended.


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