March 03, 2007

Chiller Theater

I Bury the Living(1958)

This black and white movie, despite the lurid title, sets up a nice little psychological study and does more with less than many other bigger-budget pictures. A prominent local businessman (reluctantly) takes over management of the local cemetary. While he's getting a tour of the place from the long-time caretaker, he sees this enormous map of the graveyard, filled with color coded pins. Black for occupied graves and white pins for plots that are already sold, for when the time comes.

Here is where an odd note strikes me as a plot point that just doesn't ring true. Apparently, everyone in town goes to this cemetary for any reason at all. It's like reunion week as folks drop in and reminisce about how the old manager's office sure hasn't changed over the years.

Back to the story. The manager, Kraft, accidentally puts black pins into a couple's newly-purchased plots, and shortly afterwards the couple dies in an automobile accident. When he discovers the incorrect pins, he feels somehow responsible for their deaths. Fully understanding that it was purely coincidental, he nevertheless randomly selects a plot and replaces the white pin with a black pin, just to prove to himself that he's being foolish.

Guess who drops dead? From here on, the focus of the story is on the manager and his attempts to understand what is happening. He calls in the police and his good friend (played by Herbert Anderson, who you might remember as Henry Mitchell from Dennis the Menace), and tries to convince his business partners that he caused those deaths. Every step of the way, the others involved refuse to believe him, and they ask him to exchange more white pins for black, to prove to him that he's not the cause of these untimely deaths. His mental condition deteriorates quickly until he realizes that if he can place a black pin to kill someone, then he can place a white pin to bring someone back to life (a Poe-etic ending, if I do say so).

Done groaning?

The plot is full of misdirection and twists, so don't think that I've given away any spoilers.

Richard Boone (Paladin from Have Gun, Will Travel) plays Kraft and does a fine job. Theodore Bikel (200 Motels) and his outrageous Scottish accent co-star. He's enjoyed a long and active career, appearing on television to this very day. But the real scene stealer of the movie is the map. As the movie goes on and Kraft descends farther into despair, the map seems to grow in size and power relative to him. The map itself is not malevolent, it's just the channel being used to focus Kraft's power. Because of the low budget, instead of special effects we're treated to several creative camera tricks (ok, and a few not-so-creative ones too). The above average direction and cinematography really help this movie to shine.

I see that I Bury the Living has been shown on Turner Classic Movies. If you get a chance to see it, it's worth the time and trouble. Recommended.

Posted by Ted at March 3, 2007 10:41 PM | TrackBack
Category: Cult Flicks

A note on the cemetery thing.Around the turn of the century cemeteries where built just as much for the living as the dead.Believe it or not they where actually meant to double as public parks.This was one of the original motivating factors behind the ornateness of many headstones and mosoleums.
I also wanna ask;Didn't you say once that you had recieved one of those wal-Mart "top 50 worst horror flicks ever for a buck fifty" DVDs?Was this one on it?I have here what is probably the same collection.I may have to dig it out.Ted,look for an e-mail from me on the whole monster movie thing.

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