Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The Premature Burial (1962)

The Premature Burial is the only Roger Corman film based on an Edgar Allen Poe story that does not feature Vincent Price in the lead role. Before principal photography started, Corman had a spat with American International Pictures, the studios responsible for the rest of Corman’s Poe pictures. Corman decided to take The Premature Burial to another studio, but because Price was in an exclusive contract with AIP, the lead went instead to Ray Milland. Before filming began, though, AIP re-acquired the production.

The Premature Burial is certainly not the best film from Corman’s Poe period, but that is definitely not due to Milland replacing Price. The story itself seems stuffy and dragged out, and not even the stunning gothic visuals can save it.

The film tells the tale of wealthy Guy Carrell (Ray Milland), a man obsessed with his fear of being buried alive. He is convinced that his father suffered from catalepsy (a catatonic-like state where one appears dead and has no reaction to stimuli, but in actuality is still alive) and was buried alive. Furthermore, he believes catalepsy runs in the family and that he will end up just like his father. His sweetheart, Emily Gault (Hazel Court), convinces Guy to marry her even though he suffers from these peculiarities and his sister, Kate (Heather Angel), disapproves of Emily.

For a while, Guy appears okay until strange circumstances surrounding his mansion force him to face his old phobia. He then constructs an elaborate mausoleum with enough bells and whistles to allow him to escape and alert people should he be interned while still alive. Emily and her doctor friend, Miles Archer (Richard Ney) convince Guy that his behavior isn’t healthy and make him destroy the tricked-out mausoleum. Soon after, Guy suffers a heart attack after a distressing discovery…is he really dead or will he be buried alive?

As stated above, The Premature Burial is definitely not the best Roger Corman had to offer during his Poe period of filmmaking. Overall, it’s a bit drab and boring compared with his other films like The Masque of the Red Death. The story doesn’t capture the terror of Poe’s original story and even devolves into silliness most of the time.

The best part of the film certainly involved the unveiling of Guy’s fool-proof mausoleum. Should he be buried alive, the crypt featured a collapsible coffin, a way to unlock the front door, a rope ladder up to the roof, a large bell to alert others of his presence, food, alcohol and even poison as a last resort! This was definitely a pimped out palace of the dead! The rest of the film just dragged, though, and the “reveal” ending really made no sense, especially since there was absolutely no mention or even suggestion of it throughout the rest of the film. The last few minutes felt very tacked on and unnecessary.

As for the actors, they did a commendable job moving through the stiff story. Ray Milland is certainly no Vincent Price, but he played a wonderful Guy and really made his phobia believable. Hazel Court, a regular in Corman’s flicks, also did a good job as the concerned wife Emily, even if the script gave her little to do but run after her husband and nag at him all the time.

The atmosphere of fog-shrouded cemeteries, eerie woods and a stuffy mansion was wonderful, but just wasn’t enough to support the entire film. Though I loved the scenes in the graveyard, in the woods and in the crypt, the gothic visuals just weren’t enough to make The Premature Burial a film worth watching again.
The Premature Burial certainly isn’t a horrible film, but it doesn’t have the same heart and spirit that many other Corman flicks from his Poe heyday have. You’ll find yourself wishing that the movie would prematurely end if you find yourself watching it!

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