Sunday, March 21, 2010

Grave Reviews #6

Premature Burial (1962)

Director: Roger Corman

Starring: Ray Milland, Hazel Court, Alan Napier, Heather Angel

Based on a Tale by Edgar Allan Poe.

This is the third Poe adaptation out of eight films by Roger Corman and the only one not to star Vincent Price.

Guy Carrell (Milland) develops an increasing level of paranoia from the fear of getting buried alive, when at the start of the film he witnesses a corpse getting exhumed and along with bloody claw marks on the lid of the coffin, the man's features are frozen in torment.

Guy writes a letter to his fiancee Emily (Court) telling her that the wedding is off for her own good. Not impressed with the letter Emily turns up to Guy's mansion unannounced and once getting past Guy's defensive sister Kate (Heather Angel) she learns of Guy's fears that are quickly growing into an obsession. She tells him she loves him unconditionally and will make sure his fear of inherited catalepsy (Guy's believes his father was buried alive in his tomb and heard him screaming the first night) will not get the better of him.

After the wedding, Guy builds a special tomb for himself, with all sorts of failsafes in case his worst fears are realised. The coffin is rigged to open at the slightest movement, and the crypt can open by pullcords that also open secret doors and a ladder with a hatch. If all else fails, there is a cord attached to a bell, food in the pantry and as a last resort poison in a chalice behind the black curtain.

Emily's old friend (and ex-lover) Miles stays in touch and rents a nearby house from Guy so he can work on his medical experiments along with Hazel's Doctor father where they can perform experiments on the body and mind. Miles is interested in the early stages of psychiatry and is intrigued by Guy's dilemma and attempts to help him find a solution.

Guy's hallicinations get worse, from seeing gravediggers stalk him, to an eerie graveside tune whistled only he can hear, to finding a trapped cat behind the walls. Kate demands an ultimatum, his fancy tomb or her with which he chooses her and blows it up with the dynamite, one of the options he had to escape the tomb. Miles comes to his wit's end with Guy's obsession and demands to see the body of Guy's father to prove once and for all that not only was his father not buried alive, but that catelepsy is not an inherited trait.

Upon seeing his father WAS buried alive he immediately falls into a cataleptic state. Emily struggles with her promise not to bury him in the crypt when Miles and her father declare him dead, and they bury him (alive) in the cemetery. Secretly a day later Emily's father has him dug up for medical research, and Guy begins to extract his revenge. He kills the graverobbers and Emily's father, and sneaks around his own house to listen in and discover who betrayed him.

He discovers Emily was behind it all, not only to get to his money, but also to have Miles for herself again although this plan was unknown to Miles himself. Guy kidnaps Emily and takes her to his grave to be buried alive herself as punishment, and after Miles is alerted to the dead graverobbers and Emily's father he gives chase to the cemetery to stop Guy.

Guy is compassionate to Miles, telling him to back off as he knows he played no part. Emily is dying under a foot of gravesoil in the grave, and as Guy gets the better of Miles he is shot dead by his own sister Kate who was aware of Emily's devious plan but was too hesistant to warn Guy because she would not be believed due to Emily's position to Guy. Miles retrieves Emily's suffocated corpse from the grave where Kate shows her the key to Guy's father's tomb tucked in her bosom, and they leave the two cursed lovers to rot in the cemetery.

This was a lush film, beautifully filmed and the sets were wonderfully gothic and necromantic. Like most of Poe's protagonists, Guy was half-mad and dealt with some obscure obsession. The film deviated slightly from the story, inasmuch as Guy's character does not die in the story, but at the end wakes up in a confined space, where at first he believes he is buried alive, but realises he is in berth of a boat, and subsequently overcomes his fear of being buried alive.

Of course this had to be changed from dramatic effect for film, and like Poe's tales adapted for film the end is a tragic one. Ray Milland was a fine substitute for Price, and to be honest I couldn't really see Price in this role, perhaps he turned it down? Hazel Court who plays Emily was in the Masque of the Red Death that I reviewed previously, and seemed to have made a name for herself as villains in Corman's Poe films. Both Milland and Hazel are admirable here, and the story seemed to centre on them mostly with Miles, Kate and others really one having minor parts.

But I watched this film for the gothic scenery and location (along with my love of Poe's literature) and I was not disappointed. Not sure if it's my favourite Poe adapatation yet, as I have to watch The Pit in the Pendulum and The Fall of the House of Usher etc, but this is certainly up there. I remember watching this in my teens years ago on T.V but can't remember whether I enjoyed it, though it must have left some impression.

My Grade is A-.


  1. Wow -- I never knew Ray Milland was in a Corman movie. He's in the Uninvited, which is one of my all-time favorite ghost stories. And of course the classic Dial M For Murder.

    Thanks Count!

  2. I haven't seen those other films and I hadn't heard of Milland until I saw this movie (again).