Sunday, July 22, 2007

I Bury the Living (1958)

Director: Albert Band

Although it may end up feeling like an episode of Scooby Doo, this film does a descent enough job of following through on a standard, paint-by-numbers horror story to create an interesting experience. Robert Kraft (Richard Boone) recently took over management duties of the local cemetery. Eventually, Robert learns the chilling secret that he can control who will be the next to die by sticking pushpins into the giant cemetery plot map. The rest of the story plays out like a wannabe Hitchcock film or a better than average Twilight Zone episode, and although it probably won't surprise you, it may at least hold your interest.

Richard Boone (as Kraft) isn’t exactly the tortured soul he's needed to be for this role and ends up bottling up his acting for a few choice scenes towards the end, where in which he runs frantically around the cemetery while flailing his arms like Jerry Lewis. The art direction peeks out from behind the corner every now and then so as not to get in the way, but to punctuate the more suspenseful scenes to descent effect. Right off the bat, Kraft realizes that if he replaces the white pins (indicating a reserved burial plot) to black pins (indicating an occupied plot) on the giant cemetery map, the people he picks at random begin to turn up dead the next day, fulfilling the prophecy so to speak. This leads to a series of experiments performed by Kraft in hopes of proving this horrific concept to all those around him. In turn, they all keep reassuring him he's nuts. You'd think it would be easy to prove, and it sort of was for Kraft. The deaths are always chocked up to coincidence, however, and by taking place in a relative short amount of time, it becomes a sort of believably isolated story. The almost literal interpretation of the title is almost sure to lead to disappointment in the end. The ending itself turns out to feel tacked on, and doesn't fully fill in all the plot holes. Honestly, a lot of it is dull. I mean, there are only so many times I can watch the camera zoom in on a pushpin stuck on a map as the dramatic musical cue pounds through the speakers -- Bum Bum Buuuuuum!!!!!! The second half of the film is about 10 times better than the first half, as is the case with a lot of old-school thriller flicks. The set-ups take way too long because they're shamelessly crammed with totally uninteresting dialogue and exposition. That's where you'd find lines like, "I can't believe I just inherited this cemetery." Though, once that's all out of the way, I Bury the Living does hold its own. Of course there's the whole "ending" problem. Basically, there's a segment in this movie that starts about halfway through, and ends before the "big reveal" that works. I guess that's not exactly a shining endorsement.

Once the rest of the cast is brought in to trade opinions on Kraft’s alleged “death curse,” the movie gets considerably better. A rational approach is taken towards dissecting what's really going on when the cops are brought in, and the characters realistically discuss what's happening out in the open. All together, they try to sort out the seemingly coincidental deaths, which turn out to be more than just mere coincidences. Kraft's skeptical friends and co-workers are willing to test fate, and mockingly persuade Kraft to try his nifty little trick on them. Eerily, they begin to drop like flies in probably the best section of the film, and Kraft spends an inordinate amount of time sitting in his little office at the cemetery, sweating it out on the phone as he gets the bad news of each friend's demise. It’s hard to recommend this movie, since it’s obviously not the thriller it aspires to be. There are about two locations and several sleepwalking actors. The finale, where the big "secret" is revealed, is strangely similar (art direction and staging-wise) to the ending of Hitchcock’s Psycho, which came out two years later (note the swinging light fixture casting moving shadows on the spooky setting and characters). Without strong acting or a rewarding ending, this film is easily forgettable and will probably find itself buried in film history forever. Besides, if you've ever taken a writing course of any sort, you've probably scribbled a similar (if not better) story outline in your spiral notebook before eventually scratching it out or doodling over it once you came to your senses. I Bury the Living probably deserves to be doodled over.

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