Sunday, September 20, 2009
Day 255: The Premature Burial (1962) - Rank 3/5
Roger Corman's adaptations of Edgar Allan Poe pieces hold a fond place in my heart, for I have early memories of "Pit and the Pendulum" from my youth that later led to a rabid search for the rest of Vincent Price's collaborations with the B-movie auteur. "Tomb of Ligeia" and "Masque of the Red Death" are masterpieces of the macabre, despite limited budgets. But I was hesitant about catching "The Premature Burial" for in place of Vincent Price, we are handed Ray Milland as the tortured soul. My instincts were correct, for Milland scarcely has the "Gothic presence" of Price.
Milland is certainly capable of playing a tormented protagonist - his Oscar for "The Lost Weekend" is a testament to that fact. He can even "excel" at B-grade horror as his next collaboration with Roger Corman, "X: The Man with X-Ray Eyes" demonstrates. But the script doesn't seem to suit him in this situation. In fact, the script is the weakest aspect of the film. After all, there are only so many scenarios where a paralyzing fear of being buried alive can have a genuine influence on a man. Sure, all of Corman's Poe films are contrived to a degree, but not to the point that it mars the credibility of the lead (the "twist" ending is positively absurd, as well). So I suppose that Milland does his best playing Guy Carrell, an English nobleman who makes it his life's obsession ensuring that he will never be buried alive.
There is nice atmosphere to the film, evoking the same mood that the better installments generated. The repetition of "Molly Malone" being whistled in a haunting manner was a nice touch. Whistling is one of those small touches that can add great senses of suspense or dread and so often it's used in films as more of a whimsical element. "M," "Horror Express" and "Kill Bill Volume 1" all have moments where the eerie whistle of a character adds to the mood in a manner similar to "The Premature Burial." Also, my hats off to the brilliance of character Alan Napier, who was employed to play Milland's father-in-law. During the wedding scene at the film's start, a side character asks Napier if he is enjoying his daughter's wedding. He replies that he no longer experiences enjoyment - "...rather, I just experience greater and lesser degrees of tedium." A fabulous line that had me rolling.
Watch the Trailer