THE PREMATURE BURIAL. American International Pictures, 1962. Ray Milland, Hazel Court, Richard Ney, Heather Angel, Alan Napier, John Dierkes, Richard Miller. Screenplay by Charles Beaumont and Ray Russell, based on the story by Edgar Alan Poe. Directed by Roger Corman.
Put aside the plot for now. For this third entry into Roger Corman’s Poe cycle of films fundamentally revolves around an idea, a concept. And that is: what would it be like for a man deathly afraid of being buried alive to actually be buried alive? How would he act? What would he do to those who accidentally (or purposefully) entombed him? How could a filmmaker put reflect his psychological state cinematically?
In terms of reflecting this morbid concept on screen, The Premature Burial succeeds admirably. And then some. Ray Milland, although too old for the part, does a great job in portraying a man who afraid of being buried alive that he allows all the life to be sucked out of him. Hazel Court, who portrays his long-suffering wife, is there to both support and scold him. She clearly doesn’t want to have to spend the rest of her years with a man with one foot already in the grave.
Based on the eponymous Edgar Allan Poe short story, The Premature Burial is enriched with claustrophobic sets and a chillingly effective score from Ronald Stein. The film also makes ample use of a rich color palette, both in terms of set design and lighting. Corman’s use of jump cuts do not work nearly as effectively as do the lush atmospherics.
The movie also benefits greatly from the presence of three great character actors. Alan Napier, who is now best remembered as the butler Alfred in the live-action Batman TV series, portrays the father-in-law of the protagonist. And John Dierkes and Dick Miller portray two graverobbers who end up being key to how the story unfolds.
Back to the plot. I’ll be honest. It is a little more than creaky. The ending is simply a little too pat, even for a low budget horror film. That’s unfortunate given that the credited screenwriters were none other than Charles Beaumont and Ray Russell. But that’s not what this film is about. It’s a concept film. And a good, albeit not great one, at that.