The Premature Burial is yet another in a long list of Roger Corman films that were based on the stories of Edgar Allan Poe. In this story, a man named Guy Carrell (Ray Milland) is terrified of being buried alive. So much so that his fear takes over his life. To prevent this from happening, he creates a tomb for himself witgh multiple methods of escape. Unfortunately, someone in his life is hell bent on killing him for their own purposes. Will he discover their plan before it’s too late? You’ll have to watch the film to find out.
Now, I’ll state this up front since I had to review two films this month with Ray Milland starring in them. I’m not a particular fan of his. I’ve always found his acting to be stiff and rather flat. Legends like Vincent Price, Peter Lorre and Basil Rathbone became legends because they had the ability to actually become the characters they were playing. Yes you recognized the actors, but within the context of the film they became their characters. With Ray Milland, I’ve never felt that. He’s very stiff and seems to play every character much the same. That said, he did all right in both this film and “X” The Man with the X-Ray Eyes (also reviewed in this issue), but Vincent Price would have been a far better choice for this particular character.
Much of the story in the film revolves around Guy’s fear of being buried alive and everyone’s attempts to convince him that he’s being foolish and that he needs to conquer his fears. The problem with it is that…well, I can’t give away the problems without spoilers unfortunately. Let’s just say that the story doesn’t work all that well, and the ending sort of comes out of nowhere and doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. I will tell you this however. His wife’s father will probably look rather familiar to most of you. That’s because her father is played by Alan Napier, who also played Alfred the butler on the Batman television series.
The set design in the film goes a long way toward making up for the mediocre acting and the story issues in this film. It’s no great surprise either, because Corman’s films from this era, most especially his Poe films all had a rather special look to them. The tomb that guy created for himself was particularly well designed and clever. All the means of escape were well thought out and the whole tomb was laid out nicely, including all the furniture and even an organ. There was even a coffin that would open up on the top and sides with the pull of a cord.
This new blu-ray release from Kino Lorber was restored and looks really great. The sound is quite good as well, and it includes a featurette called Buried Alive! in which they talk to legendary director Joe Dante about the film, an on camera interview with Roger Corman and a variety of trailers. What it doesn’t include is subtitles, which is something I’ve been dinging these releases on in every review. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find that “X” The Man with the X-Ray Eyes did in fact include subtitles. So maybe we’ll see more releases with subtitles in the future. One can only hope.
With lackluster performances but great set design, this film could have been better, but it could have been worse as well. It’s entertaining enough to keep you watching, yet not interesting enough to make you want to watch it again anytime soon after you finish. The long and the short of it is, it’s not a bad film, and if you’re a classic film buff like I am, you’ll want to have it in your collection. You may not watch it often, but you’ll still want to own it.
If you’d like to find out more about this release, you can check out its page on the Kino Lorber website here: http://www.kinolorber.com/video.php?id=1994