Why’d I Buy It?: Came with the Roger Corman Boxset I purchased.
Why Haven’t I Watched It?: It’s a Corman Poe picture that doesn’t star Vincent Price. Which is like Bruce Springsteen without the E Street Band. Yes The Ghost Of Tom Joad is a very nice album, but no one’s is ever going to confuse it with Darkness On The Edge Of Town or Tunnel Of Love.
How Was It?: Well, better then I expected in segments, and worse in others.
The story as you might have surmised from the title, follows Ray Milland playing a man with a morbid fear of being buried alive. The film is called The Premature Burial, no points for guessing what happens.
I don’t think anyone would argue terribly strenuously, if I said that this is the least of Corman’s Poe Films. It lacks both the frenzied lurid intensity, hallucinogenic color saturated style and strange unearthly beauty of The House Of Usher, Tomb Of Ligeia, and The Masque Of The Red Death. Only Milland’s perfunctory “Drawings O’ Satan” really even wave in this direction.
Furthermore, Milland, though a fine actor in his own right just doesn’t quite hit that same wavelength of melodrama without camp that Price maintained throughout The Poe films.
Worse, the film is narratively disjointed, even for a Corman film. Though all of the Poe Picutures had to leap through all sorts of odd narrative hoops in order to drag their twenty to thirty page source materials into feature length. The Premature Burial takes this to the extreme.
It’s understandable, unlike the other Poe storys which at least give small opportunity to expansion, there’s really not much to deal with in original The Premature Burial. A fellow is buried, it’s a touch premature, he deals with the consequences of this. Oh hey it turns out he was actually on a ship, and just randomly lost his shit. Have fun turning that into 90 minutes, with a poster to bring in the drive in crowd.
So yeah, there’s a whole bunch of filler. Milland builds an elaborate premature burial proof tomb, just so he can destroy it in the subsequent scene. Dark family secrets are disclosed just so they can be forgotten. Long elaborate hallucinogenic nightmare scenes take place just so the film can get that much closer to feature length. Etc. Etc.
This unpredictable plotting ends up being the film’s secret weapon when (minor spoilers) the film, apropos to nothing suddenly morphs into “Raymond Milland’s Badass Revenge” (AKA Ray Milland Brings The Pain) in its last fifteen minutes. Dishing out some a Bride level of hurting bombs to all how have injured and annoyed him over the course of the runtime.
That’s fucking badass.
The Premature Burial belongs to that odd class of movies, that I can’t recommend but would never dissuade anyone from seeing. While there’s a lot that doesn’t work, there’s a lot that does, including the burial itself and the afore mentioned final fifteen minutes. It probably works best when viewed as a variation on Corman’s Poe films, which in all fairness is exactly what it is and will probably play best with foreknowledge of said same.
It doesn’t work in the usual ways, but it works in some very unusual ones.