The Premature Burial

December 8, 2012 at 3:42 am (7 Heads, Premature Burial) (, , , , , )

The Premature Burial – 1962 – United States

The Premature Burial is an Edgar Allen Poe adaptation directed by Roger Corman for American International Pictures. Corman and AIP’s series of Poe flicks consists of House of Usher (1960), The Pit and the Pendulum (1961), The Premature Burial (1962), Tales of Terror (1962), The Raven (1963), The Haunted Palace (1963), The Masque of the Red Death (1964), and The Tomb of Ligeia (1964). All of them star Vincent Price aside from Premature Burial, which instead features the hard-working Ray Milland whose numerous credits include Dial M for Murder (1954), Panic in Year Zero! (1962), and X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes (1963).

Unlike some AIP Poe adaptations, Premature Burial is mostly true to source. An artist suffering from catalepsy fears premature burial. Despite a lack of evidence, he insists that his father was entombed alive while in a cataleptic state. Notwithstanding his deranged fancies, the artist marries a nice girl. The ceremony is held during an ominous thunderstorm. The marriage deteriorates as the artist grows increasingly paranoid, eventually constructing a mausoleum rigged with escape hatches, food and liquor caches, and a piano. His concerned wife convinces him to destroy the mausoleum and open his father’s tomb, hopefully proving that he died peacefully. But foul play is afoot as someone rigs the tomb to scare the artist, inducing a cataleptic fit resulting in…PREMATURE BURIAL! When he is later unearthed by grave robbers, he is alive and murderously angry. Stick around for the requisite twist ending.

However unlikely it may be, being buried alive is a fearsome subject for many folks. Premature Burial indulges these ghastly fantasies. One scene shows a screaming corpse inside a coffin speckled with bloody fingernail marks. Almost quoting Poe, the main character later describes “The unendurable oppression of the lungs—the stifling fumes of the earth—the rigid embrace of the coffin—the blackness of absolute night—and the silence, like an overwhelming sea.” It’s grisly, powerful stuff.

Using sets likely recycled from House of Usher and Pit and the Pendulum, Premature Burial evokes gothic ambiance. The mansion is elegant but gloomy, surrounded by a swampy graveyard of gnarly trees and (excessive) billowing fog. With its talky script and few locations, Premature Burial demonstrates clever thriftiness. But any lack of excitement is surmounted by an intense atmosphere of dread permeating the flick. Roger Corman and Edgar Allen Poe are both in fine form here.

Rating: 7/10 Shrunken Heads. Actual catalepsy bears little relation to the fictionalized catalepsy in Premature Burial.

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