Roger Corman’s third American International Pictures feature based on the writings of Edgar Allen Poe, THE PREMATURE BURIAL, is also the only one not to star Vincent Price. With a welcomed Ray Milland in the lead role, the underrated gothic tale arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Kino Lorber.
In 19th Century England, medical student Guy Carrell (Ray Milland, THE THING WITH TWO HEADS) lives in total fear of being buried alive, believing that his cataleptic father suffered such a life-ending ordeal. So obsessed with this morbid notion, Guy tries to end his relationship with the beautiful auburn-haired Emily (Hazel Court, THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN), though she refuses to let him and the two wed despite his uncontrollable phobia. Guy then constructs an innovative burial vault equipped with a number of clever escape hatches, just in case he is put to rest while still living and breathing. Guy’s friend Miles (Richard Ney, MRS. MINIVER), a researcher working in electrically charging muscle tissue, is concerned about his behavior and along with Emily, convinces guy to destroy the gadget-filled vault by setting fire to it (which he does in ceremonial fashion). Guy seems to finally be coming back to earth and confronts his fears by unlocking his father’s crypt, only to have the skeletal remains pop out at him, causing him to suffer what appears to be a fatal heart attack. Pronounced dead, Guy is placed in a coffin but is actually alive with catalepsy and not able to move, and it seems his ultimate paranoia is now becoming a reality.
As originally planned, THE PREMATURE BURIAL was not to be an AIP production. Corman decided to go with Pathe Laboratories to finance the film after having some profit-share issues with AIP. As Corman arrived on the set, AIP heads James Nicholson and Sam Arkoff appeared to wish him good luck. "Roger," said Arkoff as he shook the director's hand, "we just wanted to wish you luck. We're partners again." Thus, however awkwardly, filming began on the third in the director’s Poe series. Having been in a dispute with AIP over the profits from THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM the year before, Corman decided to film this one without their help. “I had arranged financing through the Pathe Labs and since Vincent Price was under exclusive contract to American-International, my brother Gene recommended his then-client Ray Milland, who ended up starring in the only film in the series without Vincent Price." So as the story goes, Arkoff bought up Pathe and THE PREMATURE BURIAL became the third Poe film from AIP, with Corman continuing to work with them quite amicably for years.
Corman’s previous directorial venture, the excellent social drama THE INTRUDER, became his first commercial failure (and was also backed financially by Pathe), so he decided to return to the successful formula of the Poe films. With Price missing from the cast, so was screenwriter Richard Matheson, and so that task was given to Charles Beaumont and Ray Russell who like Matheson, had to adapt the literary source material for an 80-minute feature. The screenplay has often been criticized for recycling some of the plot twists and other ingredients from the previous two Poe films, but it’s still brings to the table the kind of period atmosphere and romanticized and double-crossing characters expected in an entry from the cycle. Milland plays the same kind of tormented character Price essayed in HOUSE OF USHER and PIT AND THE PENDULUM, and even though he doesn’t have quite the demented edge Price was able to bring to them, the toupeed Milland is a good replacement in his own right and brings an authoritative sense of class to the part and is convincing as a man totally overcome by obsession (and later bent on revenge). This was the first film that the breathtaking Hammer Horror scream queen Court made for Corman (going on to THE RAVEN and MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH), and this is probably her best (or at least most substantial) part of those three Poe films she did.
With Floyd Crosby doing the cinematography and art direction by Daniel Haller, the film is very visual, with Corman’s careful eye for composition in check, and his imagination is also on display, especially in a fantastic multi-color-tinted nightmare sequence where Guy envisions his ideal crypt totally going to pot (with some creepy visitors in the form of rats, tarantulas and maggots). THE PREMATURE BURIAL is a totally studio-bound production, creating a very surreal looking world with the mansion’s surrounding moors providing a constant swirling mist (that and the fact that they went crazy with the fog machine). Ronald Stein composed the solid score which incorporates a rather haunting take on the standard “Molly Malone” (a tune which is instrumental in the plot) and he would go on to make more of an impression with Corman’s THE HAUNTED PALACE. There’s some great support from Alan Napier (THE MOLE PEOPLE) as Guy’s mentor and father-in-law Dr. Gault, Heather Angel (THE UNDYING MONSTER) as his stoic sibling Kate and John Dierkes (THE OMEGA MAN) and Corman regular Dick Miller (THE TERROR) are a pair of unscrupulous gravediggers.
Previously available on DVD (as a double feature with MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH) from MGM as part of their now-defunct Midnite Movies series, Kino Lorber now brings the MGM HD transfer to Blu-ray (as well as a new standard DVD release of the same transfer). THE PREMATURE BURIAL is presented in its original 2.35:1 Panavision aspect ratio in a 1080p transfer that simply looks stunning. The image is remarkably clean and free of dirt and debris, colors are richly and revealingly luscious, clarity and detail are excellent, and the film’s natural grain structure is also handled nicely. The English 2.0 DTS-HD MA sound mix presents the Stein score robustly while dialogue is clear and the creaky and spooky sound effects are also effective. No subtitle options are present on the disc.
Carried over from the 2002 MGM Midnite Movies DVD release is an excellent interview with Roger Corman (9:37) where he tells the story about how he decided to do the film on his own for Pathe as the distribution company and how that the competition (AIP) took over. Corman goes on to reveal how it was good to have his brother Gene as executive producer so he could concentrate on directing, he describes how well and fast lighting cameraman Crosby worked and calls set designer Haller a “genius”. He describes the differences between Milland and Price, and that there was some improvisation used even though they stuck to the script 90% of the time. “BURIED ALIVE! Joe Dante on THE PREMATURE BURIAL” (9:48) is a new featurette with the cult director discussing when he first saw the film as a boy at a theater in New Jersey and admits Milland was about 20 years too old for the part. Dante confirms how popular these films were with kids at the time, and that when Milland was cast, it was to his advantage since he hadn’t had a leading man role in years, and he goes on to give his views on the film and the AIP Poe series in general. There's a “Trailers From Hell” segment (2:39) where Corman gives some commentary over the original theatrical trailer (stating that Milland was better for this role than Price would have been) again telling the famous story about how AIP bought out Pathe when he started shooting the picture. Rounding out the extras is the theatrical trailer (2:31) which hypes Milland’s Academy Award-winning status along with the then box-office-gold name of Poe. (George R. Reis)
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