Ratings Key

= Excellent. The best the genre has to offer.
1/2 = Very Good. Perhaps not "perfect," but undoubtedly a must-see.
★★★ = Good. Accomplishes what it sets out to do and does it well.
★★1/2 = Fair. Clearly flawed and nothing spectacular, but competently made. OK entertainment.
★★ = Mediocre. Either highly uneven or by-the-numbers and uninspired.
1/2 = Bad. Very little to recommend.
= Very Bad. An absolute chore to sit through.
NO STARS! = Abysmal. Unwatchable dreck that isn't even bad-movie amusing.
SBIG = So Bad It's Good. Technically awful movies with massive entertainment value.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

I Bury the Living (1958)

... aka: Killer on the Wall

Directed by:
Albert Band

Science has learned that man possesses powers which go beyond the boundaries of the natural. This is the story of one confronted by such strange forces within himself. Department store president Robert Kraft (Richard Boone) has just been appointed chairman of the Immortal Hill Cemetery committee. He's not too happy about it either as he's already swamped running his own store, but it's his turn and a matter of keeping a good standing in their community, which is, of course, always good for business. As part of the responsibility, he has to spend an entire year managing and overseeing the cemetery. His uncle George (Howard Smith) assures him it'll be just a few hours a week per month of his time. No big deal. Robert reluctantly agrees to do it. He meets up with friendly, reclusive old Andrew McKee (Theodore Bikel), who's been the cemetery caretaker for the past 40 years, to show him the ropes. In the cemetery's main office, Robert is shown a large, intricate map of the grounds, which has each separate plot laid out and its own coding system using pins. A black pin stuck in a box indicate that the person is dead and already buried there and a white pin in a box indicates that the plot has been purchased for future use by someone still living. 

As a stipulation of a will, young Stu Drexel (Glen Vernon) shows up there to purchase plots for both himself and his new wife Beth (Lynette Bernay), that will unlock a huge trust fund for the newlyweds. Not quite used to the mapping system yet, Robert sticks a couple of pins into their plots and goes about his day. Stu and his bride die in a tragic car accident soon after. When Robert checks their plots, he realizes he'd stuck the wrong colored pins (black) into them. In other words, he'd marked them dead... and they ended up dead. A strange coincidence? Distracted by both the deaths and by his fiancée Ann Craig (Peggy Maurer), who swings by for a visit, Robert again pokes a black pin into a random plot on the map. Later that same day, the plot's elderly owner (Cyril Delevanti) keels over from a sudden and unexpected cerebral hemorrhage. Now suspecting there's something supernatural - or downright evil - about that map, Robert demands to quit his position. George thinks he's overreacting about a few unfortunate coincidences and wants to prove Robert wrong, joking "I've been trying to find out a way to wipe out our competition for years!" He drags Robert to the cemetery, they poke a black pin into rival committee member Henry Trowbridge's (Russ Bender) plot, and he too ends up dying of a heart attack.

Now completely convinced of the map's powers, Robert wonders if it's actually the map that's responsible or it has something to do with him? Does he have powers he was unaware of? Being in the cemetery gives him a strange feeling of deja vu, as do the familiar sounds of Andrew chiseling names into new tombstones. Either way, Robert is bullied by the three remaining members of his committee, Bill (Ken Drake), Charlie (Matt Moore) and his Uncle George, to go out to the cemetery and swap pins for each of them. He follows their orders, sits back and waits for the inevitable. One by one, each man dies under mysterious circumstances. It's all enough to drive Robert to the brink of madness. Desperate to reverse things, he comes up with a plan. Since he has the power of death, why not the power of life? Robert pulls out all of the black pins for everyone he feels responsible for killing and replaces them with white pins to see what happens...

I Bury the Living actually works quite well for the most part. Thanks to solid direction, well-written dialogue and an intriguing and original Twilight Zone-esque central plot concept from writer Louis Garfinkle, the film is able to overcome its low-budget, talky, set bound limitations. The cast is pretty good as well. Boone does a fine job anchoring the entire film and Bikel has a scene-stealing supporting role as the singing Scottish groundskeeper. Herbert Anderson, as a reporter, and Robert Osterloh, as a police detective, are also in the cast. The only thing I wasn't quite sold on was the explanation behind the deaths and the map, which is an extremely hard swallow.

This was an early effort for Alfredo Antonini, who was born in Paris, educated in the United States and eventually changed his name to Albert Band. He directed over a dozen films, but perhaps his greatest legacy was helping to start Empire Pictures with his son, Charles. Empire was responsible for many releases throughout the 70 and 80s, with even more films released during the VHS heyday under their Wizard Video label. Once Empire and Wizard went under, Charles began Full Moon Pictures; a profitable company that continues on to the day. Albert would produce and direct many films for the company until his death in 2002. Between both father and son, the Band's had their hands in literally hundreds of films, making them the second most prolific genre producers, just under Roger Corman.


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