I Bury the Living (1958)

You’ve watched your House on Haunted Hill, I Saw What You Did and The Tingler over and over again. Last fall’s 13 Ghosts DVD has been in heavy rotation for months. The new Mr. Sardonicus, Straight-Jacket and Homicidal discs won’t be out until March. What’s the avid William Castle fan to do in the meantime? Let me suggest MGM’s release of I Bury the Living, the greatest William Castle movie he never made.

Instead, the film is the work of screenwriter Louis Garfinkle and, more importantly director Charles Band. (Famous to B-Movie buffs not just for directing such films as Dracula’s Dog, but for being the father of ‘80s schlock mainstay Albert Band.) I Bury the Living was one of Band the senior’s first movies, and it’s clear that he and Garfinkle decided to emulate Castle’s popular horror flicks. The script, with it’s "are these events supernatural or the work of wicked men" plotline definitely recalls the Castle oevre, as does Band’s amusingly florid, any-damn-thing-for-a-jolt direction. Star Richard Boone, late of TV’s Have Gun Will Travel, even looks a bit like Castle mainstay Vincent Price, despite here being bereft of his similar trademark pencil mustache. Heck, even the harpsichord theme music borrows from some of Castle’s films.

Boone stars as a small town businessman assigned a yearly position as the head of the town cemetery. Given a tour by the facility’s aged caretaker, Scotty, Boone is shown the map that shows all the assigned plots. Those currently unoccupied are marked with a white pin, those that are tenanted with a black one. Boone accidentally marks the plots of a couple still living, only to learn hours later that they’ve since died in a car crash. He begins to fear that he has a ghastly supernatural ability to cause the death of whomever he marks with a black pin.

Hats off to MGM for a simply spectacular transfer. The black and white photography is eye-poppingly crisp and the contrasts are gorgeous. It’s simply stunning, about as good as any film from that period that I’ve seen. In some ways, it’s too sharp. Veteran actor Theodore Bikel, aged thirty-four at the time, here is assigned to play a character in his sixties. This is accomplished through heavy make-up (not to mention about the thickest bogus Scottish accent I’ve ever heard) and a gray wig, the artifice of comically enhanced by the disc’s digital clarity. The mono sound is equally good, absent of any hissing or background noise.

An extremely fun (and quite Castle-esque) trailer is included, which is a bit more speckled than the print itself. That’s about it. Still, for that price what do you expect?

Ken Begg, 3/12/2002