Saturday, December 3, 2016

I BURY THE LIVING (1958)


Albert Band brings his long list of completed B-movie credits into play for this United Artists macabre tale about a man who thinks he may be affecting people’s lives by using push pins. The viewer is sucked in right from the opening credits with a statement suggesting that some men (mankind) have the ability of great mental power over events. The old “man as God” thing and that the dead are simply biding their time underground. The movie seems like a lost episode of television’s, “Night Gallery,” if shaved by some 15 minutes. It may have elicited some talk around the office water cooler in that era. Do not be misled by the studio's poster. There is nothing scary about this film. It is spooky, ghost-believing science fiction at best. As is typical of low budget “horror” movies, the ending is disappointing with the outcome as expected. However, there is noteworthy cinematography and the award-winning composer, Gerald Fried, sets the stage for a spooky tale with the use of harpsichord, a frantic tempo and dissonant chords.


Richard Boone is appointed chairman of a committee that oversees a large cemetery. A thirty-four-year-old Theodore Bikel, the caretaker, does his best old man routine with a Scottish accent in one of the more obvious wigs from makeup artist, Jack Pierce, who may have lost interest in the film at some point. Bikel is not that convincing as a very old man but he had a nice limp going there for awhile. There is a map resembling a Picasso sketch of the cemetery grounds on the office wall. Black pins mark the filled graves and white pins indicate unoccupied graves. Boone accidentally places two black pins where they should not be and both persons mysteriously die in an automobile accident. Surely a coincidence. Until it repeatedly happens either through experimentation or challenges from doubters. Boone believes he is cursed and he falls helplessly into a deep depression. His acting skill shows restraint and does not go overboard with the character’s emotions. He is quite creditable and improves the film.

The body count is up to seven over Boone’s pin pushing spree. In an epiphany, he decides that if black pins give him the power of death, white pins might give him the power of life. He replaces all of the black pins with white pins and discovers that those graves have been dug up and the bodies removed. If you are still a believer at this point the climactic finish may spoil it. Hokum has an equally powerful force over people. I should mention that Bickel’s character is nuts.


Some cinematography effects are artistically done by Frederick Gately. The map causes much distress for Boone and at one point appears to glow, consuming the cemetery office and Boone. At one point, after being struck by Bikel, an overhead light is swinging back and forth casting light and shadows across the pins in the map creating a dizzying optical illusion. At another point, Boone’s silhouette is superimposed on the map as an animated graphic illustration, eliciting an out of body experience for him. Watching this film may have the same effect.