Were there a special award for best title, today’s movie would most likely have won it. So many movie titles today just blur together. They don’t stand out! But this movie has a creepy premise and a gruesome title to go with it. Prepare yourself for 1958’s “I Bury the Living.”
The film concerns a local store owner named Robert Kraft (Richard Boone). He’s a part of a group of well-meaning businessmen who serve as the board of directors for a cemetery as a service to the community. They take turns being chairman, and it is Kraft’s turn. He’s less than thrilled with this new responsibility and tries to get out of it. But his fellow business leaders inform him that nobody turns down this role. He’s stuck with it.
At the cemetery, Kraft meets Andy (Theodore Bikel), caretaker of the grounds for over 30 years. Andy gives Kraft the run down on how everything works, especially the map of the grounds. The map shows the various plots and who has purchased them. Pins are stuck in each plot, black for those that are already occupied and white for those who are still alive and kickin’.
At about this time, a young couple who have just been married pay a visit to the cemetery. Due to a provision in the groom’s father’s will, he needs to purchase plots for himself and his wife after getting married in order to get the inheritance left for him. Kraft then proceeds to stick two pins into the map. Problem is, he accidentally sticks in black pins rather than white. The next day, the couple dies in a car wreck. When Andy goes to change the pins, he is shocked to find out that they were already black.
Needless to say, Kraft is a bit creeped out by this…wondering if perhaps he caused their deaths. Kraft shares the story with a local reporter buddy (Herbert Anderson), but he quickly dismisses it. Perhaps to find peace of mind over the whole thing, Kraft proceeds to randomly replace a white pin with a black one. Wouldn’t you know it, they end up dead too! More experiments follow, and more people end up dead.
Kraft ends up being pretty upfront with people about the whole thing. He goes to the cops…they think he’s crazy. He tells the other board members, including his Uncle George (Howard Smith), and they think he’s nuts, too. In fact, they insist that he replace all of their pins with black ones to prove it’s all just in his head. You guessed it…dead, dead, and dead.
Now, Kraft starts to lose his mind, locking himself in the caretaker’s shed with the map, which seems to be growing larger and more ominous. Kraft even thinks of taking his own life, but realizes that if he has the power of ending a life with the black pins, he should also have the power to return someone to life with the white pins. Only now what horrible things will happen?
“I Bury the Living” has a great premise, though it seems more suited to an episode of “The Twilight Zone” than a feature film. Granted, the film is only 76 minutes long, but it might have worked a bit better in a shorter format. Richard Boone is at the center of pretty much every sequence of the film, and he does a great job of slowly slipping into madness. I also gotta hand it to the filmmakers who do some very creative things in terms of lighting and cinematography. I love that the map actually becomes larger as Kraft’s mental state deteriorates. It’s a great visual. There’s also some strange close up shots of the black pins, making them look a bit like little round-headed angels of death.
However, while I enjoyed the film, the story does disappoint a bit. I know I said the story may have worked better as a TV episode, but had the filmmakers developed things more we might have had Kraft actually start to enjoy his power over death…maybe taking out enemies or business competitors. Instead, he’s pretty much racked with guilt right from the start. By the time Kraft determines that he can both give and take away life, we the audiences have been anticipating it. But in the end, it doesn’t pay off the way we had hoped. I’m trying not to give too much away, but the ending is a real let down.
When all is said and done, I do wish the filmmakers had taken the film to a different conclusion, but I still enjoyed the end result, for the most part. Though of all the films I’ve reviewed over the last year, this may be the one that is the ripest for a remake. If you’re listening, Hollywood, I’ve got ideas.