Thursday, July 14, 2016



I BURY THE LIVING belongs to a small collection of decent films directed by Albert Band and written by Louis Garfinkle in the late 1950s, long prior to the period when Band became best known for turning out repetitive formula-flicks for son Charles Band's production companies.

I've examined here many "phantasmal figuration" films in which villains dress up in ghost-costumes. The hidden villain of BURY, however, creates a phantom that's purely of the mind, in order to play upon the mind of viewpoint character Bob Kraft (Richard Boone).

Kraft is a very down-to-earth businessman with a good job and a regular girlfriend. There's just one drawback to the job: due to familial obligations he's expected to perform some minor managerial duties at the local cemetery. In the main office he encounters the means by which the phantasm is conjured forth: a cemetery-map showing in detail which graves are occupied, and which are yet to be filled. Black pins are stuck in the former: white pins in the latter. By mistake, Kraft sticks a couple of pins in the points where their still living owners are supposed to be buried later-- and they promptly die.

I won't discourse in detail on the way in which the villain decides to use this odd coincidence to his own ends, partly because the set-up doesn't really track that well. But like most such films, the act of raising the spectre of uncanny fear is more important than the logic of the plot behind it all. Kraft, the stolid businessman, can't resist repeating the same action, putting black pins in the points assigned to the living-- with the result that the persons indicated pop off. It doesn't help that one of the local lawmen wonders aloud if it's possible that Kraft may possess some unconscious power that dooms men, in the same way that Haitian sorcerers doom their victims by sticking pins in dolls.

It's a paper-thin premise, but it's relatively original in content. That said, without Richard Boone's strong performance, I don't imagine anyone would bother to unearth the film.


  1. Thanks for the review, Gene. I Bury the Living's a decent film, actually plays better now than it did years ago; or it does for me anyway. The acting is good. There's reasonable suspense. What really sells the film is Richard Boone's brilliant, near Shakespearean performance and not even a decent soliloquy to recite. He works wonders with the dialogue, though; and near the end his playing is master class. His dealings with the unhinged Theodore Bikel character are like an exchange between a doctor and a patient. The doctor (Boone) plays with such authority that the movie took a turn in another direction, into pure psychology. Boone really solid this one.

  2. I'm glad you enjoyed the review, John.

    An interesting coincidence occurred to me: about 4-5 years later, we see the rise of Italy's giallo thrillers with Bava's EVIL EYE. BURY is a lot like those films: there's almost no attention to mystery-detection as in most American horror-tinged mysteries, and when the culprit is exposed, the revelation is just thrust upon the viewpoint character, and usually the audience as well. Band and Garfinkle are surely not the first Americans to have taken the same approach, but BURY is an interesting deviation from the usual American tradition of the mystery-thriller.

  3. I'd respond to your writing more, Gene, but you often focus on films I haven't seen, ideas I'm unfamiliar with. In the case of I Bury The Living the slightly skewed mood and tone of the film links it a bit with Follow Me Quietly, made about ten years earlier; another murder mystery, even more of a crime film, with the unlikely detective team of William Lundigan and Jeff Corey.

    The emphasis on rain, and a chilling scene of a room full of dummies, tip it into borderline horror, however the ending is closer to that of a semi-doc; and the psychology of the killer, called the Judge, isn't explored, thus the viewer is left in the dark about his personality.

    As to ambiance, I prefer the earlier, more skillfully made Follow Me Quietly, though overall I Bury The Living is really a more serious film, with few gimmicks, and a 50s-beatnick willingness to do and show a little bit of anything/everything, such as a man running through a graveyard at midnight (whatever).