“I’ll show you just how mad I am.”
Guy Carrell (Ray Milland) is a painter and a wealthy British aristocrat. He suffers from a disease called Catalepsy, a state that makes one appear as if they are dead. It is hereditary. When he was a child he believes he heard his father calling from his grave. He has a dream that as an adult he had his father’s coffin dug up to find that he had indeed been buried alive and had been trying to scratch his way out of his coffin. He is now consumed by the fear of being buried alive. His fear is overwhelming, almost to the point of paranoia. As a result he tries to break his engagement to his fiancée Emily (Hazel Court). He confides in her about his family’s disease. Emily still is willing to marry him.
At their wedding reception Emily begins playing on the piano. The song she plays is “Molly Malone”. This is the same song someone was whistling when his father’s gave was dug up. Guy faints. Later he is more obsessed than ever. He builds an elaborate vault on the estate. One with a bunch of safeguards and escape modes in case he is buried alive. If all else fails he has poison available. His wife, his sister Kate (Heather Angel) and his friend Miles Archer (Richard Ney) grow concerned for his mental state.
Guy begins hearing and seeing things that are not real. Finally Emily can’t stand it any longer. She gives him an ultimatum. Get rid of the vault or she will leave him. Guy decides that he is more afraid of losing Emily than of being buried alive. He destroys the vault. As final proof that Guy is over his obsession Miles wants him to open his father’s coffin and prove that he was not buried alive. When he does, Guy goes into a cataleptic state. He is examined and declared dead. He is then buried, alive.
“Premature Burial” was released in 1962 and was produced and directed by Roger Corman. It is the third in the Corman/Poe/AIP series of films. Additional producers were Gene Corman and Samuel Z. Arkoff. The screenplay was by Charles Beaumont and Ray Russell. Assistant director was Francis Ford Coppola. This is the only movie of the series that did not feature Vincent Price. Instead Corman signed Ray Milland to play the lead. Does the movie follow the story? Of course not. Roger has a tendency to use stories, even Poe’s as jumping off points. I can’t even be sure he’s read any of them.
Roger Corman’s first two ventures for AIP featured Vincent Price as the starring character. The story goes; Roger was having issues with AIP. He decided to make his own Poe film. He was going to use Pathe Lab which is a company that did print work for AIP. He also wanted to use Price, but he was the property of AIP at the time so instead he signed Milland. Soon after that AIP purchased Pathe so Roger was back under the AIP umbrella again.
This dark movie is enhanced by the Gothic surroundings. The Dark Mansion, the moors, the fog. It had a lot of the elements that Hammer films are known for. To me it was one of the better of the Corman-Poe collaborations. Others disagree, probably due to Milland instead of Price as the wacko. Would Price have made it a better movie? Probably, but, we’ll never really know for sure.