I Bury the Living


(1958) dir. Albert Band
viewed: 12/21/06

I Bury the Living is really an obscure masterpiece.  I saw it by chance several years ago with my nephew on a night of several horror videos.  Being a 12 year old, he was not impressed with it, but it totally blew me away.  I hadn’t really heard of it, and I had picked it up for title alone.  On a dubious Le Video VHS cassette, I had stumbled on an amazing, surreal low-budget piece of brilliance.

The film’s visuals are remarkable.  Shot in a noir-ish black and white, almost entirely in a cemetery and its hut-like office, the naturalism of the live settings offer a stark contrast to the devolving consistency of reality inside the office and inside the head of protagonist Robert Kraft (an excellent Richard Boone), whose psychic abilities set strange events in motion.

Kraft is a prominent citizen of a small town, president of a department store, and as becomes his civic duty, begrudgingly takes on the management of the local cemetery for a year.  However, on his first day at the office, with recurring moments of deja vu, he accidentally places two black pins in the map of the cemetery for a newly wed young couple who had just purchased a plot.  The map, a stylish abstract pattern representing the drive through the cemetery and a check-board of plots empty and full, looms and glows in the room.  The black pins represent people already in their graves, while the white pins signify those who have merely planned ahead and purchased plots and still live.

Kraft’s error seemingly triggers the death of the young couple in a car crash.  Kraft feels distraught and freaked out by the coincidence, while no one else pays it any mind.  After an experiment with a random change of a white pin to a black pin seemingly triggers the aneurysm of a stranger, Kraft begins to believe that he controls the lives and deaths of all people on the board.  He is haunted by this and other aspects of deja vu that keep triggering him.

As the story unfolds, Kraft becomes more and more crazy.  Clock faces and the map become strangely blurry and alive.  As Kraft pins death on more and more people, trying to prove that he is wrong, that the coincidences will stop, he starts to wonder if he has the power to bring people back and changes out the black pins to white.  Tombstones overturn and earth begins to move.

The office is always freezing cold and the heater fails to work.  As his madness spirals, he breaks down the freezing cold office into a fire and curls up in front of the map.  Choked by the smoke, he runs out through the cemetery, discovering the open graves, and he runs back to the map.

Why am I going into so much detail about this?  It’s the build up to the most amazing visual in the film.  As Kraft, wrought with fear over his God-like power, steps toward the glowing map with a gun in his hand.  As he raises the gun to his head, his image, superimposed on the map zooms in and becomes completely high contrast.  He is a caricature black image of a man with the gun to his head against this abstract shape.  It’s stunning.  Amazing.  Radical.

The film’s visual elements are powerful throughout, from zoomed in close ups on the pin heads to a swirling miasma of strange images in a nightmare dream.

I Bury the Living is an utter masterpiece.  A dark, noirish horror film that has a strange, yet compelling scenario, is a poetic and dramatic narrative, and an incredibly amazing film.  Tremendous.

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