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I Bury the Living

Big McLargehuge
Directed by: 
Albert Band
Richard Boone
Theodore Bikel
Peggy Maurer

 “Science has learned that man possesses powers which go beyond the boundaries of the natural. this is the story of one confronted by such strange forces within himself.”
Yep, with an opening title card like that you know the film following it is going to suck. First off the paragraph is grammatically incorrect. The noun in the second sentence one refers to the noun preceding it, “boundaries”.
Therefore, the powers which go beyond the boundaries of the natural are actually confronting said powers within the boundaries of the boundaries.... er.... but then I supposed it doesn’t really matter now does it:?
I Bury the Living stars Richard Boone, and in case you are ever on Jeopardy and faced with the category, “Actors who last starred in American/Japanese Co-Productions”. Richard Boone is in fact the same Richard Boone who ended his career in a Toho/UA spectacular known as “The Last Dinosaur”.
According to the DVD box the writer of this film, Louis Garfinkle, went on to author “The Deer Hunter” while Albert Band, the director went on to executive produce “Honey I Microwaved the Kids to Death” oops... I mean, “Honey I Shrunk the Kids.”
We begin in a cemetery...
Robert Kraft (Richard Boone) and Andy McKee (Theodore Bikel) enter a small shack on the grounds on an as yet unnamed cemetery. McKee has even put up a new plaque on the door so Robert feels right at home. The plaque reads, “chairman, R. Kraft”. You will notice that Andy McKee is supposed to be Scottish, but not the Scottish of the Scottish highlands, oh no. McKee is Scottish in the same way Mike Myers was Scottish in the “If it ain’t Scottish it’s crap” sketches from early 90’s SNL.
McKee even keeps a tartan jacket and scarf on meanwhile droning in fake-Scotsman accent. It is all rather humorous.
On a side note, this is the point I started to notice how GOOD this movie looked. Overall the sets look like actual cemetery stuff and covered in a suitable amount of grime, etc... but the thing that really stuck out was the good camera work. Band may have gone over to the dark side to executive produce for Disney, but he proves himself at the very least a competent cinematographer.
Okay, back to the movie.
Kraft is attracted to a huge pin-studded wall map of the cemetery. McKee explains that it is a one-stop information point the gives an overview of the cemetery, who’s buried (black pins) who’s reserved plots but not died (white pins) and what’s available for potential plot squatters (no pins).
I guess we’re lucky the film is in black and white because having to hear Andy McKee explain “that thar Grrrrrrreeeeen Pins is for People who arrrrrrrrrrrre prrrrrrrobably going to pass on, God rest their soul...” would be a little much.
Now that I think of it, McKee might have been a model for Willy the Groundskeeper, Springfield’s favorite North Kilt-town native.
Kraft and McKee discuss McKee’s upcoming retirement. McKee then shows Kraft that the gun is kept in the top drawer of the desk, “In case there are any problems.” He then says there never have been, but it’s a good idea to know where the gun is just in case.
Yes, foreshadowing... So rare in garbage cinema... And to make it better, Albert Band doesn’t pistol whip us with the information.
The sound of a car in the distance, McKee asks if Kraft is expecting anyone, and he answers “no. But it sounds like Stu Drexel”.
Strange... Stu sounds just like a car!
McKee and Kraft head out of the shack as indeed Stuart Drexel (Glen Vernon) and his new wife Elizabeth (Lynette Bernay) arrive in a rad 50’s convertible with “just married” scrawled on the side.
Elizabeth is perturbed that they received a cemetery plot as a wedding gift... You know, I probably would be too now that I think about it...
Okay, Stu and Elizabeth drive off to look at their final resting places. McKee and Kraft return to the shack and Kraft sticks two pins into the map, one for Stu and one for Elizabeth.
We cut to a department store (remember those?) with a large banner that reads “Kraft”.
Yelling, “Macaroni and Cheese!” is optional for the audience.
Inside we see Bob about to be sworn in as chairman of the Immortal Hills cemetery by Henry Trowbridge (Russ Bender) and George Kraft (Howard Smith). Bob’s family has owned the cemetery for years and he is not interested in taking over the cemetery. Strangely it seems as if the whole cemetery thing has come as a surprise, but we learn that Kraft’s father and grandfather both served as chairman because it was good for business.
How is it he could be completely oblivious to this eventuality? George incidentally is Bob’s uncle.
Anyway, he interrupts several attempts by Henry Trowbridge (Russ Bender) to read him the oath that comes with the chairmanship. It makes for a rather tedious scene as snipped of Bob’s lineage are offered between hasty reads of the oath.
He accepts and takes an incoming phone call from the local undertakers. Stu and Elizabeth Drexel are dead.
If you watch the desk in Kraft’s office both the shadow of the boom mike and camera operator are clearly visible at the very end of the scene.
Back at the shack Kraft and McKee are making arrangements for Stu and Elizabeth’s funeral when local reporter Jess Jessup (Herbert Anderson) a local reporter arrives and explains that he has obituary detail.
Kraft tells McKee to get the plots ready for the interment and to change the pins from white to black on the big cemetery map. McKee replies, “oh aye.... therrrrrrrrre alllllrrready black.”
See, Kraft accidentally put black pins in when Stu and Elizabeth visited.
This creeps Bob out pretty good and we get some creepy “deeee deeee deeee deeee music” to emphasize it. Jessup asks what’s eating Bob who replies,
“nothing, just feeling a little eerie is all.”
McKee offers, “I think he believes he marrrrrrked the young couple ferrrrr death sirrrrrrrrrr.”
Nothing like making a bad situation worse you old Scottish bastarrrrrrd!
Jessup leaves and asks Kraft to make sure not to change his pins. I notice that Jess Jessup delivers his lines exactly like he would if he were drunk. This leads me to believe that he was drunk when this was filmed.
Anyway, Ann Craig (Peggy Maurer) enters as Jessup leaves and complains that she was stood up for lunch because “someone” had to deal with the dead Drexels. She is so compassionate...
She explains that she’d had visions of Bob in her head calling for her to come to lunch. She explains also that she feels very lucky to be alive, and in love with Bob. Come to think of it, she explains a whole lot of stuff... All the while putting her best moves forward to try and drive Bob into a testosterone fueled sexual rampage.
Well, because she is a marginally attractive woman, it works. Bob says he isn’t surprised she was reluctant to say what she saw in her mind when he was thinking of her. Got that? A sex reference in the 1950’s woohoo... that’s all your gonna get too.
Okay. As they leave Bob, tempting fate again, switches a pin from white to black for a Mr. William Isham. He does it deliberately too.
Cut to Mr. Isham putting the eyes into a teddy bear. He dies. DUH DUH DUH!
The next day Bob arrives at the cemetery to sign paperwork for McKee and finds out that Isham has died. DUH DUH DUH!
Later Bob arrives at the cemetery again to find McKee preparing the headstone for Stu and Elizabeth, he asks if McKee has found a replacement yet, but he answers that he’s looking.
Jess Jessup arrives tried to reassure Bob everything is a coincidence as they walk through the graveyard. This is a pretty good scene. Jess Jessup shows obvious compassion for Bob’s predicament, and I think seems to sense that his levity at the beginning was out of place. Bob explains that he has had terrible deja vu for all of his life. Sometimes every other week.
I am starting to really like this movie now that I am watching it more closely... Hmmmm..
Cut to Bob in his office with George back at the department store. George explains that he’d made tons of mistakes with the pins when he was chairman, and that all this spooky ghost stuff is all Bob’s imagination. George thinks this is all a ploy to get out of the cemetery chairmanship. George them says he wants to go to the cemetery and leaves. Bob hurries out to find George at the drinking fountain. They decide to go to the cemetery together.
At the cemetery (with McKee in tow, but for no reason as they immediately send him home), George suggests replacing a white pin with a black one to reassure Bob that nothing will happen. He then volunteers Henry Trowbridge as grim-reaper bait. Bob tries unsuccessfully to dissuade George. George then agrees that if Trowbridge even comes down with a cold, then he will let Bob out of the chairmanship.
Bob agrees and sets the black pin in Henry’s space.
Cut to Bob sitting on the edges of his bed looking extremely agitated. It is nearly 9PM. He dials Trowbridges home and talks for a moment with Mrs. Trowbridge. Henry, is apparently, upstairs reading in bed. She goes off to get him.
Here is a fantastic scene.
Bob keeps the phone to his ear and watches the second hand on the bedside clock. Band uses a nice long shot to show a full 15 second of time pass. The music swells slowly as the second hand becomes a black pin. Cut to a shot of Bob swiping the clock off the table so that it smashes. Cut to a close-up of Bob’s face. Mrs. Trowbridge sobs into the phone that Henry is not breathing.
The next morning Bob summons both Jess Jessup and Leutennant Clayborne to the cemetery shack. Bob has already explained the situation to Clayborne thus saving us valuable moments not listening to a recap.
Clayborne acknowledges Bob’s fears but, and this is his ace in the hole, pulls out the death certificates for each of the recent dead. Stu and Elizabeth dead in a car accident, Will Isham, dead of brain hemorrhage, Henry Trowbridge, coronary thrombosis (heart attack).
With no motive, no opportunity, and no weapon there is no murder. Regardless of what Bob confesses too, there is no case. Clayborne suggests that this is all in Bob’s head but acknowledges that voodoo practicioners can seem to control life and death through dolls simply because they believe they can. Though he thinks Bob is a little funny in the head and recommends a long vacation, Clayborne, like everyone else in the movie, ignores Bob’s growing apprehension. Clayborne leaves and Jess stays to try and talk some sense into Bob.
It’s a nice moment.
They really do demonstrate a strong friendship in this film and the acting and dialogue are very good, except for McKee. He’s about as Scottish as Scotch Tape.
Later as Bob enters his office at the department store to find both George and Ann sitting at his desk. George has purchased two tickets for Bob and Ann to get out of town for a while. He has also orchestrated Bob’s dismissal from the chairmanship of the cemetery.
Bob refuses both the tickets and the dismissal. He calls a meeting of the board for 7:30 that night. George leaves and Ann tries desperately to talk some sense into Bob but fails.
That night the board of directors consisting of George, Bill Honegger, and Charlie Bates convene in Bob’s office. The agree to let Bob stay on as chairman on one condition. The condition is that he go directly to the cemetery and put black pins into the map for all of their names. Bob refuses but he is forced his protestations are voted down.
Now I ask. Why in the hell, following four “coincidental” deaths would any sane person offer themselves as a sacrifice to the map of the damned? Well, I guess because the board of directors are not superstitious it makes sense to them. Had I been one of them I would have opted out.
George goes to the cemetery and puts black pins in for George, Charlie, and Bill then sits down to wait. McKeen interrupts him and begs Bob to forget all of this and go home. He stresses that things may not be what they seem and that no one should monkey around with the unknown.
McKee is superstitious. Bob ignores the warning and sends McKee home.
He sits down at the desk to wait for work on his three friends now marked for death on the cemetery map. Knowing he is slowly slipping into madness, or at least thinking he is, Bob frantically tries to call Lieutenant Clayborne, but can’t connect.
This is the best fifteen minutes of this movie. Bob, alone with nothing but the map, battles his inner demons as word trickles in via Jess Jessup that both Charlie and Bill have died. George Kraft is missing but the police are looking for him. A few moments later George enters. He knows the others are dead. He shambles to the map and replaces his black pin with a white one. He begs Bob again to give up the madness of the cemetery but Bob refuses.
George then states that if Bob wants to see him again he will have to do it at the department store because there is no way he is coming back to the graveyard. Bob then utters the best line of dialogue in the film: “the next time we meet George, it will be right here.”
George leaves.
Bob calls Lieutenant Clayborne and asks if a cop or two could escort George home. He gives the police the direction George was travelling. Clayborne sends cars out to find George and make sure he gets home safe.
The next morning Jess calls and explains that George could not be found last night. The police searched the whole city, and his house, but he was gone. Bob puts the phone down and stumbles outside. George is dead, he is slumped over in his car about 35 yards away.
Bob tells the cops that George never left.
Cut to Ann sitting the back of the police car. She has come, again, desperately to plead with Bob. She tells him that she was lying when she said she saw him in her mind beconning for a lunch date. That all of this is in his head. That she is scared. That she wants this all to end.
Bob tells her that he has to see this through and goes back into the shed.
Lieutenant Clayborne tells Bob that he better put a black pin in for Mittleson, a man that Bob knows from his dealings at the department store. Bob asks how he died. Clayborne replies, “he hasn’t... yet.”
Bob is horrified that in not being taken seriously he’s caused the deaths of so many. The rationalle is that all of the victims so far have been local. Mittleson is in Paris. Separated by the Atlantic ocean from Bob, Immortal Hills, and the map. If he really does have control of life and death via the map then Mittleson will die.
This is all kind of morbid don’t you think?
Anyway. That night Bob battles his inner demons and comes to the realization that if he can make people die by putting in black pins then he should be able to bring them back by putting in white pins. He then puts white pins in the graves of all the victims so far.
Bob barricades the door with his desk and starts a small fire to keep warm in the cement floor (there is a running subplot about the non-working heater that does not merit mention other than this).
We get a montage of each gravestone now, and the ground beneath them is moving and creaking. It is a pretty subtle shot actually and well worth watching. I enjoyed each little snipped of this montage. Strange, because it is so clichéd.
Anyway, Bob gets word from Mittleson’s wife that Mittleson died in Paris in his hotel room. Bob staggers out of the shed into the crisp morning air and runs panic stricken through the cemetery. Each of the victims graves is open now as if they were never buries in the first place.
Bob returns to the shed and confronts the map. The map has grown to epic proportions and now covers the entire wall. It also glows thus emphasizing its power. This is a fantastic shot as Bob, silhouetted against the mirror, puts a gun to his head and... and.... and...
This is where the movie should have ended.
But it doesn’t end here. Instead we get what feels like a totally tacked on ending.
McKee enters the shed now. He is covered in grime. He confesses to killing everyone that Bob black-pinned because they were trying to make him retire. He says he strangled them all, even George, and didn’t leave a mark.
The map, perhaps symbolizing Bob’s sanity, has returned to normal size and height on the wall. It is also no longer back lit.
McKee takes the gun and barricades the door again. Bob tells McKee to talk about something, anything else. Almost as if he is trying to MAKE him say something else the same way he thought he was communicating with Ann.
McKee has a freaky episode with some strange camera work to emphasize his madness. One nice thing is that whenever the camera is focused on McKee the sound of someone carving a gravestone is audible. When the camera is on Bob the sound is gone.
It fails. Clayborne and several police officers break down the barricade as McKee lunges at the map and dies. He is pronounced dead of fright by Clayborne and his body removed.
The dialogue gets really confusing here. Something about McKee digging up all seven bodies and lugging them to the mausoleum, but we haven’t seen any of this so it is little more than confusing. Jess then explains that Mittleson is alive and well. The call from his wife was only a ruse meant to smoke out McKee and bring his murders to light.
This makes no sense at all since McKee would not have received the phone call. Ann enters and hugs Bob and they leave together.
The map falls to the floor.
End movie.
It is a shame that the end of this film is so awful because the entire first hour is fantastic. Rather than end it with the suitable amount of weirdness that it led up to, it gives us a sneaky crime drama ending that renders the preceding film almost pointless.
Don’t be fooled by the lurid and misleading art on the DVD case. The film is much more of a psychological drama than anything else although it is marketed almost like a zombie movie.
This film is from the MGM Midnight Movies line and is a fantastic crisp black and white transfer. I am not sure if it was originally released in widescreen, though I doubt it. The DVD is full frame and contains one extra, the trailer.
You know, I normally reserve special hatred for directors that unnecessarily remake films for no reason other than to cash in on existing name recognition. Take “Planet of the Apes” for example the original was a moderately entertaining (if dated) literate science fiction film while Tim Burton’s remake was little more than ninety minutes of excrement flinging stupidity.
However, that said, I would love to see a competent director take the script for “I Bury the Living” and remake it. Especially if he cleaned up the ending so it made sense to the rest of the picture. I think that M. Night Shamalamdingdong guy from “The Sixth Sense” would do a wicked job with it.
I picture Bruce Willis as Bob Kraft and Harvey Keitel as George... Anyone... Hey... Where are you all going!