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When Guy (Ray Milland), a medical student, joins his future father in law
(Alan Napier) in a little graverobbing expedition - fopr the good of science of
course - the sight of the corpse - who was obviously buried alive & with
his last breath tried to get out of his tomb - puts Guy to a state of shock,
since he believes his father was also buried alive & he has inherited his
father's disease - catalepsia - which might temporarily put him into a
deathlike state, which might lead to him being buried alive ...
He even wants to break up his engagement to Emily (Hazel Court), but she
persuades him to instead marry her & forget all about the graverobbing
incident. But even at their wedding, memories or the incident are
triggered when Emily accidently plays the melody one of the graverobbers (John
Dierkes) has been whistling back then.
Obsessively, Guy now starts building his own foolproof vault, where he has
built in many an escape hatch & even stores some food, should he really be
buried alive. When he shows this to his wife & his friend doctor Miles
Archer (Richard Ney) though, they show little understanding - & Emily even
grows worried enough to ask Archer to set up a lab at their home to have an eye
on her husband, for which he would be the perfect choice, as he is not only an
able medical doctor but also knows some things about the (then new) medthods of
Guy's state worsens though when he has (or thinks he has) a further
encounter with the graverobbers (Dierkes, Dick Miller), which tfriggers a
nightmare about being buried alive in his custom-made vault & still being
unable to get out. Emily & doc Archer come to the conclusion the only way
to release him from his obsession is to have him destroy the vault, which Emily
persuades him to by having him choose between the vault & her ... & he
chooses her, blowing up his vault as a result.
For a time, Guy seems to be a changed man, firmly rooted in life again, but
it only needs a cat being caught up behind the wallsw to bring back, even
augment, his fears again.
Soon, Emily, Archer, & Guy's sister Kate (Heather Angel) see only one
more way to release him from his fears - they have to open the crypt of his
father to prove to Guy that man was not buried alive - a plan that
backfires of course, when right at the door to his own private crypt, Guy's
dad's skeleton is found, falling all over Guy when the door is opened.
Obviously the man was buried alive after all & made it thus far from his
coffin before actually dieing. The shock causes Guy to die fropm a heart
attack, & since he always refused to be laid to rest in the family crypt,
Emily has him buried in the local graveyard.
Dead ?, you may ask. Of course not, just when the earth is shovelled onto
his coffin, he awakes from his catalepsia, but is unable to free himself.
Just a good thing his father in law has hired his favourite trusted
graverobbers yet again to dig up his son in law for medical examinations (he
would stop at nothing, would he ?), but by now Guy is really mad & kills
the 2 of them, before going to his father in law & kill him as well. Only
then does he go to Emily, but through the window he witnesses that she tries to
rekindle an age old love affair with Archer.
As soon as Archer is away, Guy abducts Emily & buries her alive. Archer
is hot on his trail & wants to stop him, though, but is almost killed by
Guy himself instead, only a timely intervention by Kate, shooting down her own
brother, can save Miles - but it's too late for Emily, who is already dead when
she's digged up. However it turns out that everything was just an elaborate
scheme of Emily to get rid of her husband in the first place, having arranged
everything - from the frequent encounters of Guy with the graverobbers to him
blowing up his tomb, to the cat caught up behind the walls, to Guy's fater's
skeleton falling onto him & causing his catalepsia - in the first place ...
As Roger Corman planned to film this movie for Pathé but Vincent Price was
under contract at AIP, this resulted in being Corman's only Poe adaptation not
starring Price (even though Corman wanted him). Ironically, before filming was
ended, AIP had taken over the production of Premature Burial from
their processing lab),
& as a result they were releasing the movie
under their banner after all.
If nothing else, this movie proves that Corman's Poe-adaptations work
equally well with a more restrained central actor, relying on a macabre plot, a
morbid, brooding atmosphere, all brought to bloom by great colourful sets &