Premature Burial (1962)

Ray Milland is the unusual leading man in this decent Roger Corman film, inspired by Edgar Allan Poe. MGM USA R1 DVD.

The Film

"To be buried while alive is, beyond question,
the most terrific of these extremes which has ever fallen to the lot of mere mortality.
That it has frequently, very frequently, so fallen will scarcely be denied by those who think." 
                                                                                        Edgar Allan Poe - The Premature Burial

Guy Carrell (Ray Milland) is a man possessed - by the sheer terror of being buried alive, a belief fostered by the childhood memory, or nightmare, of hearing his newly buired father crying out for help from within his tomb. He manages to control his terror when his financeé Emily Gault (Hazel Court) arrives, and the pair soon announce their plan to be wed. But he soon begins work on an incredibly elaborate mausoleum to give him plenty of chance to escape should he find himself entombed too early...

Despite the success of House of Usher (1960) and The Pit and the Pendulum (1961) with the studio, Roger Corman was looking to distance himself from AIP in 1962 due to a small dispute and signed to make his next film with the film developing labs Pathé who were looking to go into distribution as well. With Vincent Price locked into a contract with AIP, the producers had to look to another star for the lead role, but AIP could do nothing to stop Corman and director of photography Floyd Crosby from borrowing the classic style of their Poe films and from the opening frame Premature Burial is pervaded by the fog-enshrouded atmosphere that made the first two films so effective. Ultimately Samuel Z. Arkoff threatened to take his business away from Pathé if they went into direct competition and the whole production was sold back to AIP.

Writers Charles Beaumont and Ray Russell tackle their first horror film and do an admirable job. The Poe story is a particularly unusual choice, not really counting as one of his gothic horror works, it is rather an essay on the titular subject with the author telling of others who suffered this fate and then recanting his own tale where he thinks himself buired alive. However the script writes the man's fear of being buired alive into a typcial gothic horror context and we get a rather good mystery story with an unusually strong romantic theme, taking advantage of the casting of a romantic leading man in the lead role. Unfortunately once the inevitable has happened, the film descends into a quite generic horror picture and the ending is a particular disappointment.

Corman and Crosby are on top form throughout with all of the atmosphere of their earlier films being retained, from the fog-bound forests and the blue tinted nightmare sequences to the beautifully opulent castle sets that help to give the film a fantasy period atmosphere while AIP staff composer Ronald Stein provides an effective orchestral soundtrack. Ultimately the film looks good but there is nothing that had not been done in the previous two entries.

Ray Milland is rather the odd-one-out in this production and his seeming replacement of Vincent Price has often lead the film to become overlooked as part of the AIP horror cycle, however this romantic leading man does seem to be a good choice for the role as it is written and it is hard to imagine that Price could have played the part as well. Milland is even good in the horror sequences towards the end, although he is let down here by the script. Beautiful English girl Hazel Court plays the female lead particularly well with some good acting that really brings come conviction to the romantic scenes, so often lacking in horror films.

Premature Burial is often ignored because of the absence of Vincent Price, but Ray Milland does an admirable job and it is clear that the role was written to suit his performance. Roger Corman and the production team do a typically strong job that although nothing original, provides the film with an effective atmosphere. Even the storyline is solid, for the first hour - unfortunately all of the romantic interest and mystery is wasted with a generic horror movie climax and a rather sudden and unexciting conclusion. Partly recommended for fans of the series but there are many better entries to watch first.

In Brief

Anyone famous in it? Ray Milland - a lesser known Welsh actor who's biggest role came in Hitchcock's Dial M for Murder (1954)
Hazel Court - the beautiful English actress who became a horror star after Curse of Frankenstein (1957)
Directed by anyone interesting? Roger Corman - most famous for producing hundreds of low budget horror and sci-fi films, he also made a name for himself early on with the AIP gothic horrors starting with House of Usher (1960).
Is it scary?A scary atmosphere in a few scenes.
Any gore? None.
Any sex? None.
Who is it for?
Certainly of interest to fans of the AIP Horror Cycle, it is one of the lesser entries.


Visuals Original Aspect Ratio - 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. Colour.
The print quality is decent, colours and detail are strong - only light grain and damage.
Audio English language original mono sound - sounds fine.
French dub track.
Subtitles English, French and Spanish.
Extras The disc includes:
  • Interview with Roger Corman about this film, interesting. (8 minutes)
  • Original Cinema Trailer
AvailabilityOnly available in a double-bill pack with Masque of the Red Death DVD on a dual-sided disc. Part of the MGM Midnight Movies series.
Region Region 1 (USA) - NTSC
Other regions? A German R2 release with English and German audio tracks.
Cuts? None known. The print is English language.



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All text in this review written by Timothy Young - 28th April 2008.
Text from this review not to be used without authorization.

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