Roger Corman's Edgar Allan Poe cycle ranges among the most essential moments ever in Horror cinema, some of the adaptations such as "Pit And The Pendulum" (1961), "The Masque of the Red Death" (1964) or (the actually Lovecraft-inspired) "The Haunted Palace" (1963) being among the greatest Gothic Horror films ever brought to screen. The brilliance of these films lies in the creepy Poe-themed stories, Corman's outstanding talent for eerie Gothic atmosphere, and, not least, the leading performances by Horror-deity Vincent Price.
"Premature Burial" of 1962 treats an eponymous subject that is as essentially 'Poe' as it gets - being buried alive, or more precisely, the terror of being buried alive.While I did have high expectations for this film, it had been lying on my DVD shelf for a long while before I finally saw it, the only reason for delaying the viewing being the lack of Vincent Price in this film. Ray Milland, who plays the lead here, was a fantastic actor, but simply not quite as fantastic as Vincent Price (who happens to be my all-time favorite actor). Price simply was one of the greatest actors who ever lived, and the Poe-adaptations are arguably the ultimate highlights of his career. The only flaw of this film, is therefore not really a flaw, but the greatness of Corman's other Poe-adaptations: The fact that the other films had Vincent Price, and this one doesn't. As great as Milland is - and he IS great - every fan of the other films will see that Price could have been greater in some scenes. Vincent Price had a unique quality of being likable sinister. Price played dozens of Horror villains and murderous madmen, yet one always somehow had to like them (the one notable exception being his entirely diabolical eponymous role in Michael Reeves' 1968 masterpiece "Witchfinder General"). Ray Milland is a great actor, but he doesn't share this unique talent for being macabre, creepy, even scary, and yet somehow likable at the same time. Actually, his character here is not villainous, and yet he is somewhat unlikable.
This being said, "Premature Burial" is still and wonderful Gothic Horror experience, which once again proves that Corman is a true master of creepy greatness and beautifully eerie atmosphere. Ray Milland plays Guy Carrell, a man living in paralyzing fear of being interred alive. The beautiful Emily (Hazel Court) nonetheless falls for him and becomes his wife. Once they are married, however, his obsessions become worse and worse... The setting in an eerie mansion near a foggy cemetery is perfect for a Gothic Horror film like this one, and, apart from the usual atmosphere donors such as foggy grounds, Corman includes many morbid set-pieces, such as a demented live-in mausoleum. The fact that Milland's leading character is a painter of very morbid pictures also helps the film's creepiness. The stunning Hazel Court is, as always, absolutely wonderful in the female lead.
Overall, "Premature Burial" isn't quite as essential as films like "House of Usher" (1960), "Pit and the Pendulum" (1961), "The Haunted Palace" (1963) or "The Masque of the Red Death" (1964), but it is still a fantastic Gothic Horror that no genre-lover can afford to miss. The true genius of this film manifests in that it creates a uniquely claustrophobic atmosphere - which actually makes the viewer afraid of being buried prematurely!
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