The Premature Burial (film)

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The Premature Burial
Directed byRoger Corman
Produced byRoger Corman
Samuel Z. Arkoff
Gene Corman (Exec Prod)
Written byShort story:
Edgar Allan Poe
Charles Beaumont
Ray Russell
Based onThe Premature Burial by Edgar Allan Poe
StarringRay Milland
Hazel Court
Alan Napier
Heather Angel
Richard Ney
Music byRonald Stein
Les Baxter
CinematographyFloyd Crosby
Edited byRonald Sinclair
Distributed byAmerican International Pictures
Release date
  • March 7, 1962 (1962-03-07)
Running time
81 min.
CountryUnited States
Box office$1 million[1]
172,329 admissions (France)[2]

The Premature Burial is a 1962 American International Pictures horror film, directed by Roger Corman, starring Ray Milland, also with Hazel Court, Alan Napier, Heather Angel and Richard Ney, screenplay by Charles Beaumont and Ray Russell, based upon the 1844 short story of the same name by Edgar Allan Poe. It was the third in the series of eight Poe-themed pictures, known informally as the "Poe Cycle", directed by Corman for American International.[3]


Set in the early dark Victorian era, the film follows Guy Carrell, a British aristocrat who is consumed with the fear of being buried alive. His fear becomes so overwhelming, it nearly prevents him from marrying his fiancee Emily. He tells her that he, like his father, suffers from a cataleptic disease which can make one appear to be dead. Guy then takes Emily down to the family catacomb, and claims that when he was a boy, he heard his father scream from his tomb after being interred, even though his sister insists it was all in his mind. But despite all this, Emily tells Guy that she still wants to marry him.

After the wedding ceremony, Emily plays the melody to "Molly Malone" on the piano which seems to send Guy into a state of abject misery, finally causing him to pass out. After regaining consciousness, Guy becomes even more morbid, obsessed with the idea of being buried alive. He soon builds an elaborate vault, equipped with several safeguards in case of his premature burial, including a poisonous elixir to be used as a last resort. This latest project causes both his wife Emily and his colleague, Miles Archer, to become concerned with his mental health.

In an effort to change his mood, Guy goes for a walk in the moors with his wife, when he suddenly hears a gravedigger whistle the same Irish tune that was played after his wedding. The music causes him to pass out again, and he experiences a horrific dream where he finds himself trapped inside his vault, however, none of his safeguards work. When he finally wakes up from his dream next to his wife, he asks her about the whistling gravedigger, but she insists that she heard no one.

Finally, Emily becomes unable to deal with Guy's behavior, and tells him that either he rids himself of this obsession with death, or she will leave him forever. This ultimatum seems to work. He destroys the vault he constructed and starts to slowly become more amenable. As a final step of his treatment, Miles suggests that Guy open his father's coffin to prove that he was never buried alive. But when he does, it causes him to go into another cataleptic state, and this time, he is unable to awake. After an examination by Emily's father, he is declared dead. Guy's family concludes he suffered a heart attack and upon Emily's request, have him buried in the cemetery. It appears Guy's biggest fear is about to be realized, when he is miraculously dug up by a pair of grave robbers just as he regains his mobility. Now in a state of madness, Guy returns to his home to seek revenge on those who conspired for his demise.[4][5]



Roger Corman had made two successful adaptations of Edgar Allan Poe's (1809-1849) works for American International Pictures (AIP) starring the famous and preeminent horror and suspense star of the 1950s and 60s, Vincent Price.

He decided to make his own Poe film with financing through Pathé Lab, a company that did the print work for AIP and had backed a few of their productions as well. Corman wanted to use Price, but AIP had him under exclusive contract, so he cast instead Ray Milland. On the first day of shooting James H. Nicholson and Sam Arkoff of AIP turned up, announcing to Corman that they were working together again, as they were able to convince Pathé to bring the movie back to AIP after threatening to pull all future lab work with them.[1]

Corman employed Francis Ford Coppola on Burial as an assistant director.[6][7]


Contemporary reviews for The Premature Burial were less favorable than those for Corman's previous two Poe adaptations. Howard Thompson of The New York Times praised the "handsomely tinted Gothic settings" and "compelling music," but found the film "static, slack and starchily written."[8] Variety wrote that Corman "seems to have run thin in imagination on this third trip to the same literary well. Not only is the plotting in 'Premature Burial' discouragingly predictable, but its gloomy and cavernous interior setting is peculiarly similar to those in the first two pix."[9] John L. Scott of the Los Angeles Times agreed that the film was "gloomily predictable" and suggested that American International "may be running a good thing into the ground."[10] The Monthly Film Bulletin wrote that "there are some sequences well worth watching, notably Guy's hallucinatory vision of being buried alive," but found that the "outlandish horror" of the original story "is never really caught, and Corman obtains most of his effects from rude shock-cuts rather than from intelligent exploitation of the situations and settings."[11]

Cavett Binion of AllMovie notes, "Milland's performance conveys the requisite amount of hand-wringing torment (in the mode of "The Lost Weekend" movie), even if he fails to capture the manic intensity that Price brought to the other Poe films that he played or starred in. Corman's deft direction, employing a rich palette of colors and superb widescreen compositions, is on a par with the series' finest installments."[12]

The Premature Burial presently holds a score of 56% on the review-aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes based on 9 reviews.[13]

Awards and nominations[edit]

The film won a 1962 "Golden Laurel" - "Sleeper of the Year" Award.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Corman, Roger; Jerome, Jim (1990). How I Made a Hundred Movies in Hollywood and Never Lost a Dime. Da Capo Press. pp. 83–84. ISBN 0306808749. Retrieved 30 January 2017.
  2. ^ Box office information for Roger Corman films in France at Box Office Story
  3. ^ Perry, edited by Dennis R.; Sederholm, Carl H. (2012). Adapting Poe : re-imaginings in popular culture (1 ed.). New York: Palgrave Macmillan. p. 121. ISBN 0230120865.
  4. ^ Bondeson, Jan. Buried Alive: The Terrifying History of Our Most Primal Fear. W. W. Norton & Company. p. 235. ISBN 9780393322224. Retrieved 4 February 2017.
  5. ^ Smith, Don G. The Poe Cinema: A Critical Filmography of Theatrical Releases Based on the Works of Edgar Allan Poe. McFarland & Company. p. 121. ISBN 9780786404537. Retrieved 4 February 2017.
  6. ^ Nashawaty, Chris (September 10, 2013). Crab Monsters, Teenage Cavemen, and Candy Stripe Nurses: Roger Corman: King of the B Movie (First ed.). Abrams. p. 100. ISBN 9781613129814. Retrieved 30 January 2017.
  7. ^ Coppola Breaks the Age Barrier Madsen, Axel. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 02 Jan 1966: m6.
  8. ^ Thompson, Howard (May 24, 1962). "Comedy, Poe and Adventure Fill 3 Neighborhood Double Bills". The New York Times: 29.
  9. ^ "Premature Burial". Variety: 6. March 14, 1962.
  10. ^ Scott, John L. (March 30, 1962). "Milland's Poe Victim in 'Premature Burial'". Los Angeles Times. Part IV, p. 15.
  11. ^ "The Premature Burial". The Monthly Film Bulletin. 29 (346): 156. November 1962.
  12. ^ "The New York Times" Overview. Retrieved 26 September 2008.
  13. ^ "The Premature Burial". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved September 8, 2018.

External links[edit]