I Bury the Living & Jack Pierce

I Bury the Living is currently available on instant Netflix and Amazon Prime.

One Line Review: Excellent movie-length Twilight Zone episode.

I Bury the Living (1958) – Not Rated

“As the new head of a sprawling cemetery, Robert (Richard Boone) becomes convinced that he triggered the untimely deaths of several plot owners by tampering with a certain map. When nobody believes him, he risks his sanity to play God once again and prove his point. With an intriguing storyline full of psychological suspense, this underappreciated horror film establishes a consistently eerie atmosphere throughout.”

I Bury the Living is a hidden gem. It is a low-budget thriller that would actually have been worse with more money. While there are other locations, it takes place almost entirely in an office on the cemetery grounds. The entire cast list consists of a dozen souls.

The story sounds like an extended Twilight Zone episode and, in all the good respects, that is fairly accurate. There is quite a bit of pontification – the type that people might wonder about but not say aloud but it doesn’t really seem to detract from the marvelous story.

The protagonist, Robert Kraft, is played by Richard Boone. This was long before Boone became the craggy-faced, deep-throated character actor of the 60s and 70s and I Bury the Living made just as his star was on the rise with Have Gun – Will Travel. It is fun to watch him progress from not wanting to be bothered with the job of overseeing the cemetery to being worried and heartsick to…well let’s leave that for your viewing.

While Richard Boone is the lead, I would posit that the cemetery map is actually the star of the production. A wonderful layout of swirls and plots, covered with white and black pins, the map dominates every scene in the building. It practically morphs into a piece of living modern art later in the film.

Noted character actor Theodore Bikel plays the mysterious caretaker Andy McKee. Bikel has had over 150 roles and appeared in My Fair Lady and The African Queen. He does a fine job but affects a Scottish accent that is at times rather annoying.

The makeup is handled by Jack Pierce (here billed as Jack Pearce). Jack Pierce designed the makeup and look for the characters in Dracula (though Lugosi did his own makeup), Frankenstein, The Mummy, Ygor in Son of Frankenstein, The Wolfman, and others. In short, his painstaking (teehee) makeup made the Universal horror movies the classics they are today.

Unfortunately with the rise of better prosthetics, the studio no longer wanted actors to spend four or more hours in a chair. When Pierce stuck to craftsmanship over timeliness, he was let go and ended his career working in television and low-budget films such as this. He only does normal makeup here but I saw an opportunity to discuss his role.

I’m not sure if Netflix has the same copy of I Bury the Living but Amazon’s version was a little (frustratingly) jumpy and overly dark. Still don’t let this deter you from an excellent story.

People Watch: Herbert Anderson, who plays Jess Jessup in I Bury the Living, would go on to fame as Dennis the Menace’s father, Henry Mitchell, on TV.