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.

White Zombie

White Zombie is currently available on Amazon Prime

White Zombie (1932)

“A Haitian plantation owner convinces his young friends to wed at his residence, hoping he can use the opportunity to lure the woman away from her fiance. When this ploy fails, he turns to the help of his mill operator for assistance, hoping the man can use his voodoo knowledge to make the woman his slave.”

“Why did you drive like that you fool, we might have been killed.” – “Worse than that monsieur we might have been caught”

One of the main problems for the non-Universal horror movies was that they would only grab a star (Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff) and not all the wonderful supporting players (Dwight Frye, Una O’Connor, Lionel Atwill, etc.). Bela Lugosi was paid a mere $800 for his starring role. On the other hand, that was for only eleven days of work during the Depression. The eyes menaicng you from the poster are Lugosi’s and he has a high old time here.

The best scene in White Zombie is where Lugosi introduces his enemies to a client and it is nicely chilling.There is an equally chilling scene as Lugosi teases an incapacitated victim. While the movie is a cheapie, Lugosi is definitely at the top of his game.

Madge Bellamy plays Madeline Parker, the woman that all three of our male leads are after. Madge had a fascinating career in silent movies (40+) but had her Fox contract terminated when she turned down The Trial of Mary Dugan, a property Fox had purchased specifically to star her. It seemed as though she could have made the transition to talkies if she had not shot herself in the foot. Her career was essentially over after White Zombie. She also married a stockbroker for three days in 1928 and was famous again in 1943 when she shot her millionaire lover.

The wonderful Jack Pierce did the makeup. The zombies do come off looking goofy with goggle eyes. They are very distinctive but I’m not sure they are memorable in the way Pierce would have liked. I do love what he did with Lugosi’s eyebrows, beard and mustache. Lugosi looks awesome here and diametrically different from Dracula.

For those who like Latin music, the legendary Xavier Cugat composed the music for White Zombie (even though he is not credited). He is however credited with popularizing the rumba in America (no, not the vacuum). The score is not particularly memorable other than that Cugat was the composer.

Unfortunately the public domain print is watchable but only just. It is washed out and contrast is overblown. Some of the dialogue is popped out as well. This is yet another reason why the Universal features hold up better – their prints are cleaned up and not public domain.

People Watch: Clarence Muse plays a coach driver here but he was also Sam in Casablanca. What’s that you say? You remember Dooley Wilson playing Sam? Well, Clarence Muse played Sam in the short-lived 1955 television series.

He also played over a hundred and fifty other roles. The majority of these roles would make for a great paper on what it was like to be an actor of color in Hollywood in the pre-civil rights era. Here is a partial list for just the 1930s and 1940s: porter, janitor, servant, servant, doorman, shoeshine man, janitor, doorman, servant, servant, servant, bootblack, doorman, servant, servant, bootblack, porter, porter, porter, porter, porter, porter, porter, porter, porter (seriously) and at least twice a death row inmate.

The Wolf Man – Classic Horror Week

The Wolfman is currently available on instant Netflix.

The Wolf Man (1941)

“Upon returning to his ancestral home in Wales, Larry saves a local girl from a werewolf but is bitten during the attack. Cursed by the werewolf’s bite, Larry suffers torturous full-moon transformations and tries to escape the townsfolk who hunt him.”

“Even a man who is pure in heart and says his prayers by night, may become a wolf when the wolfbane blooms and the autumn moon is bright. “

Universal made Werewolf of London in 1935. Jack Pierce developed the Wolf Man makeup for that film but Henry Hull refused to sit in the makeup chair that long. Pierce’s iconic makeup would go unused for six years. The werewolf transformation showcased in The Wolf Man blows away that used in Werewolf of London.

Lon Chaney Jr. was not a very good actor but he did excel at portraying depressed-types. He is wonderful as the doomed Lawrence Talbot and would reprise this role repeatedly. Even when he isn’t playing Talbot, his characters come across as maudlin. His Son of Dracula was the biggest sad sack of a vampire until Twilight.

Universal seemed unsure of Chaney as a horror icon. Chaney started out acting as Creighton Chaney but in 1935, a producer insisted he change his name to Lon Chaney Jr., a ruse he hated. For The Wolf Man, Universal even had him drop the Jr. from his name. Even at that, Chaney is last/eighth billed here. This is not surprising as he was a last minute replacement for Dick Foran, who himself was a replacement for Boris Karloff.

While Lugosi is always a welcome sight, he receives fifth billing for what amounts to a cameo. Claude Rains is excellent here, returning to Universal after a string of films including The Adventures of Robin Hood and The Sea Hawk. He anchors the picture as Larry’s father, the no-nonsense Sir John Talbot. Patrick Knowles, playing Frank Andrews here, would return in Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man as our Dr. Frankenstein substitute, Dr. Mannering. Finally a young Ralph Bellamy plays Colonel Montford.

The women receive short shrift here. If you look on the poster, their billing is in tiny print. Evelyn Ankers plays Gwen Conliffe, the woman at the center of a romantic triangle. She would go on to be a Universal horror star in Son of Dracula, Captive Wild Woman, The Mad Ghoul, The Frozen Ghost and others. The delightful Maria Ouspenskaya plays Maleva the gypsy fortune teller, a role she was born for. She would reprise it in Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man.

Universal has all the normal accoutrements here except a castle: fog-shrouded moors, graveyards, an old-fashioned village, and gypsies. Chaney’s German Shepherd gets a cameo as the wolf Larry fights with.

Sequel-itis: Larry Talbot continues his story in Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman (1943), House of Frankenstein (1944), House of Dracula (1945), and Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein (1950).

The Mummy – Classic Horror Week

The Mummy is currently available on instant Netflix.

The Mummy (1932)

“When British archaeologists uncover the ancient sarcophagus of a mummified Egyptian priest (Boris Karloff), they foolishly ignore its warning not to open the box, and the mummy is brought back to life. Taking the form of a modern Egyptian, he quickly begins his quest to resurrect the soul of his love, which he believes has been reincarnated in a modern woman (Zita Johann). Noted German cinematographer Karl Freund makes his directing debut.”

“He went for a little walk! You should have seen his face! “

The Mummy – a story of undying love, or stalking as we call it in the real world. Netflix’s instant play of The Mummy has a better picture quality than my Mummy DVD from the Legacy box.

Karl Freund finally gets out from behind the camera and directs here. His direction is good – there’s a wonderful scene at the beginning where a character goes mad at seeing the Mummy come to life (yes overacted as was the stagey style of the time) and the camera tracks over to watch the last bits of bandage go out the door. There are many nicely filmed spots like that but there are at least as many that are static stage play setups.

King Tut’s tomb and the rumored curse were very popular at the time so sets are crammed with as much Egyptian bric-a-brac as possible. Jack Pierce’s makeup jobs on the Mummy (only briefly seen) and Ardath Bey are fabulous and make the film worth watching by themselves. It took Pierce eight hours each day to do Karloff’s makeup.

Boris Karloff dominates every scene he is in, as is to be expected. He is absolutely riveting whether he is expressing his love for Helen or calmly threatening the archaeologists. Zita Johann is fascinating as Helen. In spite of being only 28, Zita appeared in only a handful of films after The Mummy.

The movie bears a remarkable resemblance to the previous year’s Dracula – the same piece of music opens both films, the wise benevolent character is played by Edward Van Sloan in both films, David Manners plays the young lead in both films, the stories are quite similar and Karl Freund also helped direct Dracula. While this movie is wonderful, the mummy per se is hardly featured at all. Conversely the four sequels (five if you count the Abbott & Costello one)¬†feature much more of the titular mummy but are a big step down in quality – they do beg the question of why can’t you just outrun him?

People Watch: Look for the wonderful character actor Noble Johnson in a bit part as the Nubian. While he was often given bit parts, a frequent problem for African-American actors through the 1960s, Noble did get to play the native chief in King Kong and Son of Kong. Also due to the magic of black and white filming, he got to play native Americans, Latinos, Arabs, even the devil himself in Dante’s Inferno (1935).

Sequel-itis: The titular Mummy changes from Imhotep to Kharis and would go on to appear in The Mummy’s Hand, The Mummy’s Tomb, The Mummy’s Ghost, and The Mummy’ Curse. Tomb, Ghost and Curse all feature Lon Chaney Jr. as Kharis. As usual the Universal series was finished off in Abbott & Costello Meet the Mummy (1950).

The Mummy

Well it wouldn’t be October without covering one of Boris Karloff’s wonderful movies. Luckily Netflix has several available for instant play.

The Mummy

WATCH: The Mummy (1932) – “When British archaeologists uncover the ancient sarcophagus of a mummified Egyptian priest (Boris Karloff), they foolishly ignore its warning not to open the box, and the mummy is brought back to life. Taking the form of a modern Egyptian, he quickly begins his quest to resurrect the soul of his love, which he believes has been reincarnated in a modern woman (Zita Johann). Noted German cinematographer Karl Freund makes his directing debut.”

The Mummy – a story of undying love or stalking as we call it in the real world. Netflix’s instant play of The Mummy has a better picture quality than my Mummy DVD from the Legacy box. Karl Freund’s direction is good – there’s a wonderful scene at the beginning where a character goes mad at seeing the Mummy come to life (yes overacted as was the stagey style of the time) and the camera tracks over to watch the last bits of bandage go out the door. There are many nicely filmed spots like that but there are at least as many that are static stage play setups. Sets are crammed with as much Egyptian bric-a-brac as possible. Jack Pierce’s makeup jobs on the Mummy (only briefly seen) and Ardath Bey are fabulous. Boris Karloff dominates every scene he is in as is to be expected. The movie bears a remarkable resemblance to the previous year’s Dracula – the same piece of music opens both films, the wise benevolent character is played by Edward Van Sloan in both films, David Manners plays the young lead in both films, the stories are quite similar and Karl Freund also helped direct Dracula. While this movie is wonderful, the mummy per se is hardly featured at all. Conversely the four sequels (five if you count the Abbott & Costello one)¬†feature much more of the titular mummy but are a big step down in quality – they do beg the question of why can’t you just outrun him?

People watchers: look for the wonderful character actor Noble Johnson in a bit part as the Nubian.