Archive for The Premature Burial

Dwight Frye Gets the Girl

Posted in FILM, literature, MUSIC with tags , , , , on September 10, 2012 by dcairns

“Have you seen THE CRIME OF DOCTOR CRESPI?” asked Shadowplayer Paul Duane on a visit to Edinburgh. I admitted I hadn’t. “It’s GREAT! Dwight Frye gets the girl!” This was indeed more than enough of a recommendation.

The 1935 horror begins with a claim in its opening credits to have been “suggested by the story The Premature Burial by Edgar Allan Poe.” They needn’t have bothered crediting Baltimore’s sepulchral bard, since he didn’t invent the concept of accidental living internment: medical mishap did that. But filmmakers always seem to have liked sticking Poe’s name in the credits, even when it doesn’t belong there.

The titular Crespi is Erich Von Stroheim, doing his usual thing of quirky low-key understatement and intense, puffed-up overstatement, with plenty of dead air in between. Make no mistake, Von can suck the air out of a room and blow it out his ass in the twinkling of an eye. He has rather a lot of very good moments here, though, and unlike in THE GREAT GABBO he isn’t required to convince you he’s a funnyman. In fact, however, his perf is oftentimes v. witty, in a sly, malign way.

The plot grinds on at a rate analogous to continental drift, but eventually we surmise that Crespi’s hated love rival, Dr Ross (not George Clooney), has been brain-injured when his auto “turned turtle” and only Crespi can save him. This Crespi does, but only as part of an insanely cunning and cunningly insane plan to drug Ross with a chemical that fakes death, so he can be buried alive and perish in miserable agony.

Put-upon Dr Thomas (Frye) figures out the poison part and threatens to denounce Crespi, who throttles him into unconsciousness and ties him up in the closet until after the funeral. But with his foe underground, he assumes wrongly that Dwight poses no further threat, and releases him with a stern warning. (The plotting here is more vigorous than convincing.)

Of course, Dwight reverts to type and turns bodysnatcher, determined to prove that Dr Ross was envenomed — what he finds is more startling still! I’ve always liked the idea of combining grave-robbery and premature burial in one story, you get a happy ending but with a great deal of horror. Turns out somebody already thought of that.

It’s probably a mistake shoehorning both Stroheim and Frye into one horrorshow, since both need more time than most to get up to full sepulchrousness. Frye’s casting here is hilarious, though, since it depends on simultaneously accepting him as a mild-mannered medico, and embracing his sudden urge to exhume a freshly-buried supporting player. I realize that all of this may constitute “spoilers”, yet part of the pleasure of our viewing was anticipating the moment when Dwight would indeed get the girl, a moment made all the more delicious because of his complete lack of romantic interest through nine-tenths of the movie. And when he does get a “yes” from his honey, his childlike grin, displaying a set of teeth glinting like cold steel, would warm the heart of the coldest cadaver.

Fiona, who has perhaps shall we say unusual taste in men (no, really?), does rather admire Dwight Frye, and insists that I include the following ~

(All credit to 30sDame, who made it)

A Tomb With a View

Posted in FILM with tags , , on April 18, 2008 by dcairns

American International Pictures (A.I.P.) have a logo that just doesn’t make any sense.

Oh, I guess most of these things can’t be examined too closely. Why is the Columbia lady standing on a hill with a torch? What’s with the giant stone lettering and searchlights, 20th Century Fox? Shouldn’t MGM have killed that lion before mounting its head on the wall? In the ’30s Universal logo, why is that aeroplane circling the earth at altitudes likely to cause explosive decompression in the pilot? Why do RKO think a radio mast at the North Pole would be useful, and isn’t it awfully large?

But the AIP atrocity takes the bloomin’ cake. A drawing of a classical dome floats in a painted sky. The base of the dome is hidden by a drawing of – what? Treetops without trunks? Clouds? (But if those are clouds, what are THOSE?)

At any rate, after pondering over this edifice at the start of THE PREMATURE BURIAL, it’s amusing to see Ray Milland attempt the construction of a 3D replica as his tomb later in the story:

The Chills: Alive, Alive-O!

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 18, 2008 by dcairns

“Can you possibly conceive it? The unendurable oppression of the lungs, the stifling fumes of the earth, the rigid embrace of the coffin, the blackness of absolute night and the silence, like an overwhelming sea…”

The Chills — that sensation you feel is merely your skin trying to crawl off your body and get to safety!

THE PREMATURE BURIAL, scripted by Charles “Twilight Zone” Beaumont, loosely inspired by Edgar Allan Poe’s short story, directed by Roger Corman. The muted palette of Daniel Haller’s design and Floyd Crosby’s photography create cheap poetry in a little studio — it more than stands up to the big-budget homages of Tim Burton.

The nice thing about Roger is you can generally tell what he’s been looking at. BLACK NARCISSUS and THE RED SHOES lurked somewhere in his thoughts as he helmed HOUSE OF USHER and MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH — the late Hazel Court even runs en pointe during her hallucination scene in the latter film, a closeup of feet mimicking a specific shot from Powell & Pressburger’s balletomane melodrama.

Here, Dreyer’s VAMPYR plays a big part, the drooping damp fogginess of the sets, and the little window in Ray Milland’s coffin tipping Corman’s hand. But a surprisingly big influence is Murnau’s SUNRISE. What’s great about the Poe adaptations is how they aim at entertaining drive-in audiences but they’re defiantly literary and cinephile in their approach.

In scene one, quoted above, Murnau’s DOUBLE MOON appears. Every surviving Murnau film features the moon, as Bill Krohn and David Ehrenstein point out in their FAUST audio commentary, and one striking scene in SUNRISE features two moons in one shot — as our hero advances into the swamp, a little moon illuminates his way from up ahead, but when he arrives at his destination, after several complicated turns, a bigger moon awaits him. The power of studio stylisation and the long take.

Faint outline of moon around Ray’s face — trust me, it’s there!

Now you see it!

Corman’s modest equivalent is in scene one, where Ray stands before a low moon that skims the horizon, and glances up at his father-in-law, Alfred the butler from Batman, who stands before ANOTHER, higher moon. And why the hell shouldn’t he?

Later in PREMATURE B, the camera follows Ray Milland through the drizzling, grey, dry-icy woods that surround his home, and the effect is reminiscent of that same SUNRISE shot, only Corman can’t sustain such a prolonged movement, lacking a ceiling track to pull it off with, and probably having only a few trees to track past — one gets the sensation that the illimitable black forest of the film is probably very small and endlessly rearranged between shots. But it’s no less beautiful for that.

The clincher comes during the inevitable TINTED HALLUCINATION. These sequences occur in virtually every Corman Poe (I seem to recall they play a big part in THE TRIP too). Corman goes mental with the optical printer and smears poor Ray Milland with green and purple mist, as he blunders about trying to escape from his coffin — and each time Ray screams, the music takes the place of his voice, a desolate horn sounding in synch with the aging matinee idol’s lip movements. In SUNRISE I think it’s an oboe, as the hero calls out to his missing wife from a boat… one of those unforgettable chills-making moments, actually. One I should feature here.

PREMATURE BURIAL deserves its mention not only because Hazel Court is terrific in it, and bravely submits to being completely covered with earth at one point, but because it achieves maybe the best atmospherics of any Corman film. The inspired choice of Molly Malone, whistled by the sinister grave-robbers Sweeney and Mole (the latter played by perennial favourite Dick Miller, competing with his partner for History’s Worst Irish Accent) creates a real frisson — Fiona reports lying abed in terror after viewing this in childhood, the tune echoing around the recesses of her barely-formed infant head.

“Infant? I was twelve!”

“Well, I had to put a word in there or it would sound like I was saying your head IS barely formed.”

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