Release Date(s)1958 (April 26, 2017)
Studio(s)United Artists (Shout!/Scream Factory)
- Film/Program Grade: B
- Video Grade: B+
- Audio Grade: B-
- Extras Grade: D
Lost in the public domain for many years with less than stellar VHS and DVD presentations, the sorely underappreciated I Bury the Living was directed by Albert Band in 1958. It’s an intriguing premise, about a newly-appointed cemetery overseer who keeps track of the property using a large map with white pins for available sections and black pins for those that are taken. After unknowingly switching pins in an unoccupied plot, the person it was meant for suddenly dies. When it happens again with other vacant plots, the overseer convinces himself that he is the one to blame, almost to point of being driven insane at the prospect of having the power of death at his disposal. But is it really just him?
I Bury the Living is one of the best episodes of The Twilight Zone that was never made. It plays in that wheelhouse, taking what could be a complicated premise and realizing it by generating dread within a spooky atmosphere, all without ever spilling a drop of blood or resorting to cheap gimmicks. Richard Boone gives a terrific performance as a man who is slowly but surely going out of his mind. His caretaker underling, played by Theodore Bikel, also gives an interesting performance through a thick Scottish accent. While the movie is technically a psychological thriller, there are many noir-ish qualities to it as well, including some of the lighting choices and the policemen sounding as if they just walked out of His Girl Friday.
Unfortunately, it must be said that the eventual reveal is less than satisfying and, purportedly, was not even what was originally scripted. At the insistence of the studio, the ending was changed, leaving the movie with an unfulfilling climax. Thankfully, it doesn’t ruin things completely because everything leading up to that point is well executed. With disconcerting visuals and a moody ambiance, I Bury the Living holds up quite well, especially coming from a decade wherein horror films were mostly comprised of giant radiation-infested monsters, aided by cheap props on strings zipping over the heads of audiences (not to besmirch such fine entertainment). In that sense, it’s a welcome breath of fresh air.
As this movie has been available for many years in a variety of substandard presentations, a Blu-ray transfer of any surviving element is quite a welcome one. Presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 (likely for the first time on home video), this brand new HD transfer comes from a British fine grain print of the movie, which has been kept in good condition. Grain levels are a bit unstable, as to be expected, but the encode is satisfactory, with good texturing and surprising levels of fine detail. It’s a very organic-looking presentation, but with some instability more noticeable during static scenes. Even the opening credits are a little rough, but things soon improve thereafter. Grayscale looks good, as do black levels, which are quite deep with excellent shadow detailing. Contrast and brightness levels are also pleasing, and there’s been no noticeable attempt to improve the images beyond what they already are. Minor scratches and speckling are present, but overall, the image is solid. The lone audio option available is an English mono 2.0 DTS-HD track. It’s flat, but dialogue is discernable and the score has decent heft to it. It’s also very clean with no hiss, but I did notice three dropouts at around the 1:05:40 mark, which were brief and didn’t cause any syncing issues. Subtitles are also available in English for those who might need them. All things considered, this is a nice upgrade and the best the movie has looked in decades, despite its flaws.
Extras are pretty slim, not that it matters much in this case. An animated photo gallery and a standard definition theatrical trailer is all you get. I’m personally happy just to have I Bury the Living on Blu-ray to begin with. It’s one of the great unsung horror movies from the 1950s, one that almost nobody talks about beyond those who were young enough and lucky enough to see it upon its original release. Even people like Joe Dante and Stephen King hold the movie in high regard. I hope that, with this new release, the film will find even more fans.
- Tim Salmons