I Bury the Living (1958)

I Bury the Living is such an amazing title for a movie. Seriously, take a moment and just bask in how awesome that title is.

Now, imagine you had power over life and death. As in, you can decide who lives and dies, simply by performing some small action that was completely unintentional on your part but leads to catastrophic effect for others. How would you grapple with the sudden onset of possible power? Would you go mad? Worse yet, if someone close to you suddenly claimed they had such a power, would you doubt it and demand a test, knowing that you might die if they’re right but also doubting that it’s even remotely possible?

These are the questions at the core of the film I Bury the Living. Richard Boone plays Robert Kraft, the new head of a committee maintaining control of a large cemetery. In an effort to cut costs, Kraft forces the cemetery’s caretaker, Andy MacKee, into a retirement deal. Then Kraft replaces some pins on MacKee’s map of grave sites in the cemetery with black pins indicating that the people who own those spots have died, and low and behold, they do. Kraft begins to speculate that his placing black pins in the board is ultimately what causes the deaths of whoever was supposed to inhabit that particular grave, and while his fellow committee members doubt him, they drop off like flies from heart attacks as he replaces the pins on their graves to prove his unwanted power. Kraft grows more depressed with each new death and suspects he is cursed, while the police eventually investigate to see if Kraft’s power can cross to other continents.

Since Kraft believes he has power over death, he eventually replaces the black pins with white ones to show the graves are empty, and lo and behold, he soon finds them dug up. Finally, as he despairs, MacKee enters and reveals he has been scaring people to death and moving the bodies as Kraft has marked the graves out of revenge for being forced to retire. Never mind how MacKee knew which bodies to move without necessarily seeing the board, or that the board has hundreds of pins, possibly thousands, so he’d have to notice every little change. Kraft is full on into his delusion though, so instead of blaming MacKee for murdering people, he believes his power forced MacKee into doing the killing and digging. MacKee doubts him…until the police call and claim that a man in France died after Kraft had replaced his pin. The sudden realization that Kraft actually does have powers drives MacKee insane. Somehow MacKee ends up dead, whether suicide or fright. But when the police arrive, they reveal the man in France didn’t really die, and that Kraft has no actual powers. Yeah, the ending is a cop out to an amazing premise.

Still, this is not bad for a movie with limited budget, limited cast, and such a sensational title. This is B-movie making at its best. I Bury the Living almost doesn’t deserve to be as good as it is, and it’s been lauded by reviewers, horror fans, and even the likes of Stephen King. Though they pretty much all agree that the ending sucks.

It also begs the question, just how would you react to such possible power?

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