Release Date: March 7th, 1962 (Chicago premiere)
Directed by: Roger Corman
Written by: Charles Beaumont, Ray Russell
Based on: The Premature Burial by Edgar Allan Poe
Music by: Ronald Stein
Cast: Ray Milland, Hazel Court, Richard Ney, Heather Angel, Alan Napier, Dick Miller
Santa Clara Productions, American International Pictures, 81 Minutes
“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.” – Guy Carrell
The Premature Burial is the only Edgar Allan Poe adaptation that Roger Corman directed that didn’t star Vincent Price. The reason being is that Corman started developing this picture outside of American International Pictures and because Price had an exclusive contract with AIP, at the time, Corman had to cast someone else. Oddly enough, AIP would eventually produce the film before it went into the shooting phase. However, by that point, Ray Milland, an Academy Award winning actor, had already signed on.
Sure, I would’ve liked to have seen what Price would’ve done with the lead role in this but I’m also not going to downplay Milland, how great he was in this and how great of an actor that he was in general. And even though Price is one of my all-time favorites, it’s hard to deny that Milland was probably the more accomplished actor, as far as mainstream, critical recognition goes.
So, yes… Ray Milland is pretty damn incredible in this low budget, Corman directed, Edgar Allan Poe story. I also really believed the connection he had with Hazel Court in this. She’s a horror icon of this film’s era and she was always great alongside the boys at Hammer, Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing, as well as Vincent Price. However, she had really strong chemistry with Milland, even if she turned out to be traitorous and the villain of the story.
This was just a really compelling tale and honestly, it’s one of Corman’s best movies and not just out of his Poe stuff. Milland brought a real seriousness to this and I think it made the rest of the cast really step up too. While Corman is known for rushing through his shoots because that’s his style, Milland’s presence and his ability to elevate his castmates probably made Corman’s job much easier.
I love how dark and brooding this picture is. While that fits with Corman’s other Poe movies, this one just has a thick, stifling atmosphere about it. It also features a trippy LSD-like dream sequence. I always loved that about these movies and this film boasts maybe the best one.
Overall, this isn’t my favorite of the Corman-Poe pictures and it does seem somewhat strange without it starring Vincent Price, but it’s still a damn fine classic horror picture and it is one of the best ones Roger Corman directed.