Toddy really hits the spot!
As part of his duties as the new Chairman of a local cemetery, businessman Robert Kraft is in charge of managing the available plots and daily interments on the property. In his cold stone cabin, on the wall, is an oversized map of the grounds, with each gravesite clearly marked. There's even a system for keeping track of the tombs. White pins are for empty, vacant plots. Black means an owner has checked in, permanently. When a young couple on their honeymoon stops by to fulfill the requirements of an inherited trust, Kraft sticks black pins in the map by mistake. The next day he gets the terrible news: the couple has died. Convinced he had something to do with it, he randomly places a black pin in the map. The corresponding person expires as well. Soon, every time he places a black pin in the map, that person mysteriously ends up dead. Does Kraft really have the power to determine who lives and who doesn't? Or is he just a pawn in someone else's Earthbound desire for revenge?
Meanwhile, a group of British soldiers are captured by the Japanese and tortured. When two of the men fail to 'fess up, the cruel commandant cuts off their hands. The fate of a third man seems up in the air. We jump ahead to present-day London. A drunken bum is discovered in an alley, a wad of pounds in his pocket and something substantial missing at the end of his arm. Seems an amputation was performed and the wino paid for his digit donation. But before more clues can be gathered, the derelict is murdered. When the police question the surgeon who performed the operation, he kills himself. Then another man, named Brody, turns up dead. Seems he had contacted the doctor about the bit of limb shortening. There is one link to all the crimes: a mystery man named Roberts. He may hold the key to why so many people are winding up dead. It could have to do with the war. It could have to do with that prison camp. But it seems most definitely to revolve around a group of men, each of whom are missing a hand.
I Bury the Living has got to have one of the most ingenious, novel premises in the history of horror. The idea that a full-size map of a cemetery could hold the means to life and death via colored pushpin is refreshingly twisted. And while the map is the center of the story, Richard Boone's reactions to it and the way he obsesses on it create a wonderfully warped added element. But then something happens about halfway through this film, something that really isn't the movie's fault. Perhaps it's more like a case of mass movie hysteria. After 45 minutes, we the audience come to a conclusion that it takes the characters another 20 to reach. Logic says, if you place a black pin in the map and someone dies, then placing a white pin in the map for someone already dead means…? Those with a head for horror know the answer: ZOMBIES! Yeppers, big fat juicy members of the living dead, those loveable walking corpses at your service. Once this nasty notion wanders into the brain (even though we recognize that a movie made in 1958 could never deliver on that promise), we want to see what happens upon a stickpin switcheroo. And we wait…and wait…and wait. Through endless scenes of moralizing. Through super-surreal mental map freakouts. Through more of Theodore Bikel's overdone Scottish accent (anyone who can make Groundskeeper Willy seem sedate is praying for a haggis to the head). By the end, when a white pin is finally inserted, the suspense is killing us. But then there is no payoff. A rote conclusion about revenge is tacked on and the film is over. Too bad, really. While it suffers from corpus interruptus, I Bury the Living is still a fairly decent little fright flick.
Which is much, much more than can be said for the dreadfully dumb The Hand. This British bit of bile is enough to turn you off bangers and mash forever. While the POW set-up is not quite as PU as the movie itself, the fact that the entire enterprise becomes a glorified piece of Agatha Christie deductive detective crap really takes the teacake. Indeed, we spend more time watching Inspector Prim and his associate Constable Proper contemplate, study, and ponder this case of hand hacking than Chamberlain spent with Hitler. They discover a clue. They think about it for while. They smoke some mini cigars. Then they refresh their thoughts with even more rigorous considering. About the only action we get is a foolish fracas between some hired goons and the constantly-lamenting-his-love-life peace officer. Even when this bobby boob gets the bubble and squeak beat out of him, he just maintains a stiff upper lip, expresses concern for his dating opportunities, and asks for a gin and orange. And the mystery is obvious to the audience. When we recognize the traitor, looking guilty and grim, who failed the Japanese torture test and sold out his troops, the "who done it" lights go off in our heads. Then we just have to sit around for another 40 minutes until Scotland Yard manages to get the hint. There is no tension here, unless you consider where the chaps will be going for a fish and chips lunch break intriguing, and there is very little horror, except the growing knowledge that you sat through this whole thing. The Hand doesn't deserve to be considered a movie. Someone should give it the bird.
When compared to similar style discs offered by Something Weird Video, these drive-in offerings from Elite have a lot to live up to (and one aspect that just might outdo the competition). On the downside are the transfers. SWV are experts in monochrome remastering. Their black-and-white movies always look exceptional. Elite's versions of these films, on the other hand, are faded and flawed with age and print defect issues aplenty. Of the two, Living looks better, but not great. Hand, however, is a washed-out, woefully fuzzy fiasco. So even in a 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer, get ready to be really disappointed.
Another place that those Washington State weirdos have the Elite team beat is in the bonus passion-pit footage department. The ads and shorts that Something Weird includes usually flesh out the presentation, adding titles from the same director or material related to the films. Here, Elite just throws up a few commercials, a couple of Gumby shorts (huh?), and a nice bit of new animation meant to recreate the ticketing and snack bar experience. But the glitz and the pizzazz can't make up for the lack of real content. The nostalgic drive-in material is just too generic to truly intrigue.
But Elite does thrash SWV in at least one category. Sonically, Something Weird titles are Dolby Digital Mono, nothing more or less. Elite devises something called "Distorto" that allows you to "aurally experience" the outdoor movie all over again. Cars make noise in the back channels, couples talk, people get in and out of their vehicles, and crickets chirp the night away, all while the movie plays in the front two speakers. This feature is incredibly cool and does a hilarious (if occasionally hokey) job of making you feel like you are there. Unfortunately, the rest of this material just cannot live up to the presentation. I Bury the Living and The Hand are like semi-rancid oil and incredibly brackish water. They won't and can't mix. It's just too bad this isn't a 100% complete recreation of a night at the drive-in. If it were, you'd have someone to neck with during the atrocious second half of this double feature.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Elite Entertainment
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