Friday, October 15, 2010

The Premature Burial: Season 2 Episode 3

Originally aired 10/2/61
Starring Boris Karloff, Sidney Blackmer, Patricia Medina.
Written by William Gordon and Douglas Heyes, based on the short story by Edgar Allan Poe.
Directed by Douglas Heyes.

Edward Stapleton (Blackmer) lives in mortal fear of being buried alive. It's not an unnatural paranoia on his part since it's already happened to him once and the only person around to save him was his dearest friend, Dr. Thorne (Karloff), luckily suspicious about the circumstances of Edward's death. Stapleton moves into action to assure there will be no repeat. He tricks out his mausoleum like a Winnebago: pop-top coffin, doorbell, tinned meats, a bit of sherry, and a jacuzzi. Unbeknownst to Edward, his adulterous wife (Medina) has plans for him.

JS: Who is this Poe character? I don't remember him from Weird Tales... Right off the bat, this episode starts with a great shot of Stapleton's coffin being brought in over the camera on another rainy day at the cemetery. This episode also has a novel way of introducing the cast - particularly how Boris does his own intro.

PE: You're right. That shot (and another from the POV of the coffin later on) is a good one. Much like "The Prediction," the saving grace of this slow dirge is King Karloff. If anything he's even better than his previous Thriller episode.

JS: This is another of the handful of episodes I had seen previously, and for the first half I kept trying to recall why I had a higher impression of it going in. As the second half rolled around, it came back to me. Patricia Medina's performance took some warming up to, but by the end of the episode I truly appreciated her descent into madness. I was less impressed by her young lover Julian (Scott Marlowe). Thank goodness for Boris!

PE: He's very strong in his scene at the climax, confronting Victorine and her lover, Julian (Scott Marlowe) with their treachery. Though Thorne is ostensibly a good-hearted man (as evidenced by all he does for Edward), a darker edge, maybe a sadistic edge, seems to overcome his character when the couple finally own up what to they've done. I can't say much about Boris' supporting cast though. Two scenes in particular (Edward showing his wife around his new "coffin fit for a king" and the climax when Victorine loses her marbles) I had a really hard time with. I'm sure I'll be told that the performances were over-the-top but in keeping with two characters losing their minds, but all I could think of was how much this episode felt like a sit-com.

JS: Things get interesting once Edward's shroud-wrapped body begins wandering around the yard, and builds towards a very creepy climax, ultimately to fizzle out (define creepy, because I must have missed that part.. Drowsiness?-PE). The effective lighting throughout these sequences really pays off in spades. What's funny is that in retrospect, Thorne (Karloff) almost telegraphs what's going on by how calmly he deals with the quite possibly dead body of his old pal Stapleton shambling about the house.

PE: What I thought was funny was how "Stapleton" kept walking into things. Obviously, there was little to no visibility through that mask. He's very clearly reaching out to steady himself.

JS: Looking at it from that perspective certainly changes the tone of those scenes. When all is said and done, I think we're left with another okay, but not great, Karloff episode.

PE: About five months after this was first telecast, American International released director Roger Corman's latest Poe flick, The Premature Burial, starring Ray Milland as the man facing the title event and co-starring the lovely Hazel Court and John's favorite Thriller supporting actor, Alan Napier.

JS: One more item we're sorry we're unable to offer in the A Thriller A Day online shop - jewelry from the Premature Burial collection...



  1. I ass-u-me the William Gordon who wrote it and the William Gordon who's IN it are the same guy, but I dunno. IMDb says it's the same guy but what do they know.

    Fix the typo in Douglas HeYes name in the credits block.

    This one always bored me.

  2. I wasn't bored by the performances -- Karloff reigns, while Medina does warm up, and I give kudos for the almost madcap-like turn by Blackmer. This whole series is new to me so perhaps i'm more easily impressed, or less jaded. Or that because i got the collection later the real slow, unthriller episodes that i'm watching out of sequence are making the close-but-no-cigar episodes look like classics. Heyes does well to create that forboding fear with a few well-placed camera angles, and the atmosphere was well created and aided by music for anxiety... Love how Medina does her best Colin Clive impersonation when she sparked out "He's alive!"
    I'm giving this seven Karloffs...

  3. Seven Karloff Kabezas, easy.

    I always thought of this as the "Purple Room" of Season 2.

    Plus, it's the only time THRILLER ever tackled Poe, however obliquely.

  4. If memory serves, this ep also sports a spiffing audio commentary by Schow, Dickerson and some other bloke.

  5. Yeah, Tim, that wacky, bantering John & Pete have sure fallen silent when it comes to shows with commentaries ... I wonder ...

  6. Tim should have his ego stroked by this afternoon. What can I do for you, David?

  7. Does this one also feature the Invisible Gerani?

  8. Gerani rocks! Never a complaint about commentary coverage.

  9. YEAH, BABY! As for "Premature Burial," gotta go along with DJS... Brilliant as all those WEIRD TALES adaptations are, it's cool that THRILLER saw fit to adapt at least one Poe story, and Karloff is quite wonderful playing a dignified, sympathetic hero of sorts. Some really nice photography and compositions, too, particularly during the climax. A solid three Boris heads out of four.

  10. You see why I like Gerani so much? He goes with the classic rating system rather than the nonsensical version thought up out of the blue by those rabble-rousers down in Griffith Park. God, why didn't this guy do commentaries for EVERY episode?

  11. Up until the last 10 minutes of this show, I thought it was really quite good, with only a couple of quibbles: 1.) Don't film a rain scene if the sun is shining brightly; just go with the closer shot of the mausoleum, which looked believable (also, I had to chuckle at the monsoon-like downpour issuing from Boris' and Wm. Gordon's (modern) umbrellas as they spoke).

    2.) Yeah, maybe Sidney Blackmer (and Heyes) were going for a sort of "mini-mad" scene as he showed his new bride around the place, but it struck me as an incredibly, rampantly ham-bone excursion into Thespianianna (I just made that one up).

    Other than that, I thought Doug Heyes created a very cool look for the show, (as our expert commentators noted) dark, elegant and full of eye-catching depth. I really loved that shot just prior to Sidney's mad-scene, as he stood near the open door of the mausoleum with Patricia Medina outside in her virgin-white gown, beautifully framed by the doorway.

    The scenes of the spooky, wind-swept night, the clanging bell, and the shrouded figure (again, fabulous lighting and lustrous sense of depth) wandering about the grounds were wonderfully done (my late brother loved these scenes, and often commented on them to me). Boris was fine, his big confrontation scene with Medina another highpoint of the show. Scott Marlowe was also at his slinky, slimy juvenile best.

    BUT----its seemed that actor/writer William Gordon pretty much ran out of ideas for the show's big denoument (say what?); considering all of the imaginative visuals throughout, the ghastly apparation's casual stroll up the staircase, filmed with absolutely no camera movement or variety to increase tension, (ditto the following appearance of the apparition in the bedroom) REALLY kills the climax of this one. And Patricia Medina's own "mad-scene" was pretty silly; I just hoped that Boris would slap the crap out of her and end it all.

    Morton Steven's score-- this time for strings only, revisited familiar musical territory--not nearly as effectively as in "Pigeons".

    Seven Karloffenesque heads for me--just barely.


  12. Trivia PS--

    Once per "Thriller" season, Patricia Medina is involved in an illicit relationship with an artist in an attic. What are the chances of THAT?

  13. The third Thriller episode of season two and the third episode to feature adultery. I wonder what the children watching thought of all this cheating going on in Thrillerland.

    Boris is back in town, so my hopes are high for The Premature Burial. Plus our tale is based on Poe, so we can't lose can we? Things start out well enough with a Karloff a funeral and coffin jolted open. Next we get a nice "brought back to life scene" done up in 19th century style with a battery. Ah, the medical profession was so much less complicated back then. Edward even gets a some spiffy "Do Not Bury Me" bling and is soon back on his feet and ready to consummate his marriage to his young bride.

    I like the principal players in the episode. Sidney Blackmer plays an enjoyable, wealthy chap looking for his young sweet thing. Patricia Medina is an old school gold digger ready to put ol' Edward back in the grave ASAP and Boris is delightfully Boris. I also enjoyed the rapport between the players. Mr. and Mrs. Stapleton had good, cheery on screen chemistry, which was countered by the tense on screen action between Boris and Patricia.

    After Ed finally kicks it, the next act involves a hokey and not too believable resurrection of Edward hijinks to out the young lovers. It's amusing in a Scooby Doo way and I enjoyed Miss Medina's breakdown.

    The Premature Burial didn't quite live up to its potential, but it was still worthwhile. Two and a half Karloffs.

  14. Sidney Blackmer and Boris Karloff are timeless screen presences who conveyed their autumn years with assured grace. They could be surprising -- but convincing -- when summoning swift-footed strength and effortless joy. Karloff especially seems invincible onscreen, whether benefitted by his well-staged introductions, or through the clean musculature of his craft when portraying a character.

    It's reassuring to see two men well over 60 play vital leading roles in a horror tale. Life's rich reward isn't, in this case, to be a rickety grandfather but a vital human jazzed for every breath and every adventure, however small. Blackmer smoothly transitions from near-death to lively enthusiasm. When he's finally dead -- at least convincingly dead -- I am still certain he we rise again. In fact, I keep expecting to see Blackmer in a movie made today; perhaps, as a Alfred Pennyworth's poker buddy in The Dark Knight Rises, or taking a stroll along Moonrise Kingdom.

    Yes, this episode is well-shot. It looks like a "Thriller" with all the grandeur that suggests. The lead female, Patricia Medina, is a sexy woman-over-forty but who looks no older than 35 -- perfect for mitigating the gap between her husband and her suitor whilst giving the episode its siren allure. The "horror" itself has a grimace and a shroud -- whether it be real or a charlatan, its effect is strong enough not to matter if the supernatural has been authentically raised. The contrast of "living long with sound mind" vs "youth spent insane" serves the core fear in the story well: there are worse things than dying.

    All the key players are grasping for something, literalized by Julian Boucher's sculpture of hands perpetually struggling from the Earth to the sky. Perhaps that desperate need is the ignition key for life itself. Its evolution from strife to fulfilling craft is exemplified by the incredible Mr. Boris Karloff.

    3 1/2 Karloffs

  15. I thought it was a pretty decent adaptation of Poe's story.

    I have no serious problems with this one, only nits to pick. One, is Karloff's insistence that Stapleton was murdered. He MAY have been murdered. Certainly the intention was there. But it's not clear that he was. Sometimes a deathlike state REALLY is death. Maybe when they exhummed him, there was evidence? But no, Karloff insisted that he was looking for evidence of a murder he could not prove. He kept asking the boyfriend if he accused her of knowingly burying him alive. No, she couldn't possibly have known one way or the other. She did it without regard for whether he was alive or dead, which is bad, but not quite the same thing.

    Dr. Thorn's lackadaisical attitude at the end was bizarre. "Where's he going??" "Why, he's going upstairs to be with the one who loves him, of course." Just like that? "Hi honey, I'm back from the dead! What's for dinner?" I know this is Boris Karloff, who can say the most outrageous things and make them seem natural, but his attitude was a dead giveaway (pun intended) that this was not the real Stapleton, that it was some kind of plot, and that he was in on it. They shouldn't have revealed that much so soon.

    We seem to be seeing a lot of stories lately (this one, Grim Reaper, What Beckoning Ghost, et cetera) where a major character dies about halfway through the show. Not a complaint, just an observation.

    Why was Stapleton out hunting after Karloff had strictly forbidden such excitement in view of his condition? Was he just tempting fate?

    Patricia Medina does a fantastic Crazy Lady act.

  16. Dark Shadows did an extended sequence along the same idea, involving Joan Bennett taking similar precautions. She even had a little model built (which we dubbed "Barbie's Malibu Mausoleum") to demonstrate all the gadgets, bells and whistles that were being installed to make it escapable. Yes, bells. Literally. As in this episode, her mausoleum had a bell that could be heard in the house if she revived. I wouldn't be surprised if the writers based the angle on this episode.

    1. That detail actually comes from Poe's original 1844 story.

  17. I agree, but this episode highlighted a physical condition of the brain-Epilepsy. Think Medical wrist bands- I'm an Epileptic. The curse of mental disorders include: Epilepsy, Autism, Alzheimers. The real fright for the affected!

  18. You were all mostly too hard on this one. There are many episodes from the THRILLER series where you know exactly where the show is going and you enjoy watching to see if you're correct, and to see what variations on a form the actors and director might bring to the piece, and this is one of those.

    They might have set this in the 17th or 18th centuries rather than the 19th (Poe's time I know) but there were times of plague when people who were unconscious or in comas were buried wholesale though they weren't dead. The stories of coffins dug up with corpses in them that had clawed their wooden prisons filled people with horror, and this sort of thing ought to have been referred to in the script. But I thought this was fun, it was well done and I only wondered at the Karloff character's comment that Blackmer had been tortured before death -- had he in fact been falsely buried again? We're never told for sure.

    Blackmer was always an awful actor, but he must have been well-liked, personable and professional because he had a very long career as a bit and supporting player (most famously in ROSEMARY'S BABY) but his keening hysteria here seemed just right to me -- his abjectness and his abrasiveness were as irritating as they were meant to be. I loved Karloff and I thought Medina and Marlowe were good. It was fun watching this story unfold with confidence.

    1. Anybody out there wish to comment as ME TV continues the Thriller reruns as of July 2014? Along with Hitchcock and Night Gallery. Yes, I agree, "It's cool that THRILLER saw fit to adapt at least one Poe story."

      How about and Ambrose Bierce horror story--he was right up there with Poe.

    2. Yes. "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge"

      Ambrose Gwinnett Bierce (June 24, 1842[2] – circa 1914[1]) was an American editorialist, journalist, short story writer, fabulist, and satirist. He wrote the short story "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" and compiled a satirical lexicon, The Devil's Dictionary. His vehemence as a critic, his motto "Nothing matters", and the sardonic view of human nature that informed his work, all earned him the nickname "Bitter Bierce".[3]

      Despite his reputation as a searing critic, Bierce was known to encourage younger writers, including poet George Sterling and fiction writer W. C. Morrow. Bierce employed a distinctive style of writing, especially in his stories. His style often embraces an abrupt beginning, dark imagery, vague references to time, limited descriptions, impossible events and the theme of war.

      In 1913, Bierce traveled to Mexico to gain first-hand experience of the Mexican Revolution. While traveling with rebel troops, he disappeared without a trace."

    3. Maybe the Hollow Watcher Thriller Episode--close like in horseshoes?

  19. Jack Rabbit, INLAND EMPIREDecember 3, 2015 at 8:24 PM

    THIS is the episode of Thriller that scared me to death when I was six. It may be responsible for my lifelong claustrophobia. I've never forgotten it. (The other show that absolutely terrified me as a kid AND STILL DOES is Hitchcock's "An Unlocked Window." I'm still afraid of nurses!) Seeing "The Premature Burial" again after all these years was really fun. How quickly life passes. I still can't watch a film in which anyone is put in a box and buried alive. When Medina buries the jewelry under the rock my mind went directly to Donna and James burying the half-heart necklace in Twin Peaks. It's interesting to see how the story here and in other adaptations foregoes the point of Poe's original story to focus on the horror.

  20. Thankfully somebody posted the episode online, and I was finally able to satisfy my curiosity.

    It's fascinating to compare this with the Roger Corman film of only 5 MONTHS later (!!!). So many of the same elements included, yet in such different ways. Neither could be said to be any kind of "authentic" adaptation of the Poe story, yet having now read THAT in its entirety, I can see where so many of the bits and pieces came from.

    At the moment I prefer the Ray Milland film (especially the last 10-15 minutes), but then I've only seen the TV episode once (so far).

  21. By the way, here's Juez Xirinius' comic version...

    Vicente Alcazar's comic version...

    And perhaps strangest of all, Gedeon Malagola's story "Buried Alive", which has virtually nothing to do with it, EXCEPT for the last page which seems to have come straight out of the Corman film, visually...

    And then of course there's the Jack Oleck / Steve Ditko story from 1953, which combines elements of "Usher" & "Premature" and seems to have inspired scenes in at least 3 different Corman POE films...