I Bury the Living (one of my favorite titles in this whole film watching experiment) is one of those mostly forgotten films from the fifties, but it really does have some quality to back it up. The plot is more like a TV episode of The Twilight Zone than a full length feature film. It’s all about what happens when a man is promoted to take care of a cemetery and the old keeper is forced to retire. There’s a huge map of the plots on the wall and it’s covered with black pins and white pins. The black pins are for people who are buried there and the white pins are for plots that have been bought but not claimed yet.
One day, the new guy who happens to be a part of a committee that takes care of the place accidentally sticks two black pins in for this couple he knows instead of white pins and the couples die in a car accident that week. This happens again and again until the man finally realizes something’s up. He’s not too sharp in the beginning.
Well, the police get involved and they force the guy to put a black pin in a man’s plot who is traveling abroad in France to prove that it’s all a big coincidence. While they are waiting to see what happens. The guy figures that if he has the power to kill with the black pins, then he also has the power of life and starts replacing all the black pins of people recently killed with white ones. He goes outside and sure enough their graves are all dug up and open. That’s when he gets a call from someone telling him the guy in France has died. I won’t spoil the rest, but it is quite fun.
The link to this film is one of the Five Kinds of Fear that drives horror narratives and that’s our Fear of Extinction. Fear of death is a high motivator. People use it to coerce others to get them to do just about whatever they want. Not only fear of our own extinction, but fear of the deaths of our loved ones as well. It’s what drove Orpheus to the underworld. It’s what drives Antonius Block in the Bergman film The Seventh Seal to play chess with Death. It’s what fascinates us with Vampires and Zombies. It’s powerful stuff that is the fodder of every doomsday and virus apocalypse story. It’s what frightens us about the Noah story in the Bible. It's what frightens Scrooge into finally making a change. It’s our fear of monsters in Beowulf, our fear of powerful animals in The Ghost and the Darkness, our fear of heights in Vertigo. Death is the ultimate, inevitable end of us all. Earnest Hemingway once said, “All true stories end in death.” And he’s right…
And that scares the bejezus out of us!