Saturday, August 25, 2007


Richard Boone is a local businessman who is reluctantly about to take his turn as the manager of the local cemetery, a largely ceremonial post, he is assured, which will just take a few hours of his time a month. Theodore Bikel, the old Scottish caretaker (yes, you will immediately think of Groundskeeper Willie!), is about to be forced into retirement, though even with a pension, he doesn't want to leave. He shows Boone a wall map of the cemetery on which white pins designate a plot reserved for someone, and black pins designate a plot with a buried body. A newly married couple show up to buy their plots, but Boone accidentally sticks black pins in the map instead of white pins, and the next day, he hears that the couple were killed in a car accident. Struck by the eerie coincidence, he randomly sticks a black pin in a plot reserved for a Mr. Isham, and soon we see Isham die, apparently of a heart attack. A distraught Boone tells friends, police, and his fiancee (Peggy Maurer) about his weird power over life and death. They encourage him to continue experimenting with the pins in an attempt to show him that he's just imagining things, and a trio of prominent local men, including his own uncle, offer themselves as guinea pigs; when Boone uses black pins in their plots, all three indeed wind up dead. Cooped up alone in the cemetery office, a nearly suicidal Boone wonders what will happen if he takes out the black pins of the recently dead and replaces them with white pins. Sure enough when he does, we see the plots dug open, empty inside. The resolution is predictable, though the "how" aspect is not well explained.

As you can tell by five minutes in, this is Twilight Zone material, and would have worked better as a half-hour show instead of a 76-minute movie. Boone is fairly good, especially when he starts to go a bit nuts. Bikel, an Austrian who was only in his mid-30s, cannot pass for an old Scottish man; his accent is outrageously thick, as is his old-age makeup and his acting. He seemed so fake that I was sure that the character would wind up being someone disguising himself as an old Scottish caretaker, but I was wrong. The plot has intimations of the supernatural, and for a brief moment, you think that you'll get to see some of the undead stalking around the badly-done day-for-night graveyard, but no such luck. What the movie does have in spades is atmosphere; as other viewers have pointed out, this looks more like a film noir than a horror movie, and as in a Twilight Zone show, most of it occurs on just one or two sets. The wall map of the cemetery looks a little weird from the beginning, with the white pins looking practically phosphorescent in the dim lighting. As Boone starts to unravel, the map, seen from his point of view, appears larger and larger until it takes up the entire wall, dwarfing Boone (not a small man). There are other subjective shots of clocks and pins and gravestones that are nicely done. Still, I got restless several times during the middle of the film, so I can't give this a full recommendation. [TCM]

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