Turner Classic Movies (TCM) is a cable station that plays movies uncut and uninterrupted by commercials. TCM’s library is vast, spanning the entire history of cinema in the U.S. and around the world. A couple of years ago, TCM began a late night Friday/early morning Saturday showcase dubbed TCM Underground, showing films billed as cult classics. This usually translates into “not very good,” but surprisingly, I have found myself watching a number of the features. Not surprisingly, a majority of the films are horror or science fiction. For those of us who grew up watching “Creature Features” or something similar on late-night or Saturday-afternoon TV, TCM Underground provides a forum for obscure or overlooked guilty pleasures. Many of the films are hard to find or even unavailable on DVD. Some have not been seen in any form for many years. TCM Underground has its own website that provides film clips, reviews, and other information to supplement one’s enjoyment and understanding of the films.
Typical of the offerings of TCM Underground is I Bury the Living (1958). This low budget gem features Richard Boone (Have Gun – Will Travel, Hec Ramsey) as a newly appointed cemetery director who begins to believe he has the power to cause the deaths of innocent people simply by inserting black pins into a wall-sized map of the cemetery. Written by Louis Garfinkle (who is credited with writing the story for The Deer Hunter (1978)), I Bury the Living is a tense, psychological drama, well worth seeing. The film features a couple of other performers who went on to better things: Theodore Bikel, an Academy Award nominee for his role in The Defiant Ones (1958) (and a guest star on both Star Trek: The Next Generation and Babylon 5), and Herbert Anderson, best known as the TV father of Dennis the Menace.
Another interesting recent offering was The Corpse Vanishes, a 1942 production starring Bela Lugosi as a mad scientist who kidnaps brides from their weddings to use their blood to keep his elderly wife young. Lugosi is in prime form, but I think what really made this a fun film were the odd assortment of supporting characters, including a creepy housemaid and her sons, a dwarf and a retarded hunchback. In addition, the mad scientist and his wife sleep in coffins and live in an isolated house filled with secret passageways. A snoopy female reporter gets involved, and suspense ensues as she slowly unravels the scientist’s secrets while barely escaping many terrifying encounters with the residents of the house.
TCM Underground usually presents a double feature with at least one short educational film in between. For example, We Learn About the Telephone (1965) told the story of the history and use of the telephone. It was a quaint reminder of the days of dial phones and human operators.