Science has learned that man possesses powers which go beyond the boundaries of the natural.
This is the story of one confronted by such strange forces within himself.
It's Bob Kraft's turn to oversee the Immortal Hills Cemetery. As a member of the board at the Kraft Department store, it is part of his job to take a turn. Pretty simple set up, really. Most of the real work is done by the groundskeeper Andy McKee, the "chairman's" job is really overseeing some clerical things and managing the map. The Map.
On the wall in the drafty, barely furnished office is a map of the cemetery with all the plots drawn on it. In each space there is a stick pin: white for unoccupied, black for occupied (dead). When someone passes, Kraft replaces the white pin with a black one. Simple system.
But what happens if a black pin is put into a spot while the owner still lives?
And therein lies the conceit for this "Twilight Zone"-esque little low budget thriller. You see, on his first day at the cemetery, Kraft (Richard Boone, already world weary in 1957) accidentally puts black pins into the map where a newlywed couple just purchased burial plots. Shortly after, they die in a car accident. Probably just coincidence. Yet it weighs heavy on Kraft who seems to have premonitions of death, including the recurring sound of a mallet striking a chiselthe sound of a name being etched onto a gravestone. Like the cemetery is etched in his conciousnessdéjà vuthe grass and the quiet and the strike of the hammer seem like things he's been through before.
Worried and in need of reassurance he's wrong, he tests the theory with a random pin change. Again, the person dies. Everyone around him tries in vain to convince him that it is coincidental, particularly his newspaper reporter friend (fast-talking and in trenchcoat like all good newsmen of the glory days of cinema):
Well look, it's unfortunate it worked out this way but coincidence is a part of every day lifesome are funny, some are pretty odd, but this one isn't good enough to make the back page of the shopping news. That's all it is, Bob: coincidence.
Your good old, hard-nosed, skeptical reporter. Problem is, Kraft can't even convince himself.
Another test, another apparent confirmation of...what? Some power that the maps or the pins have? Others have done the job without incident. Perhaps it's something in Kraft, himself. That something that feels an eerie familiarity to the cemetery. Or like the police detective suggests later: like the voodoo doll of a witch doctor. The three other board members (one being his uncle) meet and determine to debunk it once and for all. The results send Kraft tumbling into desperation and possible madness including putting an end to it all with the revolver conveniently kept in the desk drawer in the cemetery office.
Throughout the film, the black and white cinematography is excellent, making good use of the shadows and the dimness of the office. As Kraft begins to crack up, it gets better. The map seems to swim before his eyes and takes on ever more sinister appearance. As it is, the roadways prominently marked on it appear almost as abstract eyes staring back at him. The filmmakers either backlight the map or light it from the front so that, at times, it seems to glowwhich makes the pins stand out all the more. Near the end when he is about to break from his fugue, the size of the map has increased until it nearly covers the wall. There are also a couple excellent shots where he looks (toward the viewer) through the window in the office into the darkness outside. The frame of the shot is then shrunk (against a black background) giving the sense that he is falling back into blackness. Cheap, but nicely evocative and effective.
As things wind up in intensity, he asks the question that has been avoided until then (about three-quarters of the movie): if putting black pins into the map can kill living people, what happens if you put a white one back? That leads to a mad, frantic dash through the rows of tombstones. Very well done.
While the ending might not satisfy all viewers, one can still wonder if maybe Kraft wasn't so paranoid after all. Regardlessas a short, compact little film, it has some good tension, mystery, and better than expected effects/photography (still of its time and budget, so don't expect too much).
Screenwriter Lewis Garfinkle only has nine writing credit for filmsbut one of them is as one of the four people who came up with the story for The Deer Hunter (1978). But doesn't explain his cowork on The Doberman Gang (1972).
Director Albert Band is probably better known (if at all by normal people who don't pay attention to this stuff) as a producer of almost three dozen films in various genres (mostly low budget and often exploitation movies)though the guy who directed Dracula's Dog can't be that bad...can he? If the name sounds familiar (and you people know who you are), it's because he was the father of Charles Band who has produced well over 200 movies (still going strong), almost all of which are modest or low budget sci-fi/horror. He's the guy responsible for making sure the Ghoulies, Subspecies, Witchouse, and Puppet Master series made it to the screen (or more often straight to video). If you recognize the name Full Moon Pictures (now splintered into numerous other companies), then you know his work. Albert and Charles coproduced several films, Albert directed a few, and even acted in Troll (1986) and Trancers II (1991). His other son, Richard Band does film composing and, sure enough, his name intersects many films that his father and brother have in common.
(And, believe it or not, when one sifts through a lot of the dreck, there are some genuinely decent horror films among the Band canon. A few, anywaydepending one's tolerance for this stuff.)
Ridiculously obscure trivia Dept: Okay, now get this. Garfinkle's writing partner in The Doberman Gang wrote the script for another dog-themed film. That film? Dracula's Dogwhich also had a certain Richard Band on board as assistant production manager. What a tangled web this is....
Personal copy on DVD
The indispensable imdb.com