Director: Montgomery Pittman
Writer: Montgomery Pittman
Cast: Lee Marvin, James Best, Strother Martin, Elen Willard, Lee Van Cleef, William Challee, Stafford Repp, Larry Johns, and Richard Geary
Composer: None (Stock Music)
Air Date: 10/27/1961
Production Code: 3656
Arriving in a small town, lawman Conny Miller (Lee Marvin) discovers that Steinhart (Lee Van Cleef), Mothershed (Strother Martin), Johnny Rob (James Best), and several others have shot and killed Pinto Sykes (Richard Geary)—a fugitive whom Conny had spent four months pursuing. Doubting the sincerity of Conny, Steinhart and Johnny Rob each gamble $20 on a most unusual dare: in order to prove his bravery to the townspeople, Conny must venture to Pinto’s burial place at midnight and plant a bowie knife in the earth of the grave, leaving undeniable proof of his visit. Despite reaching his destination without incident, Conny finds a terrible surprise awaiting him at the gravesite.
Complementing ghost tale tropes with a Western theme, “The Grave” will appeal to those who enjoy The Twilight Zone for its haunting subject matter. Especially worth noting are the barroom interactions between Conny and his acquaintances, the banter of whom establishes Pinto (or the spirit thereof) as a legendary figure within hours of his untimely death.
Upon entering the cemetery, Conny encounters a cloaked woman—later revealed to be Ione Sykes (Elen Willard), sister of the deceased—approaching from afar. Likely symbolic of the Grim Reaper, the character of Ione serves to disquiet the audience when making her presence known to Conny—now visibly shaken by the display.
Also unnerving are the horror-movie clichés (i.e. dead trees, lopsided grave markers, and the pervasive howling of a ghostly wind) employed in the cemetery sequence, which, when combined with the perturbed reactions of Conny, work to generate and maintain suspense leading into the final scene.
Though ominous, the twist ending is revealed through a superfluous amount of exposition.
An atmospheric episode, “The Grave” is a chilling adaptation of Maria Leach’s “The Dare” and “The Path Through the Cemetery” by Leonard Q. Ross. Therefore, both supernatural horror buffs and fans of the Western genre would be wise to view this offering.
Overall Quality: 9/10
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