Dead and Buried (1981)

Author: Brett Gallman
Submitted by: Brett Gallman   Date : 2012-10-13 23:14

Written by: Jeff Millar & Alex Stern (story), Ronald Shusett & Dan OĎBannon (screenplay)
Directed by: Gary Sherman
Starring: James Farentino, Jack Albertson, Melody Anderson, and Robert Englund

Reviewed by: Brett G.

ďWelcome to Potter's Bluff.Ē

The last decade in horror was a pretty magical time for me personally. Iím not necessarily talking about the films that were released during that time (though they surely had their moments), but rather the slew of titles that were released on DVD that never graced video store shelves near me. Equally exciting and overwhelming, the experience of discovering new titles was a thrill. One of these titles was Dead and Buried, which caught my eye due to an early appearance by Robert Englund and its generally positive reception. Once I tracked it down, it became one of my favorite new discoveries of a digital age, and it remains a reminder of an age where such finds were bountiful.

Potterís Bluff is a quaint coastal New England town thatís nothing more than a speck on the map. Itís your typical small town trap that sees very little violence or crime in general. So itís sort of alarming when a rash of brutal murders breaks out and befuddles the local sheriff (James Farentino). Along with the oddball town mortician (Jack Albertson), he uncovers some bizarre circumstances that may be tied to his own wifeís sudden interest in voodoo and witchcraft.

Dead and Buried is an awesome 80s update of the old cult flicks that the British especially liked to hammer out during the previous two decades. Director Gary Sherman takes a nice, pulpy script co-written by Dan OíBannon (of Alien and Return of the Living Dead fame) and infuses it with atmosphere, tension, and gore to create a cool little cinematic campfire tale. To reveal the exact type of campfire tale would be to spoil the filmís wicked twists and turns, but letís just say this one goes for both the jugular and the gut in the end. Besides, itís not exactly an easy film to pigeonhole into the various subgenres shambling about, which is of course one of its strengths.

However, Dead and Buried isnít great simply because itís a little unique; instead, it works because itís just a solidly entertaining film featuring good performances and a sense of spooky mystery that pervades the entire thing. A morbidity thatís both sort of grim and cheeky hangs in the air; the stark violence is off-set by the presence of the quirky mortician and other folksy, small town charms. Thereís a sense that something is just a bit off from the moment a photographer is savagely set aflame by a mob that seemingly materializes from nowhere. The film hides its cards well as more, similarly bizarre events happen that allow you to begin connecting the dots; it plays its best, most twisted hand last, though.

The cast is noteworthy; the aforementioned Englund shows up in a bit role as one of the creepy townies. Interestingly enough, thereís also a character who falsely gives his name as ďFreddieĒ and ends up being severely burned. Other familiar faces that you've probably seen include Lisa Blount (Prince of Darkness), Glen Morshower (24), and Barry Corbin (No Country for Old Men). Those guys arenít the stars, though--that would be Farentino and Albertson, who form a pretty odd duo charged with uncovering the mystery. Farentino is a solid leading man with a steadfast, grim-faced determination; Albertson offsets that with his quirky mortician character and gives a devilishly fun performance thatís like a cross between a mad scientist and a kooky partner. Melody Anderson is Farentinoís on-screen wife, and sheís typically perky before giving way to some suspicious, bizarre behavior that pays off well in the filmís third act.

The rest of the cast mostly exists to get butchered by another famous name: Stan Winston, who handled the filmís various effects work. His ghastly make-up effects and even more grisly eviscerations pack a visceral punch to punctuate the airy suspense and dread atmosphere. Steve Posterís moody, low-lit, grainy cinematography provides the right look for this type of film; in many ways, it might remind you of both The Fog (though the setting makes it a nice match for Carpenterís film too), The Prowler, and other early 80s works with the same visual design. An altogether cool little creepfest (the somber piano music that opens the film sets an eerie mood immediately), Dead and Buried has all the trappings of a cult classic that begs for rediscovery.

My experience with the film some years back represented my first discovery of it, and a recent second look confirms this oneís place as a gem. I suppose its title is appropriate, as for years it was buried away and difficult to see; Blue Underground changed all of that with a nice two disc limited edition set back in 2003. The A/V presentation still holds up well today--the transfer is a bit murky, muted, and grainy, but I suspect thatís got a lot to do with the filmís intended aesthetic. The disc also packs 4 different audio options, as everything from the original mono to a DTS 6.1 track is represented. The latter is a fairly average surround track, and the low end is almost non-existent, but itís kind of like trying to squeeze blood from a stone. Thereís a ton of extras, including three different commentaries featuring Sherman, co-writer Shusett, actress Linda Turley, and Poster. Beyond that, you have your usual promo materials (trailers, posters, still galleries), and a bonus disc with some shorter features dedicated to Winston, Englund, and OíBannon, plus some more location stills from Poster. The set is still pretty impressive by todayís standards, but if you want it all in high-def, thatís also an option, as BU released a Blu-ray a couple of years back. No matter your poison pill, this is one you should definitely swallow. Dead and Buried is a finely crafted, old-fashioned horror tale whose quiet, unsettling moments are just as sharp and on point as a needle thatís been jammed into an eye. Buy it!

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