Thursday, January 12, 2012

Movie Review: Dead and Buried (1981)

Shouldn't have let this little gem sit in my queue unwatched for so long! Dead and Buried (I'm nixing the use of the ampersand in the title because sometimes they show up all funny on Blogger) is not without its problems - and really, what movie isn't? - but heck, was it a fun, gross-out good time. It has a surprisingly different take on the "zombie" film, is very gruesome at times, and seems to be quite underrated, despite the fact that its plot is so much different than other horror films that were coming out at that time.

Dan Gillis is the sheriff in the small Eastern seaside town of Potters Bluff who becomes increasingly suspicious and curious about his neighbors when several visitors are brutally murdered. Things get even weirder when the dead people start showing up around town, apparently alive and well and living amongst the townspeople.

The movie's opening scene is delightfully misleading. There is a photographer on the beach, "Freddy", snapping away at all the beautiful scenery, when he spots a pretty lady through his lens. The two start chatting and flirting, and Freddy starts taking sexy pictures of "Lisa," all while this annoyingly romantic music plays in the background. I thought the whole scene was ridiculous bullshit and that if it went on any longer I was going to turn the darn thing off. But just as Lisa is propositioning Freddy for sex, the scene suddenly changes and about a dozen people turn up, beat the snot out of Freddy, tie him to a pole with a big fishing net, and freaking set him on fire.

I couldn't believe it! This movie was going to be awesome!

Dead and Buried actually has some great talent behind it. I haven't seen anything else that director Gary Sherman has done but he seems competent with this one. Dan O'Bannon, creator of Alien, also co-wrote the film and the special effects come courtesy of none other than Stan Winston. The effects especially are a big part of why I think this film is noteworthy, not to mention the interestingly original plot.

The zombie mythology in Dead and Buried is more akin to the Haitian voodoo mythology of zombie creation and how all the zombies are under the complete control of their creator. The quirky mortician Dobbs uses voodoo and dark magic to bring bodies back to life after he has restored them, because he believes so much in the beauty of his "art" and can't stand burying people after he has worked so hard to make them look like they did when they were alive. The funny thing in this movie, though, is that the zombies are not brainless flesh-eaters but rather just rebuilt and reanimated corpses who then go on living their happy and quiet little life in a small town.

This film can boast that it gave me probably the biggest freak-out of my horror life. After poor Freddy has been burned at the stake, Sheriff Dan and others are at the scene investigating. Dan (oddly) asks the mortician to determine the cause of death and when he goes in for a closer look at the body, we are treated to a nice effects shot of Freddy's gooey and burned-up-beyond-recognition face. The freak-out comes when the obviously dead guy suddenly screams in our faces! HO-LY SHIT. I almost fell out of my chair. Little hard to believe that anybody who looks like that could still be alive, but that's obviously where the shock comes from. Later on, poor Freddy is also the victim of another freak-out scene when Nurse Lisa pays him a visit in the hospital and stabs a needle into his eye.

All the other effects are quite well achieved with the exception of one. One of the victims of the Potters Bluff Zombies meets his demise by having tubes full of acid shoved up his nose. The prosthetic head is way too obvious and almost ruins what could have been yet another great gross out scene - although the flesh bubbling and bursting is still rather disgusting. The real stand out sequence is when Dobbs is reconstructing the head of a young hitchhiker (who was bludgeoned with a big rock) and they show, layer by layer and using dissolves, how she goes from looking like a bruised and bloody mess to looking just as she did the day before.

The acting by all the main leads and everybody who plays one of the townspeople is pretty good - nobody is as "80s annoying" (as I like to call it sometimes) as I thought. Melody Anderson as Janet, Dan's wife, became my favorite in her final scene, when she's talking to Dan after Dobbs has revealed his secret to him. Did I mention there's also a young Robert Englund in a small role here? The random townspeople are great at acting zombie-like, or carrying out the wishes of their master, especially in the scene pictured to the right when they go after a vacationing family cruising through town.

The aforementioned scene also showcases the film's likeness to a movie that came out the previous year, John Carpenter's The Fog. The family is driving through a thick fog; the residents are walking down the dark street surrounded by fog (and perfectly backlit as well); and in the scene right after this, Dan chases after the man he hit with his car through the foggy and misty alleys. I just couldn't help but think of Antonio Bay during this part. And since Potters Bluff is in Rhode Island and Antonio Bay in California, we now know that there is a creepy fictional seaside town on both coasts.

Now the ending is a small problem. The "twist" at the end seems like it was just tacked on there last minute  just for shocks, without the filmmakers really thinking about it. It doesn't make any kind of sense with the rest of the story and essentially just ends the movie without resolving anything.

On the whole though, Dead and Buried was quite the surprise. I liked the plot and at times darkly humorous script, and of course I loved pretty much all the killing sequences. Give this one a look if you haven't yet!


  1. long ago I saw this together with my mom late at night and it totally blew us away. Damn great 80s classic!

  2. Longtime favorite of mine. "Welcome to Potter's Bluff"

  3. dead and buried does sound fun, and I couldn't agree more about 'don't be afraid of the dark' ... what a turd

  4. sadly James Farentino passed away last week. I loved his work. Appreciate your blog.

  5. I also have had this film on my shelf for months and didnt get round to watching it (due mostly to low expectations) till early (about 01:00) this morning. And boy was I pleasently surprised! Gory at times, but a good story line..... I love it!!!