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Dead & Buried (1981)

The writers of alien... ...bring a new terror to earth.

Directed by:

Gary A. Sherman

Rating: 7/10

Running Time: 90 minutes

US Certificate: R UK Certificate: 18

On DVD

Country: United States

It may be dead quiet, pretty as a postcard, and hospitable to strangers, but there is something rotten in the small coastal village of Potters Bluff, whose locals, while always polite and friendly, have a nasty habit of disfiguring and murdering visitors, and capturing all the gory details on camera. Sheriff Dan Gillis (James Farentino) begins to suspect that village life is not all that it seems as he investigates a supposed car accident in which the victim has been horrifically burned. As Gillis, with the help of the eccentric old coroner/mortician William Dobbs (Jack Albertson), tries to find out why his own wife Janet (Melody Anderson) had previously visited the victim's hotel room, why more bodies are turning up in the village (and then going missing), and why people recently killed are still being seen going about their business, he unearths a terrible secret in Potters Bluff which might better have been left buried.

Even as Gillis gropes about in the fog for answers, viewers are always ahead of the game, thanks to a bravura opening scene (and several subsequent ones) which make it clear not only that the deaths in Potters Bluff are no accident, but also who some (at least) of the killers are. Yet while 'Dead & Buried' may be more a whydunnit than a whodunnit, few red herrings seem to find their way into this fishing community, so that even half-attentive viewers will have a pretty good idea where things are headed, perhaps apart from the final, brilliant twist. It is easy to imagine, as you watch 'Dead & Buried', ways in which its events could have been re-ordered to avoid so much being given away so soon (the murders, which are all seen again at the end, need never have been shown at the beginning) – and the film's potted history of pre-production script revisions and post-production recuts suggests that the original conception may have been rather different from the film that eventually hit the screens, with less graphic violence from the start and therefore more mystery and surprise.

Still, it is difficult not to be fond of this film – in part for its rich atmosphere and smalltown paranoia à la 'Invasion of the Body Snatchers', in part for Stan Winston's startling gore and make-up effects, in part for its black humour and the strange homeliness of the killers, but mostly for the extraordinary performance of Jack Albertson as the old-fashioned mortician determined to work his fingers to the bone – rendered all the more poignant by the fact that the actor was actually dying during production, in what was to be his final rôle before he succumbed to disease. Yet there he is, walking and talking before our very eyes, because cameras, you see, can preserve the dead as well as any embalming process, and guarantee a life (of sorts) beyond the grave.

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It's Got: Great gore effects (including the best eye mutilation since Un Chien Andalou), a character dismissed for "unauthorised use of a dead body", an early horror rôle for Robert Freddy Kruger Englund, a script full of double-entendres and foreshadowing (originally written by Jeff Millar and Alex Stern, and then doctored by Ronald Shusett and Dan OBannon of Alien fame), exquisitely moody cinematography by Steve Poster (with lots of shadow and fog), the late great Jack Albertson in his last ever rôle (in which he gets to utter one of the most understatedly brilliant final lines in film history).

It Needs: To save more of its revelations till the end.

DVD Extras This comprehensive two-disk package from Anchor Bay is simply the last word on Dead & Buried. Disk One includes (besides the uncut version of the film itself) scene selection; choice between stereo 2.0/Dolby digital 5.1/dts; optional (English) subtitles for the hard of hearing; and three (yes, three) separate audio commentaries, the first by director Gary A. Sherman, the second by producer/co-writer Ronald Shusett and actress Linda Midge the waitress Turley, the third by cinematographer Steve Poster. Disk Two includes Stan Winstons Dead & Buried EFX (18min) in which Winston discusses how he created the gore effects using puppets, resin and clay (the last of which is peculiarly appropriate for a film set in Potters Bluff); Robert Englund: An Early Work in Horror (12min), in which Englund laments the way Jaws marginalised independent horror, and reminisces about his time spent on set in Mendocino, California, and his crush on actress Lisa Blount ("so cold, so beautiful"); Dan OBannon: Crafting Fear (14min) in which the screenwriter theorises about horror, claims to have contributed only minimal doctoring work to the screenplay, and says that he prefers on-screen blood to more explicit gore effects in the same way that he prefers a suggestive negligee to full-on nudity; trailers (international/US/teaser); bios of Dan OBannon, Robert Englund and Ronald Shusett (the latter being a select filmography); stills gallery (behind-the-scenes/lobby cards - international/lobby cards - US/posters/publicity stills); Steve Posters location skills (b & w). DVD Extras Rating: 10/10

Alternatives:

Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The Cars That Ate Paris, The Fog, The Stepford Wives, The Stepford Wives, The Wicker Man

Summary

Darkly funny horror about a town that cannot keep its secrets buried.

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