The Film: Dead & Buried (1981)
The Principles: Gary Sherman (Director). James Farentino. Melody Anderson. Jack Albertson.
The Premise: When tourists start dropping dead in the small coastal town of Potter‘s Bluff, it‘s up to good-guy town Sherriff Dan Gillis (Farentino) – with the help of town Coroner Mr. Dobbs (Albertson) – to get to the bottom of it. Unbeknownst to Sherriff Gillis, the tourists are being horribly murdered by a mob of townspeople. BUM-BUM-BUUUUUUUUUM
Is It Good: Dude it really is. And not just in that “Oh ho HOO look at this old movie trying SO HARD!” kinda good. Shit’s legitimate. I’m honestly surprised it doesn’t have a bigger name that it does (which is to say no name at all). Granted, the names attached to it aren’t major ticket sellers (well, Dan O’Bannon has his share of cred but that, as it turns out, is the only reason his name’s even on it – more on that later), but if you’re a fan of the genre this is a movie that arguably should be brought up in almost every conversation about it. Granted, American horror in the 80s was primarily focused on giving birth to the slasher genre, but given the (lack of) depth and breadth of those movies, it’s rather surprising to me that this wasn’t heralded as something even a little bit special (though I suppose the fact that it made it onto the infamous “Video Nasties” list was a similar sort of proclamation).
At any rate, that’s all probably a little “cart-before-the-horse.” Rather than give in to the burgeoning slasher temptations, Sherman (also known for such gems as Poltergeist 3 and Raw Meat) opted to take another cue from Italian cinema, foregoing Argento’s giallo inspiration and looking to Fulci’s contributions to undead cinema. Granted, the visceral displays aren’t quite as…sticky as Fulci’s (which isn‘t to say it doesn‘t have some grue of its own), but the pacing, the tone, the sort of weird somber reverence for the subject matter that Fulci injected into his work is ALL OVER this thing. The only thing that seems to be missing is Fulci’s tendency to make his stuff a touch overlong and inaccessible. From word go this thing was in top gear and never let up until the credits rolled, and it managed to keep that level of engagement while still being really low-key. It’s a small movie with big thoughts and rather than date itself with effects that would have been really good in THAT era, it opts to keep things simple and, subsequently, rather timeless.
Story-wise it’s brisk, if just a teency bit superficial, with no REAL weight thrown on until the final few minutes. And even then it’s a manageable weight that doesn’t leave the viewer walking out thinking “Wait…what?” Whereas today’s genre efforts execute story devices like this as a “twist” or a surprise, Sherman takes the Whatever Happened to Baby Jane approach and sells it as a revelation, which has an important distinction. It also helps that as an audience we spend the majority of the movie at least one step ahead of Gillis, and it works that we all learn this last little bit at the same time (though more jaded viewers will be quick to point out that they “saw it coming a mile away” but fuck those guys).
Is It Worth A Look: Well, yeah. Again…all of the above. Not to mention that there’s some really nice camera work, Sherman does a fine job as director and the performances all range from “certainly passable” to “really good.” And it’s on Instant so do it!
Random Anecdotes: I watched this at like midnight on Halloween night after having watched two other rather lackluster offerings (Crawlspace and To the Devil, A Daughter) and was already getting rather fuzzy. When I mentioned Fulci earlier I couldn’t help but think about the fact that a LOT of his movies would have sent me straight into a coma in that situation. What made me love this guy a little extra is the fact that not only did it NOT put me to sleep, but it wound up pulling me out of my fuzziness and back into full-on “pay attention” mode. I found that rather impressive. ALSO – with regard to O’Bannon, he’s credited as a screenwriter, but apparently he’s only on there because ACTUAL screenwriter Ronald Shusett needed a little extra credibility, so O’Bannon did it with the caveat that some changes be made to the script. Turns out they weren’t and O’Bannon didn’t find out until release, at which point it was too late to have his name removed. He disowns it today, though I don’t know why. If I were a professional horror writer I would flip my shit to be associated with a “Video Nasty.” But that’s just me.
Cinematc Soulmates: Whatever Happened to Baby Jane (sorta…). That Stephen King story about Rock & Roll Heaven. City of the Living Dead. Pet Sematery.