Horror Suspense Thriller
Trivia Director Sherman originally intended the film to be a dark comedy. However, the third financer, PSO International wanted to emphasize gore over comedy.
As a result, numerous scenes were cut or shortened, and two scenes of graphic violence were tacked on at PSO's request: the killing of the drunk fisherman (Ed Bakey) and the acid death of Doc (Joe Medalis). The death of the fisherman (which was originally an off-screen kill in the first cut) was done by Stan Winston, but they could not get Winston back to off the doctor, so another FX team was used on that one sub-par effect.
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Dead & Buried (1981)
17th Apr 04
A photographer arrives at Potter’s Bluff, where he encounters a beautiful girl on a deserted beach. She poses for him, removes her top, and lures him into being burnt alive in front of 20 townsfolk taking pictures of his death. A returned-local cop (Farentino) investigates, as more killings occur and other town inhabitants start to act strangely. Can the dead really be coming back to life?
After scripting the hugely successful Alien film in the late seventies, Dan O’Bannon returned to the horror-confines of small American towns, cooking up this underrated little gem of a film. Although only doctoring the script (the story is credited to Jeff Millar), his ideas of fear, - atmosphere and suspense over excess gore - filter through the film, giving it a truly unnerving quality.
The opening scene is genuinely shocking. A ‘passing-through photographer’ is seduced on the beach by Lisa Blount (she has a blonde-Gothic beauty that led to her being nicknamed Death Nurse on-set). Thinking things are going to get hot (and indeed they do, but not in the way he expects) he is then set upon by a gang of locals who viciously beat him up and ensnare him in a fishing net, before calmly setting him on fire, smiling and taking pictures of his death.
Arriving at the murder scene later that evening the local sheriff (James Farentino) meets the local eccentric mortician (Jack Albertson in his last feature role) and they discover the corpse now positioned inside an upturned vehicle, making it look like an accident. Soon after, the same gang of locals sets upon a drunken fisherman, and when the body is found, our local sheriff begins to suspect foul play.
Dead & Buried seems at first to be a standard variation on the stalk-and-slash genre of its time, but the film gets progressively creepy and weird. You find yourself genuinely intrigued to find out what the hell is going on. Plot points regularly flip inside out, disorientating us, but never really getting too far away for us to give up on the story altogether. The innocent become suspects, the dead come back to life, corpses disappear, and James Farentino suddenly realises there may be more to his wife than first appears.
It’s difficult to review this film, without giving too many details away. Dead & Buried is very much like a return to the classic chilling tales of the Twilight Zone and the Weird Tales comic books. Mixing elements of Friday the 13th, The Wicker Man, Night of the Living Dead and The Stepford Wives, Dead & Buried offers something that is not only original, but also satisfying.
Direction from Gary Sherman (Death Line, Poltergeist 3) is effective, especially with the theme of photos of the dead – reminding us of the ‘camera-filmed’ death scenes in such films as Peeping Tom, Blow Up and Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. Lots of early appearances from genre names (Robert Englund, Melody Anderson from Flash Gordon) add to the enjoyment. There are also some great gore-shots (mostly created by Stan Winston) including a brutal hypodermic needle in the eye, a corpse returning to life that predates Sloth in Se7en, animated limbs and a beautifully staged reconstruction of a female cadaver.
Unfortunately it’s not all perfect. Sometimes the pacing drags (possibly due to miscasting of the lead?) and some scenes feel unnecessary (just what are the family of three doing wandering around in that ‘haunted house’?).
But, on the whole, the merry O’Bannon dialogue and regular plot twists carry the film as it heads towards a fantastically mentalist ending that will not only blow you away, but will also immediately make you want to watch the whole film again (even if only to work out how you missed such an obvious-but-effective shock ending).
The version reviewed is the Region 1 Limited Edition Blue Underground DVD.
Commentary with director Gary Sherman
Commentary with co-writer / producer Ronald Shusett and actress Linda Turley
Commentary with cinematographer Steve Poster
Trailers and Stills Gallery
Stan Winston’s Dead and Buried EFX (18 mins) This interesting talking-head and clips feature covers Stan’s work on Dead & Buried – from the opening burned-alive scream, through the needle-in-the-eye (a reverse-action effect) to the outstanding reconstruction of the hitch-hiker’s face as she lies on the mortician’s table.
Stan talks enthusiastically about his work on the film, claiming to be more proud of his FX work here than at any other time in his career. We also learn that the ‘mortician’s hands’ when he inserts the fake eyeball into the hitch-hikers face after her reconstruction belong to none other than Stan himself.
Robert Englund: An Early Work of Horror (12 mins) Robert Englund (A Nightmare on Elm Street) talks about his memories of filming Dead & Buried, in particular Lisa Blount (who Englund reveals he had the hots for on-set), Jack Albertson and his own theory of the slow metabolism zombies’.
Dan O’Bannon: Crafting Fear (14 mins) Co-writer Dan O’Bannon speaks about the nature of fear in itself and in cinema, exploring ideas from such varied sources as HP Lovecraft and George Romero. Interestingly, O’Bannon claims to be “not a great fan of eyeball mutilation scenes” and has therefore never fully watched the most infamous scene of the film.
Versions Dead & Buried was inexplicably caught up in the ‘video nasties’ hysteria of the early eighties. The film was not officially approved by the BBFC until 1990. The approved version was cut by 30 seconds.