‘Dead & Buried’
(Gary Sherman • 1981 • USA)
‘Dead & Buried’ is a creepy and suspenseful American horror from 1981, originally declared by UK censors in the early 1980s to be a ‘Video Nasty’ (although it was later acquitted of obscenity charges). The film comes with an excellent pedigree, being directed by Gary Sherman (responsible for ‘Poltergeist III’, ‘Raw Meat’ and ‘Vice Squad’) and written by Dan O’Bannon (director of ‘The Resurrected’ and ‘The Return of the Living Dead’; writer of ‘Alien’, ‘Dark Star’, ‘Lifeforce’ and ‘Total Recall’) and Ronald Shusett (writer of ‘Above the Law’, ‘The Final Terror’, ‘Freejack’ and ‘Total Recall’).
The town of Potter’s Bluff (a reference to the colloquial ‘Potter’s Field’, a place where the dead are buried?) seems to exist on the EC Comics-H.P. Lovecraft-Outer Limits-Twilight Zone continuum; a place where it’s always gloomy and the residents have a strange, dark, secret. Resonating with Edward Woodward’s doomed policeman in ‘The Wicker Man’, Sheriff James Farentino (‘The Final Countdown’, TV’s ‘Blue Thunder’, ‘Dynasty’ and ‘Police Story’) starts to notice weird things occurring in his neighbourhood… Not least encouraged by his disturbing discovery of a book of witchcraft and voodoo, the sheriff pursues answers around the town, along the way meeting with a wise mortician who might possess information useful to the investigation…
So, is ‘Dead & Buried’ truly worth your time? We would say a resounding ‘yes’! Apart from the involvement of those mentioned previously above, the movie also stars Jack Albertson (‘Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory’, TV’s ‘Cisco & the Man’, ‘Ensign O’Toole’, ‘Mr Ed’ and ‘Police Surgeon’ – ‘Dead & Buried’ was his last theatrical film before his death from cancer) and Melody Anderson (TV’s ‘Jake & the Fatman’ and ‘Manimal’), with an appearance from Robert Englund thrown in for good measure!
While it does feel a little slow in places (compared to more modern and quick-cut fare, at least), the film is atmospheric and manages to successfully maintain an overbearing sense of dread throughout (the citizens of Potter’s Bluff are especially eerie) – in part due to the effective use of special effects by Stan Winston. Showing some attention to detail, during filming Sherman reportedly avoided allowing the colour red to be apparent (even going as far as to replace red vehicle lights with purple ones), consequently making the blood during the film’s death scenes more shocking. Further examples of Sherman’s dedication to achieving an ominous atmosphere include scouting California locations intended to pass for a foggy and murky New England (the story’s setting) and attempting to block out the sun for a beach scene (using a “huge flag” hung from a cliff).
In fact, as demonstrated by his Director’s Cut, ‘Dead & Buried’ was originally intended (by Sherman at least) to be a dark comedy rather than a full-on horror, yet the production suffered interference from financier PSO International, who wished to emphasise gore over comedy.
Accordingly, the film suffered numerous re-edits before being released, presumably in an attempt to make the film more marketable. Removing material from the film in this way introduced one or two minor goofs to the story arc, although we struggled to notice any that are too grievous. Moreover, the addition to ‘Dead & Buried’ of two tacked on and subpar gore scenes (at PSO’s request) was sorely unnecessary.
Further increasing the confusion over the film’s presentation, O’Bannon disowned the film in a 1983 interview with ‘Starburst’ magazine, alleging Shusett had written it alone. Apparently, Shusett needed O’Bannon’s name on the film (likely for securing funding) and in return promised he would incorporate some of his script changes. However, when O’Bannon watched the finished piece, he discovered that Shusett had not remained true to his word – resulting in the use of his name for seemingly purely promotional reasons. However, creative and corporate bickering notwithstanding – and despite a relatively lukewarm reception from critics upon its initial release – ‘Dead & Buried’ has subsequently slowly gained a wider following as a ‘cult’ horror film, and deservedly so!
Too Long/ Didn’t Read: While not directly based on the work of H.P. Lovecraft, ‘Dead & Buried’ does carry some rather Lovecraftian themes throughout, depicting as it does certain citizens of a small coastal town in New England – in possession of mysterious and murderous intentions. Although somewhat flawed in places, the film is a solidly enjoyable and spooky slice of early Eighties horror, featuring some rather (re-)animated discussion with the recently-deceased…