I remember seeing this film on its original theatrical run back in 1981. In those days I was still a sailor in the United States Navy and was fairly new to San Diego. Downtown, which was much grittier back in those days, held a number of run down grind-house movie theaters and one was the Balboa. (The Balboa is still there, though now it has been renovated into a nice venue and this month I will be there to see Eddie Izzard live.) I do not recall ever seeing a preview for this film, but the poster with the declaration ‘from the creator Alien” seduced me into the theater.
Dead & Buried is a curious horror film. Produced after Alien and Halloween it has both a creepy atmospheric style coupled with explicit gruesome on-screen ‘kills.’ In addition to two elements it also has a very 70s sensibility presented in a drenched in paranoia and coated in cynicism. It even ends the film on a freeze-frame, a device that was very popular in the cinema of the 70s but along with split framing, very quickly fell out of favor in the glassy fast paced 80s.
The story is about a small town cop, Dan Gillis, whose has returned to his home town of Potter’s Bluff along with his wife Janet. Tourists and other people just passing through the coastal Rhode Island community are waylaid by the locals and brutally murdered. During the horrific acts of violence the townsfolk display no emotion and record everything with still and motion photography. With corpses piling up and vanishing Dan quickly finds himself working a mystery that soon extends beyond the natural as people reports seeing the murder victims now walking around the Potters Bluff. Increasingly Dan suspects that his wife is involved and with the assistance of Dobbs, the town’s undertaker and coroner, he attempts to discover the horrific truth behind the small scenic town.
I really like Dead & Buried. The film has only a few jump scares relying principally upon tone, mystery, and the brutal attacks to create it sense of dread. (Though it must be said that the first jump scare is one of cinema’s best and I shall not spoil it by describing it to you. If you have seen you know exactly what I am referring to and if you have not you are in for a startle.) The films was a modest budgeted affair but boasted talent, among the actors you have James Farention as Dan Gillis, Jack Albertson as the quirky undertaker Dobbs, and a pre-Nightmare on Elm Street Robert England in a small supporting role. Behind the scenes you have Ronald Shusett and Dan O’Bannon, the authors of Alien, writing the screenplay, and legendary effects wizard Stan Winston producing the make-up and special effects.
Not a movie for everyone, particularly if on-screen violence and murders much like a slasher film is not for you, Dead & Buried is an underappreciated horror movie that straddles the interest cinema of the 70s and the 80s.