Something strange is happening in the foggy northeastern coastal town of
A vacationing photographer (Christopher Allport) is snapping shots on the local
beach when he's interrupted by a beautiful barefoot girl (Lisa Blount). She
flirts shamelessly with him, captivating him completely until a group of people
attacks him from behind. The disparate group beat him mercilessly, ties him to
a post on the beach and burns him with a can of gasoline. That night the
photographer's body turns up in his wrecked microbus on a nearby road. He
appears dead until the local mortician/coroner William Dobbs (Jack Albertson)
touches him and the hideously charred body screams in pain. Sheriff Dan Gillis'
(James Farentino) investigation finds that the victim was checked into a local
hotel and that the sheriff's own wife had visited the man the day before.
Gillis' wife Janet (Melody Anderson) explains that she was buying
photo equipment for her grade school class from the man; when her story doesn't
gibe with the school's principal the lawman begins to doubt her. The poor
photographer barely has time to come out of his coma before his beach
seductress slips into his hospital room and finishes him off for good.
Faster than you can say 'murder-crazed mob' another visitor to the area is attacked and viciously killed by folks that appear to be normal members of the community. When this body turns up, Gillis knows he definitely has a murderer on his hands and is starting to think the two dead bodies must be related. To complicate matters, Gillis hits a pedestrian with his truck on a late night patrol. Horrified that he may have killed someone, the sheriff's even more stunned when the person's severed arm takes on a life of its own and the fellow pops up and runs off... pausing only to retrieve the missing limb! When particles of the arm test as dead flesh at least three months old, Gillis begins to question Dobbs about the possibility of reanimating corpses. Dobbs scoffs at the notion. Then a murdered hitchhiker's corpse disappears from the mortuary and the photographer's body goes missing from his coffin. A supernatural explanation seems to be more and more likely...
Almost completely missed in its original theatrical run, Dead & Buried is one of the lesser known cult horror films of the '80s. Its reputation grew slowly over the past few decades by virtue of repeated cable broadcasts, its single VHS release and finally Blue Underground's DVD and Blu-Ray releases. Like a lot of the film's fans I caught up with it on HBO in the early '80s and rented the videotape from my local video store repeatedly. I will never forget the shock of the last image of the film, one that turns a solid little horror movie into a near classic. The film is very well produced on nearly every level with good to great performances, creepy cinematography and a screenplay that knows just how much not to say! Director Gary Sherman proves himself to be quite adept at blending the small town
New England feel and the undead
creepiness to make a smooth and frighteningly different zombie story. His use
of long, single takes and odd camera placement always enhances the terror and
dark humor. His choice to keep red out of the film's color palette is very
effective, as is the slightly retro look of much of the town. Potters Bluff
feels like a contemporary town most of the time but every now and then a
vintage detail will make the place seem adrift somewhere in the mid-1950s.
Of course, knowing that this was Jack Albertson's last film always make me a little sad. Not because Dead & Buried isn't a worthy final bow, but because he's so much fun here that it would've been great to have him reprise the role. In one of the extras on the DVD set Robert Englund mentions that Dobbs the mortician could've been a franchise character much like Freddy Kruger. I agree. He certainly has a much more interesting motivation than some other sequelized boogeymen, but looking at the diminishing returns for the Tall Man character in the Phantasm movies maybe it's best that the film flopped. Strangely, the two roles I'll always remember Jack Albertson for are Uncle Charlie in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory and this one — saint and sinner.
I've been such a fan of Dead & Buried for so long that it was a shock to hear director
talk about his disappointment with the way it turned out. On his commentary
track with BU's David Gregory, he explains that originally there was much more
black comedy in the film. He points out how much of the humor was removed, more
gore was added and several scenes rearranged to meet the requirements of the
money people. It's a shame that even though Sherman put together his own cut of the film,
the print was destroyed so that the distributors wouldn't have to spend money
to keep both versions. It's enough to make a film nut cry! To think there was
an even more unusual version of this dark little gem, one we'll never get to
see, is a bit like getting poked through the eye with a long needle.
Still, Dead & Buried is a great little movie. Shrouded in fog,
cloaked in mystery and haunted by the sounds of Dobbs' beloved Big Band music,
Potters Bluff is a place I love to visit... even if I wouldn't want to