Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Dead & Buried (1981) review

DEAD & BURIED (1981)

James Farentino (Sheriff Dan), Melody Anderson (Janet), Jack Albertson (Dobbs), Lisa Blount (Lisa), Robert Englund (Harry), Michael Pataki (Sam)

Directed by Gary Sherman

"Welcome to Potter's Bluff."

In the sleepy town of Potters Bluff, a wave of grisly murders befalls passersby leaving a trail of blood drenched unsolved mysteries for the increasingly baffled Sheriff Gillis. As he gets closer to the truth, more and more bizarre incidents take place involving ancient voodoo rites and legends of immortality. The eccentric and supercilious town mortician, Dobbs holds the key to the frightening secret of Potters Bluff.

Director, Gary Sherman handles this sleeper classic that involves zombies, voodoo and witchcraft mixed with graphic violence creating a fascinatingly creepy little horror gem that is in the mold of the old EC horror comics. Straight from the outset the movie grabs your attention after a photographer, thinking he is in for a sexual liaison with a pretty blond woman (played by Lisa Blount) is suddenly beaten by a mob of people who then tie him up with a net and proceed to immolate him alive. With this gruesome start, Sherman manages to retain audience interest by seamlessly balancing the grue quotient with a rising amount of mystery surrounding the town and its quirky and bizarre town funeral director, Dobbs.

"Despite what you might of seen on the Late Show...when you were watching what your parents told you not to...."

This was another horror movie that I caught glimpses of on cable television in the early 80's. My mother was strongly against me seeing anything with any sort of violence or nudity in it. I only ever saw as far as the opening sequence just after the photographer is burned alive. In that opening ten minutes, there is nudity and the subsequent violent demise of the photojournalist. This movie was a big no-no to my young eyes at the time and I wasn't able to see it till much later on videotape. The widescreen DVD from Blue Underground is a blessing and loaded with extras.

DEAD & BURIED was largely ignored during its original theatrical run and it's a shame it isn't more widely known today. The film has so much going for it including some atmospheric cinematography and some grisly gore effects by Stan Winston. The storyline is also an interesting and original concept especially considering the slasher film was all the rage at the time. Sherman's movie has quite a lot going for it and the performances only reinforce this notion. The three main principle leads are all very good here and bring with them an air of believability to the creepy supernatural shenanigans permeating the plot.

" you wanna hear the really creepy part? In order for the master to retain control over the souls of his undead...he had to cut out their heart...and keep it...hidden!"

Character actor, Michael Pataki (who featured in many great exploitation movies) and James Farentino prepare to see just what's hidden within a freshly buried coffin

Considering the originality in the script, it is also an offbeat take on the zombie mythos that had been re-popularized with the release of George Romero's NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD over a decade prior. With Romero's sequel, DAWN OF THE DEAD (1978) being especially groundbreaking, DEAD & BURIED (1981) takes the more familiar trappings of the flesh eating dead and plants them back into their voodoo roots.

There are some grand shock moments such as the often graphic killings. One man is slashed to death, a woman's head is crushed, another character is killed in disgusting fashion with acid and also the aforementioned immolation. One scene is especially impressive. It involves a graphic needle straight into the eye of a victim. What makes this sequence so striking is that their isn't an actor under all the bandages lying in the hospital bed. Stan Winston created a human sized puppet and it's incredibly realistic and lifelike. Winston's impressive work stands up incredibly well today as some of the most accomplished practical effects work ever.

One of many clashes between sheriff Dan and mortician Dobbs

The conclusion reveals the mystery behind the town of Potter's Bluff and its seemingly homicidal occupants. The audience is quite aware that something horrible is taking place in this unsettling little town, but you're never sure just what is going on till the end. The final moments give way to one last shock that, when remembering a line of dialog delivered by Dobbs a short time earlier, adds an additional layer to his morbid sense of humor.

Melody Anderson delivers an occasionally emotional performance as Sheriff Dan's wife, Janet. Anderson acted in numerous TV shows and movies, but will probably be best remembered in the role of Spunky reporter Dale Arden in the fun sci fi fantasy FLASH GORDON (1980).

Lisa Blount, the Oscar winning actress nominated for an award for her role in AN OFFICER & A GENTLEMAN (1982), plays Lisa, who reveals her beautiful breasts during the opening of the movie enticing Freddy the photographer with her charms. She also participates in many of the more gruesome murder sequences. Despite garnering attention in a big studio dramatic feature, Blount continued dabbling in exploitation movies with such grade Z material as WHAT WAITS BELOW (1984) and Ruggero Deodato's gruesome and violent jungle adventure CUT & RUN (1985).

Robert Englund of course needs no introduction to horror fans. He was most busy around this time leading up to his iconic role as Freddy Krueger in NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (1984). He is also fondly remembered as the docile alien, Willy, in the original V (1983) mini series and the subsequent and short lived television show. Englund continues to work feverishly to this day working predominantly in genre works. Englund was also notable in EATEN ALIVE (1976) and GALAXY OF TERROR (1981).

"You bring me a body that smells like burnt steak, you force me to keep it till it begins to rot, then you have the nerve to tell me that I make you sick?!"

Award winning actor Jack Albertson has appeared in just about everything in comedy and family dramas so it's a bit perplexing to see him here in such a violent movie. Nonetheless, the script is very good and his character is one shrouded in eerie mystery and Albertson plays Dobbs as this smarmy, sarcastic old man fascinated by the dead and the beauty in death. He has all the best lines in the movie and he's one of the reasons to watch for his interpretation alone.

DEAD & BURIED (1981) is one of the "lost" gems of the 1980's coming out at a time when there were so many grand and great horror movies proliferating theaters across the US. A good number of these are fondly remembered today and then there are those that are equally as good, if not better; but remain obscure remembered mainly by those who caught them in their brief theatrical runs, or on cable television. DEAD & BURIED is one very creepy little horror picture that doesn't deserve to stay dead and buried.

This review is representative of the Blue Underground 2 disc set.
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