By JAMES TUCKER
Starring: James Farentino, Melody Anderson, Jack Albertson.
Directed by Gary A. Sherman
Written by Dan O’Bannon, Ronald Shusett
Produced by Aspen Productions
It’s not often here in the Sematary that I get to review a classic. It’s also not too often that bona-fide horror classics get as criminally overlooked as 1981’s DEAD AND BURIED.
In the interest of full disclosure, I have some history with this film. The first time I saw it was a little over three years ago, and I remember walking away from it thinking (a) it was one of the weirdest films I had ever seen, and (b) that it was everything I had wanted out of a horror film since I got into the genre. It’s combination of small-town weirdness and zombie cult hijinks (and yes, you read that right) make it a must-see in my opinion, a B-movie classic right up there with Fulci’s Zombi and Stuart Gordon’s Re-Animator. To this day, DEAD AND BURIED has a special place in my heart as one of only two horror films that has ever given me nightmares. (The other was Hereditary, funnily enough.)
But enough about me. Let’s get into the movie.
DEAD AND BURIED follows Potter’s Bluff Sheriff Dan Gillis (played by James Farentino) as he investigates a number of strange accidents involving visitors to his small town. George Le Moyne, (played by Christopher Allport) a photographer and tourist looking to get a couple shots of the Potter’s Bluff coast, is found mutilated and burned in his totaled car, his wounds more consistent with torture than a car accident. Stranger, after he mysteriously passes in the town’s hospital, a young man that looks REMARKABLY like him named “Freddie” gets a job pumping gas at the local station. As visitors continue to disappear… and then reappear, Dan finds himself questioning everything he ever knew. Why does his wife (played by Melody Anderson) keep disappearing late at night, and what’s with her interest in black magic? Is the money-hungry coroner Dobbs (played by Jack Albertson) interested in procuring all of those bodies because he’s greedy, or are they for something else?
And why is everyone Dan knows acting so damn strange?
“Welcome to Potter’s Bluff, the small town that’s scarier than Castle Rock.”
Listen, no summary does this film justice. And it’s extremely tough to talk about it without saying too much. The opening scene of the film, where George Le Moyne gets the Wicker Man treatment, is compelling enough on it’s own; George gets seduced by a strange woman on the beach (played by Lisa Blount), then mobbed by a crowd of townspeople with cameras and crowbars, a situation just anchored enough in familiarity to allow the unique aspects of it to resonate. Seeing those same townspeople just hours later going about their business, acting friendly and familiar with our protagonist creates a greater sense of disquiet than anything you could find in, say, a torture porn flick. Not to give the impression that this film is TOO subtle, this is no art house film; you’ll see everything here from needles in the eye to decaying skin cracking like porcelain. But you’ll also see things happen out of the corner of your eye while watching this film; cabinets opening behind character’s backs in the background, silhouettes in windows watching unaware tourists, and more subtle hints about what’s really going on in Potter’s Bluff that I can’t broach without spoilers. The sense of disquiet created by not knowing who to trust adds so much tension to even the most ordinary encounters in the film, an atmosphere evident in the best entries in the small-town horror genre: is my neighbor being genuine, or are they plotting to kill me while I sleep? This very question (along with the question of what the hell is happening to every tourist that comes through town) serves as the plot’s propeller as Dan gradually becomes aware that not everyone in Potter’s Bluff is trustworthy.
That being said, this film has more plot twists than The Sixth Sense, and some will find one or two of them ridiculous if not downright unbelievable. If you aren’t the type of person who can watch films like Phantasm, who can’t set aside ostensible plot holes and just let the weirdness wash over you, this may not be the film for you. Personally, I was too blown away by all of it to entertain many questions: but the degradation of Dan’s sanity, the revelation of the extent to which Potter’s Bluff is corrupted, and the final reveal before the cut to black WILL entertain you, whether they shock you or make you burst into laughter. Speaking for myself, that final scene before the cut to black has been burned into my mind permanently.
I’m giving DEAD AND BURIED a 10 out of 10. In my opinion, for what it is it’s perfect. This is the kind of film that makes April feel like October, that conjures up the same feeling as walking through a graveyard at 3 A.M. It strikes a near perfect balance between shocks and subtlety, and it’s so damn intriguing that it’s impossible to take your eyes off the screen even AFTER the credits roll. I don’t give 10 out of 10’s out often, and I won’t in the future, so please believe me when I say this film is more than worth your time. With the world going to hell around us, this is exactly the kind of spooky fun we need.
What are you still reading this for? You’ve got some watching to do.