If there was ever a classic film from the 1980s, DEAD & BURIED is it. Take the two writers of ALIEN, Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett; the director of 1972s RAW MEAT and 1987s WANTED: DEAD OR ALIVE, Gary Sherman; a cast that includes James Farentino, Jack Albertson, Melody Anderson, and a pre-NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET Robert Englund; some fantastic special effects; and wrap this all up in a horror mystery that will have you guessing until the last frame, and you’ve got an enduring classic genre film that is as effective in 2015 as it was in 1981.
Welcome to Potter’s Bluff, a beautiful, sleepy little coastal town where everyone knows everyone, everyone is friendly, and everyone seems to be a killer. Any tourist, hitchhiker, or casual visitors that passes through Potter’s Bluff never make it out alive. The film opens with a professional photographer (Christopher Allport) out on the beach taking pictures of the beautiful scenery. While taking some photos, a sexy girl (Lisa Blount) befriends and seduces him, and just as he’s about to seal the deal, a group of people appear and help the girl on the beach kill the hapless photographer in the most gruesome of ways. The others help her beat, stab, slash, and burn the man all the while taking pictures and shooting film of the murder. The next day Sheriff Dan Gillis (Farentino) is called to the scene of a bad car accident. The victim is identified as the poor photographer from the opening scene. Gillis and the others wait around for the town’s mortician (Jack Albertson) to pronounce the victim dead. Only problem is… he’s not.
This is a harrowing scene that, no matter how many times I see it, it always succeeds in freaking me out and making me turn on the lights in the house. As the story unfolds, Sheriff Gillis is called to the scene of endless murders and has no leads as to what the hell is going on in his small town. The cinematography is stunning, and Steven Poster gives us some amazing shots of the small town and contrasts them with horrible images of death and murder. The deaths become all the more disturbing as we, the viewer, realize that the seemingly innocent, friendly, and helpful citizens of Potter’s Bluff are committing these heinous crimes. The script is fantastic and we get just enough clues to think we know what is going on, only to be proven wrong in the next scene. Dan O’Bannon does a stellar job with the script and will keep you glued to the screen.
The acting gets a little melodramatic in places, but it all works out in the end. This was the final theatrical appearance of actor Jack Albertson. Albertson was actually suffering from cancer and in constant pain during the filming of this movie, which makes it all the more creepy that his role in the film was as the town’s mortician. He makes several speeches about death and dying and you can almost see the look of anguish in his eyes. He is a classic actor and added an air of class to the entire project.
The special effects were done by none other than Stan Winston, and even though there aren’t any monsters or creatures in DEAD & BURIED, this film shows just how bad ass Winston was at with non-monster graphic make-up effects. From the burned body to victims getting sliced up and harpooned, Winston executes the effects beautifully and Sherman’s camera never flinches from the carnage and death.
But perhaps the one element that has made DEAD & BURIED such an enduring classic is the ending. Don’t worry, there’s no spoilers here, but the ending is the stuff of M. Night Shyamalan’s wet dreams. The mystery of the murders and the motives behind them are unveiled in the last few minutes of the film. The first time I saw DEAD & BURIED I immediately rewound the tape (yeah, it was a long time ago) and watched it again to pick up on all the clues.
DEAD & BURIED might not be one of the immediate films you think of when you list important horror films of the 1980s, but after seeing this film, you will change that opinion. This is a fantastic film with a solid, original script that delivers in every way. There’s gore, mystery, scares, great scenery, and a fantastic atmosphere created by Sherman that completes the package. If you haven’t seen this film yet, then by all means go out and buy it. If you’ve seen it, but not for some time, re-watch it and re-live the horror of DEAD & BURIED.
Yeah… I love everything about this film.
Director: Gary A. Sherman
Plot: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Gore: 7 out of 10 skulls
Zombie Mayhem: 0 out of 5 brains
Reviewed by Scott Shoyer