Horror Film Review: Dead & Buried (by Gary Sherman)


The 1981 horror film, Dead & Buried, takes place in the small town of Potters Bluff.  It seems like it should be a nice place to live.  The people are friendly.  The scenery is lovely.  The town is right on the coast of the ocean so the view is great.  It’s a bit of an artist’s colony, the type of place where you would expect to find Elizabeth Taylor painting the sunset while Richard Burton battles a hangover in the beach house.  It’s the type of small town that used to by very popular on television.  It’s just one Gilmore girl away from being an old CW show.

It’s such a nice town.  So, why are so many people dying?

That’s the mystery that Sheriff Dan Gillis (James Farentino) has to solve.  Actually, it’s one of the many mysteries that Dan has to solve.  There’s also the mystery of why his wife, Janet (Melody Anderson), has been acting so strangely.  And then there’s the mystery of what happened to the person who, one night, Dan ran into with his car.  The person ran away but he left behind his arm.  When Dan gets some skin from the arm analyzed, he’s told that the arm belongs to someone who has been dead for at least four months!

Who can explain all of this?  How about William G. Dobbs (Jack Albertson), the folksy coroner who seems to enjoy his work just a little bit too much.  In fact, Dr. Dobbs seems to be a bit more than just a tad eccentric.  One would necessarily expect a coroner to have a somewhat macabre view of life but Dr. Dobbs seems to take things to extreme.  Is it possible that Dr. Dobbs knows more than he’s letting on?

Dead & Buried has a reputation for being something of a sleeper, a deliberately-paced and often darky humorous horror film that had the misfortune to be released at a time when most horror audiences were more interested in watching a masked man with a machete kill half-naked teenagers.  Because the studio wasn’t sure how exactly to market Dead & Buried, it failed at the box office and it was only years later, after it was released on home video, that people watched the film and realized that it was actually pretty good.  And make no mistake about it, Dead & Buried is a fairly clever horror film, one that is full of effective moments and which does a good job of creating a creepy atmosphere.  If I’m not quite as enthused about this film as others, that’s because I do think that it’s occasionally a bit too slow and the film’s twist ending, while well-executed, didn’t particularly take me by surprise.  This is one of those films that you enjoy despite the fact that you can see the surprise conclusion coming from a mile away.

In the end, Dead & Buried fills like a particularly twisted, extra-long episode of one of those old horror anthology shows, like Night Gallery, Twilight Zone, or maybe even Ghost Story.  It’s a nicely done slice of small town horror, featuring a study lead performance from James Farentino and an enjoyably weird one from Jack Albertson.  Though the film is not heavy on gore, Stan Winston’s special effects are appropriate macabre.  Even if it’s not quite up there with Gary Sherman’s other films (like Vice Squad and Death Line, to name two), Dead & Buried is an entertainingly eccentric offering for Halloween.

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