Review: Dead & Buried (dir. Gary Sherman, 1981)

Dead & Buried

Dead & Buried
USA, 1981
Director: Gary Sherman
Writers: Ronald Shusett and Dan O’Bannon

Review by N Emmett.

A photographer heads to the tiny fishing town of Potters Bluff to get some snaps. On the beach, he is approached by an attractive young woman who allows him to take photographs of her topless. The seduction, it turns out, is a trap: while he is engrossed, a band of locals abduct him, douse him with petrol, and set him on fire.

The town’s sheriff (James Farentino) investigates the crime, which turns out to be the first in a series of killings. He soon realises that something strange is going on – particularly when the murdered cameraman is spotted alive and well and living in Potters Bluff…

With a plot that involves corpses being brought to life by a vague method referred to as “Voodooism”, Dead & Buried is a zombie film. However, its treatment of the theme is far closer to Invasion of the Body Snatchers or The Stepford Wives than to anything by George A. Romero. The main concept on offer here is that the revenants are able to blend in perfectly with the living, adding a touch of paranoia as the protagonist tries to figure out which of the townspeople can be trusted.

ddb1   This premise could have made for a horror film with psychological depth. But Dead & Buried is not that film – “psychological depth” seems a wildly inappropriate term to use in connection to a movie this silly.

One sequence that sums up the shakiness of the plot involves a couple travelling through the small town with their son. After a minor car accident, the kid bumps his head and his parents decide to take him to the nearest house so they can ask for an icepack. It turns out that nobody is home; instead of heading on to then next house, however, the family look around the vacant building in the hopes of finding ice in the refrigerator. This patently daft bit of writing exists primarily so that the family have an old-dark-house backdrop for when they are attacked by zombies.

The only way we can really defend this kind of thing is by accepting that Dead & Buried has its roots in the tradition of 1950s horror comics. Like Creepshow and Death Trap, it smacks of having been created by people who grew up on EC publications: the daft plot mechanics, ddb2stereotyped characters, twist ending and fondness for stark colour palettes give it a true pulpy feel. This is rounded off by the less-than-subtle performances on the part of the hero and villain – James Farentino plunges into amusing histrionics when his character lets the horror get the better of him, while Jack Albertson plays the creepy mortician as pure cartoon bad guy.

Kerekes and Slater’s invaluable book See No Evil reports that, when Dead & Buried first came out on VHS in Britain, a video shop in Burnley billed it as a genuine snuff film. This is presumably the result of the “video nasties” hysteria of the period, when media and authorities often had trouble distinguishing between silly horror flicks and videos of people being murdered. Still, the shop’s curious claim is not entirely inappropriate considering that snuff turns up as a theme in Dead & Buried. The zombies obsessively take photos as they carry out murders, presumably to help the mortician in reconstructing the victims’ faces, ddb4while the climax involves the hero coming across a grainy black and white film of a fatal stabbing.

When Sheriff Gillis finally confronts the villain, the snuff film is being projected in the background of the room. Does this really mean anything? Well, no, not really, but the visual makes for a thoroughly effective finale to a movie that aspires to be little more than a well-presented geek show.