Dead & Buried (1981)

As the opening credits ran for this movie I was wondering why I had never heard of it.  Dan O'Bannon is listed as one of the writers, while well-known scream queen Lisa Blount has a significant role and Melody Anderson, who would go on to play Dale Arden a few years later in Flash Gordon, has a major part to play as well.  In addition it has Grandpa Joe himself, Jack Albertson, playing an eccentric mortician, and even a pre-V Robert Englund in a small role.  As icing on the cake Stan Winston did most of the effects. 

Watching it I soon became aware of why it is not so well known and, upon hearing much of the backstory on how it was made, it was cheated out of its chance.  It's not a rote slasher film of the time and Ronald Shusett, who is the real writer on the movie, had planned for this to be a horror comedy.  Director Gary Sherman was right their with him and that's what they did and, to hear it from them, audiences loved it.  That was before the people backing it began to stick their beaks in. 

Sheriff Dan Gillis (James Farentino) is the entire law enforcement of the tiny Maine town of Potter's Bluff, save his dispatcher Betty (Estelle Omens) and part-time officer Harry (Robert Englund).  An accident call involving a photographer (Christopher Allport) doesn't sit right with him, and for good reason.  Soon a number of people, all visitors to the town, turn up dead.  Even stranger his wife Janet (Anderson) seems to have a sudden fascination with witchcraft. 

As the sheriff looks into things further, with the help of mortician William G. Dobbs (Albertson) and the local doctor (Joseph G. Medalis), he soon finds that there are reports of the people who have been killed being seen alive and walking around town.  As he looks further into it the murders begin to include the locals, and it looks like his wife may have more than a little to do with it. 

This has a twist ending which, though it seems a bit silly, makes some sense if the movie is watched carefully.  Still, as it is presented, there are problems with how it resolves, problems that may be the result of the heavy editing.  It also featured some backlash from one of its supposed writers.  Dead & Buried was advertised as being from the creators of Alien, when Shusett was the sole screenwriter; O'Bannon was paid some money for some rewrites there were not used just so the production company could use his name on the poster.  

The reason for the edits is because the movie changed hands throughout production, with the last company demanding the comedy be cut and the blood be amped up.  At that point Winston, who does some of his best work on this movie, had moved on to other projects.  Thus, there are such great gags as a hypodermic through the eye and what they think is a burned corpse suddenly coming back to life, while in another a cheap Halloween mask is used during a key death scene that wasn't done by Winston.

The movie has an interesting concept and it is presented well.  This was Jack Albertson's last film that he made before his death and the role of Dobbs is one to be proud of going out on.  He is a big-band-loving frustrated artist, far from the goofy old man he would play in a number of his later roles.  James Farentino overacts wildly in places to the point of hilarity, which seems incongruous with the rest of the film but makes sense knowing that it was supposed to be more comedic.  Lisa Blount is the femme fatale leading some of the unsuspecting victims to their death, while Melody Anderson has an amazing bit where she realizes the truth about what is going on.

The big issue with the film is the pacing.  A slow burn is fine, and this was supposed to be a tense thriller, not a slasher.  Still, that pace should be to build up tension, where in many cases I was wondering why we are dwelling on people doing mundane things with little to no payoff.  The last third of the movie is payoff enough, but there is no reason for having to sit through the entire process of preparing a sample for a microscope when the scene can begin with the slide already in and follow it up by the character's reaction.  It's almost as if after much of the good stuff was cut someone realized there wasn't enough movie left and, instead of restoring what audiences loved, they just put in filler scenes. 

It was a hard movie to rate, but I would give it a tacit recommendation because of Winston's effects work, Albertson's performance and the fact that the story is not a typical zombie film or slasher.  I just wish that we had a chance to see what Shusett and Sherman meant to put on the screen. 

Dead & Buried (1981)
Time: 94 minutes
Starring: James Farentino, Melody Anderson, Jack Albertson, Lisa Blount
Director: Gary Sherman



  1. So there's no Shusett & Sherman Cut to release on streaming? At least a Sherman Cut of the original film? Though I'm not sure how much difference it would make. The "Renegade Cut" of Highlander 2 and "Producer's Cut" of Halloween 6 are better than the theatrical version but still pretty bad.

    Anyway, maybe it's just the Maine setting but it sounds kind of like it could have been a Stephen King book.

    1. From what I understand all the footage was destroyed when PSO did their hatchet job. Sad reality with a lot of movies like this from that time. It's a shame because I believe it was a much better movie.


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Zack Snyder's Justice League (2021)

Godzilla vs. Kong (2021)

Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania (2023)