DEAD AND BURIED (1981) US 1 sheet poster
3 and half stars  
"It will take your breath away ... all of it!"
directed by: Gary Sherman 
starring: James Farentino, Melody Anderson, Jack Albertson, Dennis Redfield, Nancy Locke, Robert Englund, Lisa Blount, Bill Quinn, Michael Currie, Christopher Allport, Joseph G. Medalis, Macon McCalman, Lisa Marie

choice dialogue:

"Two murders in a town not bigger than a postage stamp!"

- Sheriff Gillis's world in turned upside down more than once.

slash with panache?

[review by JA Kerswell]

You'd be hard-pushed to call DEAD AND BURIED a slasher movie. However, this gruesome tale of a series of murders in a quaint seaside town certainly borrows enough elements from the then-popular subgenre to raise the comparison. Ultimately, Gary Sherman's film's magpie nature is a veritable genre smorgasbord. Although it is distinctive enough to find a voice of its own. Perhaps best remembered now - albeit unfairly - because of its reputation as a 'video nasty' in the UK. An irony, as it was originally shot virtually bloodless and the gore was added in reshoots.

  Hypodermic eyeball violence was all the rage in 1981! Here thanks to Stan Winston's remarkable special effects.

Sheriff Dan Gillis (James Farentino) has returned to his quaint seaside home town of Potter's Bluff after cutting his teeth in the big city; where he relishes the seemingly crime-free idyll. He adores his spouse Janet (Melody Anderson), who teaches at the local primary school. However, this idyll is rudely interrupted by the discovery of a badly burned man (Christopher Allport) in what appears to be an automobile accident - although the audience knows it was the result of a premeditated attack by a group of people that we later discover populate the town. Sheriff Gillis becomes suspicious of the circumstances and his fears are further heightened after the body of a drunk is found slain and disfigured at the local dock. He expresses his concerns to the local mortician, William G. Dobbs (Jack Alberston), and asks if he thinks the accident could have been staged? However, Gillis becomes increasingly irritated by Dobbs and his seeming obsession with restoring the growing number of mutilated murder victims to a pre-death state in his funeral parlour. He also becomes puzzled and concerned about his wife's connection to some of the victims and is determined to find the culprit behind the series of bizarre murders plaguing the town.

It would be hard to discuss DEAD AND BURIED without spoilers. So please be warned that I will be doing so going forward (although I won't reveal the film's sting in its tail). For the first half, it does play like a slasher movie - albeit one where the murders are done by a committee. Like a demented version of Agatha Christie's MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS, we see from the first murder that no single person is to blame and is rather a mob of townspeople. It's not so much a whodunnit, rather than a why-they-dunnit? If it had been a single assailant it would have much more comfortably fallen into slasher territory. It turns out that Dobbs has found a way to bring corpses back to life through a method that is never revealed but hints at voodoo and black magic. He then sends these zombies out to find new victims so that he can indulge in his hobby of restoring their mangled faces back to lifelike masks.

  Melody Anderson went from FLASH GORDON's fantasy sci-fi to more earth bound horrors in DEAD AND BURIED.

Whilst it doesn't really hold up to scrutiny, it works best if looked at as an EC Comics tale turned feature length. Despite the mostly convincing Stan Winston grue (which got it into trouble with the police and politicians in the UK), the film is largely out-of-step with many other horror films released to cinemas in the early 1980s which may explain its poor box office. DEAD AND BURIED is shot through a dreamlike gauze that hints that things are not what they seem from the start. It is likely that MESSIAH OF EVIL (1974) - another film where hapless visitors to a seaside town are chased and killed by a strange mob - was a direct inspiration. As was, of course, THE STEPFORD WIVES (1975) and INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (the 1978 remake then still a fresh memory). Adding to the sense of unreality is how Potter's Bluff is seemingly stuck in the 1940s, which at first adds to the sense of the white picket fence idyll but becomes increasingly incongruous as the film progresses (and we learn is all part of Dobbs' plan to create his retro fantasy world). It also adds to the echoes of the films of Val Lewton and Jacques Tourneur - especially Tourneur's I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE (1943).

However, Lewton and Tourneur would never have dreamed of the levels of violence possible in early 80s horror cinema. Stan Winston - who also did uncredited work on FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 2 the same year - provided the gruesomely realistic special effects for DEAD AND BURIED. "I've developed some things that no one's ever seen before, and I'm very proud of the work I did," said Winston on his own website. All of which still impress, bar the rubbery death-by-acid-tubes-up-the-nose (which is a good reminder of why sometimes less is more). Perhaps, unsurprisingly given the time period, when it was released on video it was initially banned in the U.K., but was eventually acquitted of obscenity charges and removed from the Director of Public Prosecutions' list.

  Jack Albertson, as the sinister mortician William G Dobbs, is behind the gruesome goings on in the small coastal town of Potter's Bluff.

DEAD AND BURIED suffers from a handful of substandard performances, but the main cast is excellent. James Farentino was not known for his horror roles (outside the fun TV movie THE POSSESSED (1977)) but is great here in the difficult role of a man determined to find the truth even if it ends up destroying him. Melody Anderson also has a tricky role as a facsimile of a character without coming off as wooden. At the time of filming, she was waiting for FLASH GORDON (1980) to be released - where she played Dale Arden. She praised DEAD AND BURIED for allowing her to prove her acting chops. Jack Albertson masterfully portrays the dastardly mortician, who veers from whimsy to menace effortlessly. He is probably best remembered as Grandpa Joe in WILLY WONKA & THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY (1971) and Manny in THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE (1972). His performance has a special poignancy given that he was dying from cancer whilst making the film (he described it as "… quite an undertaking") - and the scene where he injects himself with embalming pipes is especially gruesome considering his condition. However, he lived long enough to see the film's premiere in Hollywood. Also, in a small part, is Robert Englund - who, of course, would go on to horror legend portraying Freddy Krueger in A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (1984). A strange quirk is that one character is given the nickname Freddy at the beginning of the movie.

It was announced in January 1980 that James Farentino would star alongside Jack Albertson in DEAD AND BURIED. Interestingly, pre-release publicity in March 1980 said that the plot of the film was being kept secret from the cast - and that they were being fed their parts in the script piecemeal. So, you can just imagine the surprise some of the cast got when they saw where the film was going!

DEAD AND BURIED was directed by Gary Sherman, who had previously helmed the excellent semi-proto-slasher set on the London Underground DEATH LINE (1972). He reportedly wanted it to be a dark comedy and some of that macabre humour still shines through. Although looking decidedly chilly, DEAD AND BURIED was filmed in Northern California between April to August 1980 (after a mooted January-February shoot was delayed). Efforts were made to make the weather look drab, such as blocking the sun with sheets. Press in 1980 ahead of its release stated that the film would have a budget of $6-8 million. The film's producer and co-writer, Ron Shusett hinted in an interview with Fangoria that test audiences didn't respond as well as hoped to some of the original footage and - like THE FOG and HALLOWEEN II - there were reshoots to add additional gore to satisfy modern audiences' expectations. He elaborated: "Generally in a film, you overshoot the violence and then tone it down in the editing process. In the case of Dead and Buried, we actually shot less violence at first, hoping the atmosphere and story would compensate. We wanted to achieve the effect without the blood. But in the end, we cut in more violence than we originally intended."

  DEAD AND BURIED was released in Arizona in September 1981 as LOOK ALIVE; quite possibly to test audience reactions before it was released with its original title in November of that year.

Publicity for the film - including its theatrical poster - made much of its supposed connection to Ridley Scott's sci-fi horror hit ALIEN (1979). Promising the "creators" of that film "[bringing] … a new terror to Earth." Seeing the poster at the cinema as a twelve-year-old I thought it was another sci-fi horror. In fact, early press stated that it would be - and, an interview with Melody Anderson, in The New York Daily News stated that it was a sequel to ALIEN! The screenplay was written by Ronald Shusett (based on an original story by Jeff Millar and Alex Stern) who has a 'story by' credit for ALIEN (he also worked on PHOBIA (1980) and the more conventional slasher movie THE FINAL TERROR (eventually released in 1983)). Dan O'Bannon also has a screenplay credit for both ALIEN and DEAD AND BURIED. However, O'Bannon actually had nothing to do with the latter and said as much in an interview with Alan Jones in a 1983 issue of Starburst Magazine: "All Ronald Shusett needed was my name to get it off the ground. I knew the script needed work and he promised he would deal with it and not make it anything I would be embarrassed about. I trusted his taste and with grave misgivings accepted the $10,000 fee. When I saw it I realised he hadn't changed one word of the original script I had read and I hated it but as he pointed out I couldn't take my name off it. In print I can, though, and I want my views on the subject on record. He wanted me to do the same scam with Phobia but I refused. I swore after that I would never do anything like that again." DEAD AND BURIED was reportedly pre-sold to every territory outside the United States before a single shot was made based on the idea of reuniting the team behind the success of ALIEN.

Strangely, the film was initially released under the title LOOK ALIVE in Arizona in September 1981 - a full two full months before it was released under its better-known title in November that year. Very probably to test markets. The LOOK ALIVE adverts left little to the imagination and basically gave the game away that it was a zombie movie at heart. Despite some great pre-release hoopla, DEAD AND BURIED bombed big at the box office in North America on its wider release around Halloween 1981. It was theatrically released by independent distributors Avco Embassy Pictures - which had previously had success with the likes of THE FOG (1980), THE HOWLING and ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK (both 1981). However, the presumed delay in waiting for a major studio pick-up meant that the film was lost amongst the glut of horror releases and an audience that was already a little weary of genre fayre. Not to mention it was in competition with HALLOWEEN II - the most successful slasher movie of that year. In the end, it made little more than $215,000 on a budget that was reported to be between $3-8 million.

  DEAD AND BURIED courted much controversy in the UK when it was banned on video, despite a run at British cinemas.

Predictably for a horror movie released at the tail end of 1981 reviews were mixed. Terry Lawson in The Journal Herald expressed his admiration for ALIEN, but said of DEAD AND BURIED: "[it has] ... plenty of atmosphere, but precious little weight." He continued: "By comparing this low-budget, low-pay off affair to the best horror film of recent years, O'Bannon and Shusett invite negative backlash and snuff whatever tiny chance it might have in the marketplace." Bill Cosford in The Miami Herald noted that the film had got lost in the shuffle under its previous title LOOK ALIVE and noted the hypodermic-needle-to-the-eye that it shared with HALLOWEEN II, but concluded: "Not a bad little thriller, not bad at all." In the Baltimore Sun, Stephen Hunter noted that Avco Embassy seemed to have little faith in the picture and it had hardly any promotional push from the company. He said that DEAD AND BURIED was "scary" and " ... better than distributors think." And that "[it] ... turns out to be a consistently effective horror thriller." Robert Alan Ross noted in the St. Petersburg Times that the film was shot through with dark humour, although predicted: " ... squeamish sorts will find it unamusing." Linda Gross in The LA Times gave it something of a backhanded compliment: "Dead and Buried isn't a very good film but it is a very disturbing horror movie." The critic in the Sydney Morning Herald called it a "meat movie" and compared it to a "butcher's picnic". Unsurprisingly, in the Chicago Tribune, Gene Siskel dismissed DEAD AND BURIED as " ... yet another disgusting horror film and a complete waste of anyone's money." In his review, he mentions that it would be played on an "Adults Only" basis after a ruling by the Chicago Police Department in four city theatres. He went on to say that the "five-member group" had made a similar ruling the previous week in regard to Bill Lustig's MANIAC. Although he concedes that DEAD AND BURIED isn't as "repulsive" as that film he crows: " ... clearly the filmmakers have bought the censors down on their own neck with their preoccupation with gore."

The novelisation of ALIEN had been a big tie-in hit in 1979 (shifting 1.5 million copies). A novelisation tie-in for DEAD AND BURIED was eyed as being another lucrative move. Again suggesting the makers had hoped the film would be released earlier than it was, it was announced that author Chelsea Quinn Yarbo was writing the tie-in in March 1980. The novel was released in the summer of 1980 - almost a year and a half before the film was eventually released to screens.

Ultimately, DEAD AND BURIED is a well-made and beautifully shot horror movie that was unfairly overlooked because it was something of an anomaly at the time of its release.

A special thank you to Neal Simpson for his support in keeping Hysteria Lives! online.

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BODYCOUNT  8    bodycount!   female: 2 / male: 5

           1) Male stabbed and slashed with a harpoon
         2) Male stabbed in the eye with a hypodermic needle
         3) Female killed (method unseen)
         4) Male killed (method unseen)
         5) Male killed (method unseen)
         6) Female has head smashed with a rock
         7) Male has acid forced up his nose
         8) Male stabbed in the back with a knife