Retro Review: "Dead and Buried" (1981)
Ah, tourism. It can be the lifeblood of a small town. Have you ever wondered what the folks who live in these quaint little towns think of the folks that come sniffing around and taking pictures, though? Perhaps you're from one of those places, and you know the answer to that question. While I can't personally relate, I have been one of those tourists. It feels a bit invasive.
It's with that sentiment in mind that director Gary Sherman (Poltergeist 3) and writers Ronald Shusett (Alien) and Dan O'Bannon (Alien and director of Return of the Living Dead) approach the town of Potter's Bluff. Tourists have a way of disappearing in the Bluff and turning back up as citizens as if they've been there the whole time. Sheriff Dan Gillis (James Farentino, Jesus of Nazareth) is becoming suspicious of a sudden rash of violent deaths in his sleepy little burg. His wife, Janet (the lovely Melody Anderson, Flash Gordon), has begun teaching witchcraft and voodoo to kids. Everyone is acting a little off, and the local mortician, William G. Dobbs (Jack Albertson, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory) fancies himself an underappreciated artist. What the hell is going on in Potter's Bluff?
There's so much to appreciate in this early 80's gem. From a cinematography standpoint, the locations are fantastic and the town is picturesquely creepy. You can practically smell the sea while your skin crawls. It's got a creepy vibe that is hard to shake and unlike anything else I've even seen that soaks into each frame.
The kills are fantastic, gory and sadistic. With every one, the townsfolk gather round with their cameras and take pictures of the act. It's claustrophobic and graphic at the same time. Speaking of the townsfolk, they are a varied lot of veterans, raw talent, and character actors. There's a young Robert Englund (A Nightmare on Elm Street series), Macon McCalman (Smokey and the Bandit), Lisa Blount (John Carpenter's Prince of Darkness), and Bill Quinn (The Birds). A troupe like that giving you a man burned alive, heads bashed in with rocks, face slashing, acid up the nose, and that famous needle in the eye scene sets one hell of a tone.
Farentino is perfect as the good guy sheriff. His visceral responses are just over the top enough to make you smile. The kicker, though? It's got friggin' GRANDPA JOE from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (the most beloved character in one of the most beloved movies ever) as a sinister, arrogant, and pompous mortician with a mission. Do you really need any more convincing?
Okay, fine! Since you asked I'll give you one more: the last 20 minutes blow up into a climactic horror show with a twist that comes in two parts (predictable and say what?!). It's been some time since I've enjoyed an ending as much as the ending of Dead and Buried.
High caliber, talented acting plus solid SFX and kills plus a fantastic setting makes for one hell of a good horror film without a trace of camp to be found. Go ahead and visit Potter's Bluff. I dare you!