Thursday, June 11, 2009

Dead & Buried

DEAD & BURIED (1981) Starring James Farentino, Melody Anderson, Jack Albertson. Directed by Gary Sherman.

A rather effective, atmospheric and gory slice of early 80’s horror, Dead and Buried might be quickly described as Night of the Living Dead meets The Stepford Wives (with a little bit of Carpenter’s The Fog thrown in for good measure).

Of course, such comparisons are always odious, but even such a crude piece of shorthand sums up Dead and Buried rather nicely.

Something strange is going on in the small coastal town of Potter’s Bluff. Strangers are being murdered in a rather grisly fashion – a photographer is burned alive, a fisherman is mutilated and has his throat cut, a young hitchhiker has her skull crushed and a vacationing family are brutally slaughtered. Terrible things to be happening in such a peaceful place. But – and here’s the kicker – the supposedly dead folk are walking around, happy as you please, but with no memory of their former lives. (Photographer George LeMoir, for instance, turns up as gas station attendant Freddie, all friendly grins and bonhomie).

Worse than that, no one seems to care. No one, that is, except Sheriff Dan Gillis (James Farentino) the local law enforcement office and all round square-jawed hero.

If you’re familiar with director Gary Sherman’s other cult classic, Death Line, then you’ll have some idea of what to expect here. Taking a rather ludicrous premise, Sherman and screenwriter Dan O’Bannon (Alien) weave a hugely enjoyable 90 minutes of intelligent horror, underscored with believable characters, good (sometimes great) acting and some really rather shocking moments (the death the town’s doctor via an acid nasal wash being a particular favourite of mine. And for good measure, check out the needle in the eye sequence in the hospital).

With any good horror movie it’s the little things that add up. Although inventive in its gore and bloodshed, Dead and Buried isn’t simply a slash ‘em, rack ‘em, stack ‘em movie: it has a genuinely creepy atmosphere, and the claustrophobia of the small town is beautifully realised. The fog bound sequence where the luckless vacationers find themselves under attack is tense and well-judged and the death of the pretty hitchhiker, Chance, is gruesome in a Hershell Gordon Lewis sort of way. In fact, the film bears some comparison with HGL’s 2000 Maniacs, although better made, better directed, better acted and with much better special effects (although this is not to detract from HGL's gleeful approach to exploitation movies, which have a special place in my heart).

The jewel in the crown, though, is Jack Albertson as William G. Dobbs, the local mortician, a man who regards the preparation of the dead for burial as an art form. Perhaps better known as Grandpa Joe in the Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, Albertson (in his final performance) brings both a folksy charm and a genuinely sinister edge to Dobbs, managing to be both likeable and repellent at the same time.

Now, fair enough, any well-versed genre fan will probably see the twist ending coming a mile away but this doesn’t detract from an otherwise fine piece of horror cinema from the days when the protagonists of horror movies were adults rather than simpering teens and a decent script was a requirement rather than a bonus.

Check it out, why not.

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