I came to Dead & Buried a little late. Almost 30 years after it's release. I remember staring at the VHS box whenever I went to the video store but, for whatever reason, I always went with something else. It's a good thing because I'm not sure my young, slightly less mature sensibilities would have appreciated this thing. You see, this is one of those pictures I think might qualify as a masterpiece, albeit a slowly burning one. I've been known to be wrong about these things though. Let's delve a little further.
Dead and Buried is the story of a quaint little seaside town called Potter's Bluff. Apparently it's situated in Maine but I kept getting the feeling it was Oregon (even though I've never been there...weird). Turns out it was filmed in California with fog machines turned up full tilt to give it that New England, non sunny, type of feel. So, what we got here is a California town that feels like Oregon, looks like Maine...and is heavy on the atmospherics. Also, only two breasts in the whole damned thing and they come at the beginning. In addition, I think there's a male ass in here somewhere.
Potter's Bluff is a fishing community where people don't do much in the way of fishing. The opening scene tells me what kind of picture I'm dealing with here. We got a guy, a tourist, alone on the beach snapping photos (a heavy motif throughout) of things one would encounter on the beach; shells, sand, rocks, a half naked broad waiting to throw herself at you, etc. They have a great little introductory conversation where she gives him the name Freddie ("you look like a Freddie") and he dumbly accepts it not really giving a shit. Then he starts snapping photos of her telling her what great potential she has, she could be in PLAYBOY, holy shit can't believe she just took off her top and now I'm snapping her tits, etc, etc. Tell 'em what they want to hear and you'd be surprised what they'll do for you is a common mantra amongst some men. Not me, of course.
Anyway, at some point during the nude shoot on the beach, Freddie and the girl become surrounded by some sinister looking townsfolk. One guy takes the camera and starts taking photos of Freddie. They mess him up a bit, tie him to a pole, douse him in gasoline, and set the poor bastard on fire. Welcome to mother fucking Potter's Bluff, mother fucker. The town has a lot of skeleton's in it's closet I guess is the point of that opening scene, which is one of the better openings I've seen in a genre filled with...uh...good openings.
People come into this town, but they don't come out. Freddie's body is later found and Sheriff Dan Gillis (a splendid performance by James Farentino) is on the case. Only Freddie ain't dead yet. He's brought to the burn ward at Potter's Bluff General where he eventually succumbs to a syringe shoved into his brain by way of his eye courtesy of Nurse Lisa (the girl on the beach) in a scene that Tarantino was probably thinking about when he shot a similar scene in Kill Bill (also Brian DePalma).
Farentino gives his all as Gillis but the show is nearly stolen by that old stalwart Jack Albertson as William G. Dobbs, the local mortician. Albertson, in his final performance, is a joy to watch. Dobbs considers himself an artist and is never too broken up when a fresh corpse is brought to him. He prides himself on restoring his subjects to beauty whether they've been burned beyond recognition, knifed, gouged, etc. He's good at what he does but is "what he does" actually good? Also, what the fuck does he does?
Gillis is an outsider to Potter's Bluff himself. He met a local teacher (Melody Anderson), fell in love, married her, came to her town. Lately, she's been acting a little weird though. Teaching her class about voodoo is a little weird I suppose, but certainly nothing to get worked up over. Gillis is a bit of a straight arrow I have to admit. Though, her disappearing most nights is also a bit odd and perhaps his cause for concern is justified.
The picture layers on surprise after surprise but does it in a subtle way. We learn a little bit about Dobbs, a little about the townspeople, a little about why when a corpse is exhumed they don't find the corpse but instead just a wrapped up human heart, and so on. All important reveals, sure, but it's all just a set up for the final reveal which I have to admit I didn't see coming and is a slight nudge to the balls if not a full on kick. A few innocents try driving through the town but, like I blatantly spoiled earlier, not one of them makes it out. The attacks are increasingly tense with one guy snapping photos of the horrified victims as the rest of the townspeople close in for the kill. It's like a zombie attack only if one of the zombies had been a photographer in his prior life and remembered the act of snapping photos but not what it signified. Or, whatever. This is scary shit. Also, why do victims of this zombie-like mob turn up later working at gas stations in Potter's Bluff or at the grocery...or the local strip bar (I'm assuming the Bluff has a strip club and that some of these victimized women turned up working there).
The picture's got everything you want, but rarely get, in a horror film. An incredibly ominous atmosphere (fog machines, a real seaside town, believably creepy architecture), some terrific performances, genuine shocks, and some perfectly realized gore effects created by Stan Winston. Speaking of Alien, this thing was also written by Dan O'Bannon and Ronald Shushett, who co-wrote that earlier masterpiece as well. Two masterpieces in row is pretty rare, but I think they've done it. My seal of approval comes with the knowledge that I watched this thing sober and still enjoyed the hell out of it. Try to keep at least one eye open or you might miss a very young Robert Englund as one of the creepy residents. Also, Barry Corbin (Wargames, No Country For Old Men) shows up and doesn't speak a word of dialogue that I can recollect. Shit man, just watch the thing. We got tits, scares, creepy going ons, etc.
Wow, Halloween is really tomorrow???? (note: I'm finishing this up on November 9).