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John’s Horror Corner: Dead & Buried (1981), this genre-bending movie is a well-made classic with a great story.

May 7, 2023

MY CALL: If you enjoy solid writing, acting, direction and story to go with your gory 80s horror, then you should turn to this alternative undead thriller. Well-made in every aspect considerable, from start to finish. It also ages rather well despite being over 40 years old. MORE MOVIES LIKE Dead & Buried: For more dead and back again movies of the era, try Hellraiser (1987), The Serpent and the Rainbow (1988), The Thing (1982), Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978) or Planet of the Vampires (1965).

We open with gorgeous rocky beach cinematography in the Pacific northwest as a vacationing photographer meets a pretty girl (Lisa Blount; Prince of Darkness, Nightflyers, Needful Things) on the beach. A fantasy-like sequence fit to open an adult movie, they have a flirty exchange with perfect chemistry and begin an impromptu photo shoot which quickly escalates to direct seduction. But just when things are about to get really mature, the photographer is ambushed by local townsfolk using the woman as a diversion. They brutally beat him, tie him to a post and immolate him while calmly watching, taking photos of the whole process and politely “welcoming” him to Potter’s Bluff. They are as cold as ‘pod people.’

Investigating the crime scene of the horribly charred victim, Sheriff Gillis (James Farentino) quickly has several murder investigations in his tiny Pacific town. The local mortician (Jack Albertson;Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory) has an ego and fancies himself an artist critical for the preservation of fond memories. He jousts an occasionally contentious relationship with Gillis, and his dealings with the deceased become increasingly integral to the plot.

This movie is unlike most of its ilk, which may depict a lawman trying to solve strange murders or some mystery only to eventually discover it was his very neighbors and locals (including Robert Englund; Killer Tongue, A Nightmare on Elm StreetGalaxy of TerrorHatchet IIThe Phantom of the Opera) as part of some cult enacting the horrible crimes. No, this movie plays the opposite angle. More murders transpire with the movie blatantly showing us the local townsfolk enacting, photographing, or witnessing these murders of remotely located victims. And then the movie shows us those formerly dead victims alive and well again, but assuming the role of townsfolk like they had always been there. So herein, the mystery is less about what is happening and who is doing it, but more about how and why it is happening. But until we find out, the townsfolk continue to target every visitor or hapless passerby to their quaint little town, sparing not even a child. And all the while we as viewers always seem to be at least one step ahead of the sheriff.

The special effects are pretty good! The initial burn victim looked charbroiled with patches of bare, moist, skinless tissue. We also enjoy a good face-smashing with a rock, an oozy acid face-melting death, and while not a visceral sensation, the on-screen fisherman’s harpoon slashes of another death is at the very least acceptable. There’s also a brief but satisfying syringe death scene when a nurse stabs a man in the eye! But much more telling of what’s actually going on in the movie, a victim tears a clump of hair and scalp from an assailant exposing a gory patch whence it was torn; and the sheriff finds a severed arm moving on its own! So clearly are we dealing with zombies, voodoo, the Devil, or maybe a Re-Animator (1985) scenario, right? Well, the movie forces you to be patient.

Director Gary Sherman (Death Line, Poltergeist III) has served genre fans and connoisseurs of the classic so very well with this film. This is no cheap, throwaway story to pass the time between death scenes. I’d call this a solidly decent overall movie as well as a classic horror which does some unusual genre-bending for its time. The mystery unfolds at a steady rate, the pacing is engaging throughout, and the closing revelations are satisfying and well-executed. I was so pleasantly surprised as I revisited this film. I hope you are, too.

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