Horror Movie A Day: Quint on DEAD & BURIED (1981) Welcome to Potters Bluff!
Published at: Oct. 25, 2008, 5:24 a.m. CST by quint
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with today’s installment of A Movie A Day.
[The regular A Movie A Day list has been frozen in order for me to do an all-horror line-up for October. I’ve pulled many horror titles from my regular “to see” stack and have ordered many more horror and thriller titles to make sure we have some good stuff. Like the regular AMAD column all the movies I’m covering are films I have never seen, but unlike the regular AMAD column I will not connect each film to the one before it. Instead I will pull a title at random every day and watch whatever the movie Gods determine for me.]
I’m really glad we got to this picture (thank you Movie Gods). Like I mentioned yesterday, fellow ‘80s horror nerds have been pressing me to finally watch DEAD & BURIED for years.
The reasons being a great cast, Stan Winston effects and a serious tone.
The flick plays up atmosphere, set in a foggy fishing town that apparently is so foggy that the INSIDES of buildings are foggy, too.
We start with a photographer taking pictures of a small beach. As he’s snapping photos, he notices a beautiful blonde, a townie who brings the flirt. It’s a nicely executed scene and my mind immediately went into “how’s this going to go wrong?” mode.
The photographer starts snapping pics of this girl, posing seductively. Okay, I thought… In one of these camera POVs we’re going to see something grab this girl. I’m sure the filmmakers intended that because that’s not what happens.
It’s the photographer who gets jumped (thankfully after Lisa Blount whips her top off) by a bunch of townspeople. She was in on it, luring him in as the fishermen in the town sneak up and jump him.
They tie him to a post and set him on fire.
Next thing we know, we’re in the middle of a street as the local sheriff (James Farentino) investigates a car accident. It’s our photographer, hanging upsidedown in his flipped, burnt to hell. I thought this make-up was pretty fantastic… one eye was permanently burned open, lips gone… gnarly. But then this dude starts screaming! He’s not dead!
How fucked up! Great!
The rest of the film is a mystery, unraveling just what the fuck is going on in this small town. Are all the townspeople in on it? Who’s not? And what the fuck IS GOING ON!?!
The WTF factor goes into overdrive when our photographer is murdered in the hospital (his poor exposed eye…) and is buried… then pops up, like he was never burned in the first place, pumping gas.
Okay, smart script from ALIEN’s Ronald Shusett and Dan O’Bannon (who also scripted two of my favorite ‘80s genre flicks: RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD and LIFEFORCE). Check that box.
Also check the box next to great cast on your list of genre musts. You have Robert Englund (pre-Freddy) in a bit part as a townsman, Barry Corbin (WARGAMES, but who I’ll always remember as Harv in CRITTERS 2) and, perhaps the standout, Grandpa Joe himself Jack Albertson as the local undertaker, Dobbs.
Setting aside my insane nostalgia at the sound of his voice (WILLY WONKA & THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY was on constant rotation during my childhood), Albertson is the bright, shining star of this film hands down. His undertaker is at once a very sweet old man and a very creepy old man.
Dobbs takes much pride in his ability to recreate even the most messed up bodies for display before burial. He views himself as an artist and we get a great scene watching him work (aided by Stan Winston’s effects).
And Stan Winston’s effects are great. There’s only one crappy effect, an acid-face-injection, but a little research shows that it was a reshoot and Winston wasn’t available, which makes more sense.
But the stuff Winston did is top notch. The burned photographer, the face reconstruction, the eye-stab… great stuff.
The negatives to the movie pretty much rest in James Farentino’s lead performance as the sheriff. He’s okay throughout the entire movie, but really fumbles the big ending. There’s a reveal and when he sees it, he overacts to the point of almost derailing the movie.
But the twist is fun (if not wholly unexpected) and Albertson’s work in this scene more than makes up for Farentino’s overacting, so no harm no foul.
I wish Englund had a little more to do… same goes for Barry Corbin, but I think if the filmmakers had known how popular they’d be to genre fans I bet you anything they would have had more meat to their roles. Without knowing, I understand why the focus is on the hero with the most side-time given to Jack Albertson, who is hands down the most interesting and entertaining character in the movie.
Final Thoughts: High on atmosphere, high on character-work and high on mystery. This is a demented little movie that makes you weep that Jack Albertson didn’t do much genre work. For ‘80s exploitation horror it’s got a little edge to it, but doesn’t skimp on the gore and flesh.
Awesome. I’m a huge, huge Dick Miller fan! I have a lobby card from this film that I bought based only on the title (which I knew was the film that Roger Corman shot simultaneously with LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS) and Dick Miller’s name. See you folks tomorrow with my thoughts on this one!