Our review of Dead & Buried (Blu-Ray), published February 4th, 2009, is also available.
The creators of "Alien…"…
God bless Blue Underground, purveyor of all things schlock. The studio, a kind of offshoot of Anchor Bay Entertainment, specializes in cult classics (AKA movies no one has heard of) and skin flicks hiding under the guise of artistic cinema (Emmanuelle in America? Give me a break…). One of their newest releases is the Dan O'Bannon / Ron Shusett (Alien) scripted horror thriller Dead & Buried. Starring James Farentino (Bulletproof), the late Jack Albertson (Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory) in his final screen role, and familiar face Robert "Freddy Krueger" Englund, Dead & Buried rises from its grave on DVD in a new "limited edition" care of Blue Underground.
Facts of the Case
Things are horribly amiss in the small town of Potters Bluff. Though you can come in for some homemade apple pie and warm hospitality, you can never, ever leave! When a rash of murder victims begin piling up around the town, Sheriff Dan Gillis (Farantio) and an eccentric mortician (Albertson) are baffled as to who's behind the grisly crimes. Even stranger still is when the same bodies of the victims being showing up around town again…in what seems to be perfect condition! Suddenly Sheriff Gillis' wife (Melody Anderson, Speed Zone!) is acting strange, hitchhikers are disappearing…and the townsfolk are carrying a deadly secret. As Gillis delves deeper into Potters Bluff's history, he uncovers a plot so terrifying that it should have stayed Dead & Buried.
Fear is the most primitive of all emotions. Nothing makes you feel quite as alive as when you're scared out of your wits. For some, fear comes in the form of spiders or needles. For me it's death—more specifically, that whole mortuary thing. The creepiest thing that could ever happen to me (aside of being forced to sit though Battlefield Earth again) is being locked in a funeral home with caskets in the living room and bodies in the basement. Yes, if you'd like to see me go into full blown freak out mode, just throw me in the dark with some stiffs and watch the meltdown begin! Which brings me to the 1981 cult fave Dead & Buried. It's about a mortician, a town, a sheriff, and a mortuary filled with dead bodies that seemingly just won't stay down. Is it a zombie movie? A thriller? A movie about body snatchers?
I must tread carefully while discussing the film as not to spill major plot points. I knew very little about the film when it came to me for review, and I think that first time viewers will be best served best if they know as little about the story as possible. The movie plays with the conventions of the living dead idea (a theme better explored in O'Bannon's 1985 classic The Return of the Living Dead) and creates an almost Twilight Zone feel with the story and characters. O'Bannon may be one of the most underappreciated writers in all of movie horrordom. Though some of his ideas have been much maligned—as with director Tobe Hooper's Lifeforce and Invaders from Mars—his storytelling skills have been sharply honed (O'Bannon also co-penned the Schwarzenegger action vehicle Total Recall, John Carpenter's Dark Star, and wrote his directorial debut Return of the Living Dead). In Dead & Buried, O'Bannon and co writer Ron Shusett have produced an atmospheric screenplay that unfolds with mounting terror.
Because it was made in the very early 1980s, the film lacks a small amount of credibility. There are many gore effects, provided by über-special effects master Stan Winston (Jurassic Park, The Terminator, Aliens). This was one of Stan's first films, so it's not surprising to find it to be filled with only mediocre effects (mediocre in comparison to his later work, of course). Some of them work, some of them don't—but hey, isn't that the draw to movies from this time period? Laughable effects and cheesy rubber masks!
The cast includes fine performances by James Farantino as the local sheriff (who for some odd reason looks a lot like the dad from The Wonder Years) and the late Jack Albertson as Dobbs, a mortician who enjoys big band music while sucking the innards out of the deceased's body. In a much smaller role is Robert Englund as a local yokel, though this is a fairly inconsequential role that never gives hints of his horror greatness to come. The supporting cast is made up of locals sporting outdated '80s fashions and lots of hairspray.
And that's all I'm saying about Dead & Buried. I don't want to spoil any of the surprises in store for first time viewers. I enjoyed this little-known flick more than I anticipated. The atmosphere is creepy, the direction well executed, and the ending is a grandly morbid humdinger. Recommended to horror fans everywhere.
Dead & Buried is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. Unfortunately, fans may be a tad disappointed when they see this transfer—the overall condition of this image is grainy and dark. Speckles of dirt show up from time to time. The colors are somewhat solid, though they often look washed out and dull. The black levels often look fuzzy and gray, making for a sometimes frustrating viewing. It's a shame that this transfer wasn't cleaned up a bit more—or, it's quite possible that the source elements were in this poor of condition. While this isn't a terrible presentation, it is only mediocre.
The soundtrack is presented in multiple options: DTS 6.1 Surround (English), Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround EX (English), Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English), and Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English). Wow, that's a lot of sound mixes! Both the DTS and Dolby 5.1 tracks work well with a decent mix of surround sounds and directional effects in both options. Though some of the directional sounds feel a bit forced—as when someone from off screen yells to one of the characters—overall these are good mixes for the film that they're supporting. The 2.0 and 1.0 Mono mixes are appropriately hollow and mediocre. A small amount of hiss shows up in a few instances on all of the tracks, though it's never overly distracting to the viewing. There are no optional subtitles on this disc.
Blue Underground has put together a special "limited edition" two-disc set of Dead & Buried (mine is number 41096, just in case you care) with a plethora of extra features. Here's a rundown of what's been included on this disc:
Three Commentary Tracks: Included this disc are no less than three audio commentaries. The first is with director Gary A. Sherman, the second is with co-writer/co-producer Ronald Shusett and actress Linda Turley, and the third is with cinematographer Steve Poster. Though I obviously didn't have a chance to listen to all three commentaries all the way through, overall they're well recorded yarns. The first track with the director (which utilizes moderator David Gregory from Blue Underground) is filled with various stories about the production, the history of the film, and many technical details about the cast, crew, and shoot. The second track with Gregory, Shusett, and Turley (who is also Shusett's wife) is filled with lots of info on the story and character development. The third track by cinematographer Steve Poster discusses yet more of the film's history (how odd!) and many technical details about the film's camera work (the visual content is discussed thoroughly) and how Poster came to be included in the project. Combined these three tracks should give viewers almost everything they've ever wanted to know about Dead & Buried.
Also included on disc one is a theatrical trailer for the film, as well as an extensive gallery of posters and still images from the film.
Stan Winston's "Dead & Buried" EFX: This nearly 20 minute featurette includes an interview with Winston on the film and his role in making the special effects come to life. Though he talks broadly about the end product, most of this is confined to Winston discussing specific effects shots (the classic "hypodermic needle in the eye" shot, the dead body effects, et cetera) and how he achieved many of the gruesome effects. The most impressive is the needle in the eyeball—I wince every time I see it. Fans of the inside movie magic scoop will be thrilled with this featurette.
Robert Englund: An Early Work of Horror: Not surprisingly, this featurette focuses on actor Robert Englund (who had an only minor role in the film) and his place in horror history. Much is discussing about England's work in Dead & Buried, as well as his roles in other horror films, most notably the A Nightmare on Elm Street series.
Dan O'Bannon: Crafting Fear: This featurette includes an interview with O'Bannon (looking like a goofy college professor, complete with a bowtie) discussing his role in Dead & Buried as well as glossing over a few of his other works. This feature may have been the least interesting to me, mostly because O'Bannon doesn't seem to be overly charismatic about discussing the film. Otherwise, it's still a nice extra to have on this set.
Finally, there is a gallery of location stills and photos from cinematographer Steve Poster's private collection.
While this may not be the seminal horror film of the 1980s, it's a creepy little chiller that gets the job done. It's always nice to find a hidden gem, and Dead & Buried is most surely that. Aside of the only so-so video transfer, Blue Underground has done a very respectable job on this limited edition set.
Dead & Buried is definitely worth a first and second look on DVD.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Blue Underground
• Commentary Track with Director Gary A. Sherman
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