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DEAD AND BURIED (1981): Retro Review…An Underrated Gem

Dead And Buried – 1981

We’ve talked before about how horror flicks come at you in different ways.  Some seek to creep you out; they wanna make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up, your skin crawl, and for you to be jumpy in your own living room at the sounds of your house settling.  Others go right for the guts with the gross-out, showing you the exquisite horror of the limitations of the flesh once set upon with knives, axes, or teeth and claws.  Sometimes, a movie mixes these two; the blood ‘n’ guts are used as set pieces to accentuate the terror that’s going on that you don’t see.  Nerve-jangling dread punctuated with gory exposition; it’s a marriage that doesn’t get pulled off often, but when it does, it’s gold to us Fellow Fans.

Dead And Buried, in part from the pen of Dan O’ Bannon of Alien and Return of the Living Dead fame and directed by Gary Sherman, is in my opinion one of those rare occasions that this balancing act is performed and made to look easy.

The sleepy little burg of Potter’s Bluff is a picturesque seaside village; you might find some nice photographic opportunities along the beaches; you might find yourself lured in by a pretty face and set on fire.  Sheriff Dan Gillis finds himself working a mysterious accident case, where a visiting tourist is horrifically injured, and is thus unable to speak or identify himself.  Things seem suspicious to the lawman; the wounds are inconsistent with the way the man was found, and he begins to feel that the “accident” scene was a set up to hide a murder attempt.  While he is investigating this occurrence, further strange happenings involving the violent deaths of other drifters, tourists, and passers-by add to his feeling that something is very amiss in this little town.  Things unravel further when the recovering “accident victim” is viciously murdered in his hospital bed; things get weirder still when we, the audience, see the recent stiff having a sandwich at the town’s greasy spoon a short time later, whole and hearty.  All of this is of course unseen by Gillis, who tries to get some answers working with the town’s coroner/undertaker, who is performing the post-mortems on some of the town’s aforementioned unfortunate visitors.  However, the old man’s cryptic speeches and near-necrophilic attitudes just further muddy the waters; he seems both dotty as hell, and yet to know more than he’s telling. 

Sheriff Gillis and an unfortunate "visitor"
Sheriff Gillis and an unfortunate “visitor”

Making matters worse, Gillis’ lovely schoolteacher wife, Janet, begins displaying odd behavior; she makes curious visits around the town, has strange books in her bureau…but she also has a knack for always being able to conveniently explain the inexplicable.  All of this weighs upon the officer, and as he presses on with his investigation, forced to ask questions that have no logical answers, he begins to question his own sanity…

…suffice to say, when the shit finally hits the fan, poor Dan Gillis’ life changes in a hell of a lot more ways than one.

This movie has always been one of my favorites; there’s just a particular feel that the taut direction and gray, foggy setting gives you that’s hard to describe, and apparently hard to duplicate; I find precious few films that have such a palpable feeling of dread.  I was reminded of Messiah of Evil at times, The Stepford Wives others; the script consistently delivers that paranoid feeling that everyone knows something you don’t, and they are out to get you.  You have experienced, recognizable actors in the lead roles (James Farentino, Melody Anderson, and Jack Albertson), and a plethora of familiar faces in supporting roles (Lisa Blount, Bill Quinn, Barry Corbin, and even Robert Englund!).  Topping off the great story, moody direction, and talented cast, we have special effects by the late, great Stan Winston.  Loose the hounds!  From folks aflame to one of the most sphincter-clinching scenes you’ve ever witnessed involving an eyeball, the gore effects, while not necessarily plentiful, are brutal and satisfying (there is one effect that Winston did not do, and although it’s not terrible, it’s clearly not the work of the same FX team).  

This poor SOB thought his day couldn’t get any worse…

All of these factors considered, the movie is still a largely unappreciated one;  I always find it odd that you don’t hear a lot about it except from hardcore horror fans; this film should really have gotten more recognition…but that’s the way it is in a lot of cases for our chosen passion, eh guys?

For a late-night flick that has an honest-to-goodness chill factor along with some nice, gory goodness, I personally believe that you’ll have to look far and wide to find a better choice than this little classic. 


 O’ course, that’s just what I think.



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Andrew Thompson

Editor-In-Chief at LeglessCorpse
The Mouse...VP/co-owner of LC Films, Editor-In-Chief of your average guy with what is most likely an unhealthy affinity for horror movies, sci-fi, superheroes, bacon, old cartoons and horror movies. Oh, I almost forgot, I really dig horror movies; new ones, old ones, it matters not; I love 'em. Husband, father, veteran and scribbler. I like bacon as well. The Mouse abides 😉