Director: Gary Sherman
Starring: James Farentino, Melody Anderson, Jack Albertson, Dennis Redfield and Robert Englund
Continuing with my deep dive into 1980s horror, I came across Dead & Buried from 1981, Directed by Gary Sherman with a screenplay written by Ronald Shusett and Dan O’Bannon. Dead & Buried tells the story of Potters Bluff a small town with the inviting line of ‘A new way of life’ written on the signs welcoming you to the town.
The opening scene of this film is one of the most effective openings you’ll ever see. It starts with a slow sequence of a photographer taking photos of the local area and then of a young woman who offers to model for him. All of this accompanied by a slow, subtle and foreboding piece of music by Joe Renzetti. Without any warning, the scene turns dark and the photographer is beaten and set on fire by a group of people. The change in tone is beautifully done and completely out of the blue. Straight away this film tells you things are going to be ugly.
We then shift gears as the local sheriff of the town, Dan Giles (which he describes as no bigger than a postage stamp, starts to investigate this murder. It’s been framed as an accident, but his gut feeling tells him otherwise. It’s not long before other bodies are joined to the death toll and the sheriff ends up unwinding a conspiracy leading to a shock ending that makes sense and isn’t your first guess.
This should be considered more of a thriller detective film than a straight out horror. It definitely isn’t scary, although it does have it’s moments and there is an unsettling tone throughout that will keep you gripped to the end. The effects don’t help the lack of scares. They are pretty dated and look fairly poor even for 1981, the year after Friday the 13th came out. If you can ignore that get on board then you will be in for a good time.
At 90 minutes the film feels pretty short, it’s paced well and never feels like it’s dragging. The story builds up nicely and gives you enough suspense and gore that you won’t be checking your watch. As I’ve mentioned, the ending works well and is a good payoff.
The music is one of the highlights throughout the film. Joe Renzetti perfectly punctuates the film throughout with a chilling score that adds to the tension and unsettling feeling. There are a couple of moments when it is too much and does spoil a jump scare or two, but these are few and far between. For the most part the score is brilliant. The opening piano piece, which reappears in the credits is haunting and stayed with me well after watching the film.
The performances are pretty good. Not spectacular but believable enough to carry the film along. The stand out performance is Jack Albertson, who plays the local mortician William G. Dobbs. He’s strange, eccentric and full of energy that brings the whole film to another level. Without his performance this film would be borderline forgettable.
With a stunning opening that rivals some of the best openings in horror cinema, Dead & Buried is well worth watching. It may be dated, with some very poor special effects that look poor, even for 1981, but there is some tense scenes in the film. There are a few times when the camera feels like it’s in the wrong place and you can’t quite make out what’s going on. A moment of horror when a family is trying to escape in a car, is ruined by not being able to see everything. The camera placement is probably down to budget more than anything else, but it does ruin an otherwise heart-racing moment. Dead & Buried is entertaining and will keep you guessing to the end. There are a lot worse ways to spend an evening.