In the small coastal town of Potter’s Bluff, a horribly burnt man is found close to death in a car wreck. Dan Gillis (James Farentino), the town’s sheriff, suspects foul play, especially when the corpse of a fisherman is discovered soon after, clearly murdered. As the bodies pile up, Gillis learns that his wife (Melody Anderson) has developed an unhealthy interest in black magic and the supposedly dead have been spotted alive and well and walking around town.
Dead & Buried was written by Dan O'Bannon and Ronald Shussett, previously collaborators on the script for Alien, and is stylishly directed by Gary Sherman, whose 1972 film Death Line remains one of the 70s’ most underrated chillers. Like Death Line, Dead & Buried has an eerie tone pitched somewhere between black comedy and full-on horror, and Sherman does a decent job of keeping things unpredictable. What starts like a Deliverance-style tale of redneck locals picking on unfortunate visitors to their town eventually turns into a full-on zombie chiller, as sheriff Gillis uncovers Potter’s Bluff’s terrifying secrets.
James Farentino plays his role in suitably grizzled fashion – his performance is pure TV movie (which isn’t surprising given the number of shows he was in throughout the 70s and 80s), while the supporting cast ranges from excellent (Melody Anderson) to terrible (Joe Medalis, playing the town’s doctor). Standout is the late Jack Albertson, an Oscar-winner in 1968, and here playing the undertaker Dobbs. In his final film role, Albertson gets all the funniest lines and relishes the part of the jazz-loving mortician whose only regret is that once the casket is closed, his ‘art’ is hidden from the world.
Released at the height of the slasher craze, Dead & Buried doesn’t skimp on the nasty stuff, much of it provided by Stan Winston. After finishing the film, Sherman was told by producers to go back and add in some gory inserts, and these are pretty effective – a syringe plunged into an eyeball, a man burning alive, a wriggling severed arm – although if there’s a less realistic fake head than the one that gets pumped full of acid, I’m yet to see it.
In the end, its the weird atmosphere that keeps Dead & Buried compelling, even when the plot gets pretty ridiculous – which it really does, especially in the final third. Haunting music from by Joe Renzetti, and watch out for an appearance from a pre-Freddy Krueger Robert Englund.
American director who headed two cult classics: Death Line and Dead & Buried. Apart from directing ads, his other films included Vice Squad and the ill-fated Poltergeist III; in the nineties, after the little-seen Lisa, he concentrated on television.