Let’s talk about a classy movie!
Dead & Buried is a 1981 flick that takes a different approach to zombies. It is written by Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett who is best known for writing the classic sci-fi/horror flick Alien. That’s a fact that the poster really wants to sell this movie on – “The creators of ALIEN… bring a new terror to Earth.”
Dan O’Bannon also made Return of the Living Dead which is pretty much a zombie movie hall of fame entry from the mid 80s. It’s fair to even say that O’Bannon’s work on that movie, matched with the Godzilla movies, and Roger Corman, helped create my love of B-Movies and, thus, well…
Here we are.
But what is this movie about? Well, let me do something I haven’t done in a while, and give you a synopsis directly from the back of the DVD box: “Something very strange is happening in the quiet coastal village of Potters Bluff where tourists and transients are warmly welcomed, then brutally murdered. But even more shocking is when these slain strangers suddenly reappear as normal, friendly citizens around town. Now the local sheriff (James Farentino) and eccentric mortician (Jack Albertson) must uncover the horrific secret of a community where some terrifying traditions are alive and well… and no one is ever really DEAD & BURIED.”
Well, damn. That sounds great. A few things to note about Jack Albertson. He’s the grandpa in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Also, this is his last movie before he passed away. Finally, an ex-girlfriend’s mom used to say he was like her uncle or grandpa or something, but I dunno. I kinda think she was full of shit.
Another side note, this was almost instantly labeled a “video nasty” upon release in Great Britain. However, it was acquitted of its charge of being obscene and released. Frankly, this movie is pretty classy in comparison to a lot of 70s and early 80s horror. It’s not quite like it’s got hypodermic needles in peoples’ eyeballs or nuthin’.
What I really like about this movie is prevalent from the get-go. This is a movie about a small town on the coast. It’s atmospheric and has a haze to it that almost seems to set it in a time of pleasant memories and nostalgia. Things are kind of glossed over with the slightly more hazy or soft focus appearance and seem to give a little extra layer of things not really being what they seem. There is also a very soft piano score that is calming and lulls you into a false sense of security.
The movie begins with a photographer coming to a beach to take pictures. While he shoots some of the scenery, he soon sees a part of the coast that really catches his eye. And mine too. So there’s this really hot blonde chick on the beach with the blonde hair and the knotted red top and the tight jeans and the what have you. She asks him about his camera. He’s immediately taken by this girl, who he names “Lisa”. He starts taking pictures of her – as you do with a hot blonde in the sexy red shirt and the sexy tight jeans.
Even better? She pops open that shirt and asks him what he thinks of them apples (my words, not hers). She invites him for the sex. No surprise, he takes the bait – which gets him fucked up by some locals. It’s a legit horrific scene of him being jumped and based about by pipes and crowbars and shit. He’s strung up to a post and given a gasoline bath and burned to all the fuck get out while Lisa and a couple other locals take pictures and film of it.
Alright, so we are in the movie now!
The attackers have staged everything so that it looks like the photographer’s VW van wrecked and then caught on fire with him trapped inside. Our sheriff has been called to the scene to investigate as well as the old, kind of kooky mortician. All this to confirm that, indeed, that guy taking photos of that hot blonde is fuckin’ toast. While we’re at it, speaking of toasted up guys in horror movies, Robert Englund is one of the co-stars in this movie. In fact, this DVD set that I have has an entire special feature about his involvement in this movie and his early days in horror.
The town’s sheriff, Dan Gillis, is apparently a hot shot as well. Freddy Kruger said something about how he’s some sort of primetime bitch who has all sorts of criminology smarts and the town sure is lucky to have him helping out the little people of the town. That night, our weirdo people with their cameras get another victim in the form of a drunk sailor man who floated into town.
We learn a little more about our kindly old mortician, Dobbs, who views himself as an eclectic artist. He goes on and on about how he makes dead people look good. In fact, he goes into a little too much gory detail for the sheriff’s liking. The dead sailor shows up and Dan is called in. One guy from a fiery crash is one thing. A second situation with a dead body, well, even if it turns out to be a second accident, that’s odd.
With the help of the local hotel owner, Dan learns more about the first victim, the photographer. Turns out Dan’s wife, Janet, knew him. The guy at the hotel, though, was a bit unsure of telling the sheriff that his wife stopped by to “see” the photographer.
Say… The sheriff’s wife is Melody Anderson. She’s real pretty. She was also in Flash Gordon (which is where I crushed on her pretty hard as a small boy), and she was in the B-Movie Enema featured Cannon Film Firewalker starring Chuck fuckin’ Norris.
Anyway, her knowledge of the photographer only deepens the confusion Dan fields about all this stuff. She saw the photographer at the local school. She says he was there to sell equipment to the school, but when Dan starts asking around, the principal says that no such transaction happened. As it turns out, even, the photographer actually did not die, even though he looked burned all to shit the other day. He’s still barely hanging on. Dan really wants to try to talk to him but the doctor says that he ain’t got no lips so he’s really going to be hard to understand.
While he and Dan talk about this poor sap in the other room, Lisa comes in looking, somehow, hotter as a perfectly put together nurse than she did with her boobies flopping out on the beach, and sticks the photographer in the fucking eyeball with a needle. Now here’s the thing. She didn’t even bother to take the needle out. Like, there is not even an attempt, not one fucking attempt, to hide a murder here. Lisa… That’s pretty sloppy. Your hotness level is going to have to take a little bit of a dip.
Dobbs has the goddamn nerve to then come up to Dan and tell him he’s disappointed in the sheriff for not getting the photographer’s name. Apparently, they just buried him in the town in a closed casket. Dobbs said that maybe his family would have asked him to do… something. But Dobbs is kind of a fucking crazy old man. It’s already evident because he talks in great detail about all the shit he does to these bodies and then, when Dan tells him to go fuck himself with this bullshit he’s coming to him with, Dobbs then says Dan makes him sick.
Dan takes this relatively hard, you know, like a good cop would. Janet, his wife, seems really flippant about all this. When he tells her what’s on his mind, she just kind of says, “Okay, yeah, that sounds real rough, babe, but I’m, uh… I’m gonna go.” So she beats cheeks and leaves some undeveloped film for him to take somewhere that her students shot.
Meanwhile, a family comes passing through and in need of some gas. Turns out our gas station attendant is the dead photographer! I sure hope he is getting some sweet, sweet Lisa puss now considering she went to such great lengths to kill him and leave all the incriminating evidence behind. The town basically sets a trap for this poor family to cause them to swerve off the road, and lure them into a scary dark house. This is another really effective scene as we see people watching them from shadows and moving around in the background, and so forth.
While the scene is really well shot, and pretty spooky, I will have to say I have some issues here. Okay, luring the photographer with a sexy girl is one thing. Attacking a drunken sailor who can’t really fight back… These are things I can understand. However, this dumb wife in this family forces her husband to look inside this obviously abandoned house, and even go into the basement to try to find the people who are probably “fixing the fuses” when they can’t get the lights to turn on. The guy tells her he wants to leave. He thinks the place is unsafe. They have an injured child and, yes, you probably want to get that kid some help, but in an abandoned house… Well that just doesn’t really work.
They do get out by the skin of their teeth, and it does lead to a really cool shot of the townsfolk slowly walking toward their car as they frantically try to get it started to get out of there. Which only leads to someone suddenly popping up into the backseat to try to take their kid. It’s all well done, what with the diversion of having you look in one place only for a new threat to come out from the other place, but I do question the logic of the set up.
It does pay off with Dan being distracted with the family driving real fast to get out of town only for him to hit one of the townspeople with his car. However, he gets a little surprise when he sees the arm still moving around on the grill of his car. He is understandably freaked out. The one-armed man, hits Dan in the back of the head, takes his arm, and runs off into the night. Dan tries to follow only to lose the guy in a barn.
If a couple bizarre deaths and a guy running about while holding his other arm in his hand isn’t enough to really stoke Dan’s flames of wanting to solve these weird crimes, he finds a book about witchcraft and voodooism and a ceremonial dagger in Janet’s underwear drawer. Janet claims she is just going to give a lecture on witchcraft because kids like creepy stuff. She then pulls some bitchy attitude when he rightfully asks what’s up with all that.
Dan does some detective work by dropping off the film to be developed. He also learns about a car that Robert Englund towed out of the water that looks like the car he saw hauling ass out of town. On top of that, he scraps some stuff off the grill of his car to get analyzed to try to find human cells. While he works at that, the hotel owner claims he saw the photographer in town, which Dan doubts. However, he’s convinced to ask Janet about it to help show he’s telling the truth.
Turns out, Janet knows a whole fucking bunch about zombies. She’s telling these kids about how people would be turned into zombies, a master cutting out their hearts to make them an army of the undead, and then go and kill people and bring them back to the master to then become another zombie for the army. Hmm… Melody Anderson might be one spooky chick in this movie.
A young lady hitchhiker is picked up by, as it turns out, the dead drunken sailor, and is murdered. She’s brought to Dobbs who is also becoming more and more suspect of all this murder shit as he caresses her mashed up face and talks lovingly to the girl about making her beautiful again, and, in fact, more beautiful than before… Yuck. Jack Albertson might be a creepy old dude.
There is a really cool crossfade scene of him remaking the girl by first stripping her skin off down to basically her muscle over her skull and rebuilding her face. It’s why you hire Stan Winston to do your special effects. After he’s completely recreated her and leaves, another person in the room, makes themselves known and revives the girl.
Dan’s lab work comes back on the bits of skin off his grill. It turns out it is necrotic flesh that’s been dead for about 3 or 4 months. After Dan leaves, the lab guy does some more tests, and discovers something new about a piece of skin only to be attacked by the killer townspeople who melts his fucking face off with acid. Again… You hire Stan Winston for that sort of shit.
The next morning, Dobbs is waiting for Dan who reports that the hitchhiker is missing. He planned on burying her this morning, but when he showed up to get her body, she was gone. He doesn’t want a whole lot of attention around this because his reputation would be severely damaged. That’s when he mentions that Janet visits him all the time – which is news to Dan. He asks Dobbs if he has anything to do with her interest in Voodoo and zombies and stuff. Dobbs acts offended that just because he fucks about with dead bodies that he would be into that creepy shit.
Dan finds a file about the dead photographer. It is a request to transfer the body. When Dan tries to find Dobbs, he walks in on his assistant using skin-colored cream to repaint his arm. Dan has the undertaker dig up the photographer’s grave so he can transfer the body. The undertaker is hesitant without order from Dobbs, but Dan tells him to do it anyway. When the coffin is opened, the body is missing and only a small bundle of clothes wrapped around his heart is found.
Dan sends a report to try to find out more about Dobbs. He then picks up the film and runs into the doctor whose face was just melted off by the people in town. He assures Dan that it isn’t possible for the dead to be restored to life. However, we already know he IS a dead body restored to life! DUN DUN DUNNNNNNN!
The report on Dobbs comes back saying that he was wanted for unauthorized use of dead bodies. Dan tries to find Janet, probably to tell her shit ain’t what it seems around here, but she’s not home. He fires up the projector to watch her students’ project and finds a really creepy ass black and white film of two people fucking. The woman stabs the man and kills him. Soon, Lisa is seen, as well as the rest of the townsfolk to collect the body. The murderer is Janet.
Dan is understandably pissed off.
Dan storms into Dobbs’ place and demands to know what’s up with Janet. He tells Dan that he found Janet drowned in her car. Dobbs brought her back to life. He won’t tell Dan how he did all the resurrections. He says he’ll take his secret to the grave. That, by the way, is movie code for “We really don’t want to explain it, so we ain’t gonna.”
Dobbs taunts Dan to kill him so he can be one of his own creation. Janet comes in spouting lines she said earlier. Dobbs says the dead have no memories except for what he gives them. After Dan shoots her a few times, she realizes she’s dead and begs to be buried. Dan then shoots Dobbs, much to the old man’s delight. Dan goes after Janet who has put her in the photographer’s unearthed grave still begging for him to bury her. Inside, Dobbs starts working on himself to bring him back from the dead.
The townspeople, all with cracks and skin issues from being dead, all pay their respects to Dan and Janet. Soon, Dan goes back to Dobbs in the mortuary and he’s shone the very end of the filmstrip. It turns out Janet had murdered him. Dan has been dead for some time and his hands are starting to crack and his skin is crumbling too. The movie ends with Dobbs offering to fix his hands and restore him.
This is a very effective movie. That said, it isn’t without its issues. As I mentioned previously, there are a couple points in which the logic is funky. Like, we have the out of town family who stupidly stumble around an abandoned house when they should have booked it a long time before being attacked. The lack of interest to tell us how Dobbs was able to master the whole zombie thing is going to really depend on how the viewer feels about that sort of storytelling. What I’m saying is some will like the ambiguity and some will find it lazy – I, myself, go back and forth on how I feel about it.
However, there is an old-timey feel to the movie. Honestly, there are only a few brief moments in this movie that earns its R rating. It definitely seems to want to feel like a movie that captures a time gone by. Dobbs is very attached to an old piece of music when he works and the town itself is a bit of a throwback. The costuming looks older, and even the acting is melodramatic and goes for an over the top feel that you often see in older cinema.
Like I said at the very beginning of this article, it’s a pretty classy movie.
That may not be so much the case next week. In the 70s, there was Exorcist fever everywhere. Movies about possession and demons exploded after a horror movie would be considered one of the best of movies of the year and get nominated for all sorts of Academy Awards. That’s the case here. Come back in a week to see what I think of the 1974 Italian ripoff movie Beyond the Door! It’s where evil grows, demonic possession lives, and grows… and grows… AND GROWS!