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Dead & Buried (1981)

April 4th, 2019 by unkle lancifer · 10 Comments

The other night I was struggling with the age-old question of what to watch when I suddenly realized I was in the exact perfect mood for Gary Sherman’s 1981 shocker DEAD & BURIED. This must have been the very first R-rated movie I had ever seen because once upon a time, nobody asked about your age when you were in the back seat of a crowded car at the drive-in. You’d think that over the decades I’d come to find this movie less frightening than the first time I saw it and you’d be partially correct but the truth is, it still leaves me thoroughly creeped out. Here are some of the reasons I still find this underrated and relentlessly bleak, paranoid classic uniquely disturbing.

THE OPENING SCENE. D&B opens with a photographer taking photos on a beach. He meets a beautiful young woman (Lisa Blount) who slyly seduces him and just when he’s about to seal the deal, he is instead beaten by random townspeople, tied to a poll with a fishing net and then set on fire while the mob encircling him smiles and take photos. No matter how many times I see this movie, this startling introduction never fails to alarm me. Perhaps even more unsettling than the brutal violence is the way the fish netting twists, distorts and mutates the victim’s face. I can’t think of a more distressing visage, it’s as if it foretells the burn scars he’s about to acquire. Somehow the poor dude lives and is taken to a hospital but his recovery is short lived. Completely vulnerable and covered head to toe in bandages, he is visited by the same treacherous young lady who instigated his assault. Dressed in nurses’ garb she presents the worst remedy ever conceived- a hypodermic needle administered straight through the eye! Imagine surviving so much only to endure a crueler fate when you’re in the most vulnerable state imaginable- it all still upsets me. 

THE LOST FAMILY. Right smack in the middle of the film we are unceremoniously introduced to a couple and their young son who are lost in the remarkably foggy town. To avoid hitting a man that darts in front of their car, they crash into a telephone pole. Although we’ll find out shortly the car is quite operable, the beyond befuddled couple decides to venture into an abandoned dilapidated house to search for ice for their child’s head (yes, these people are insane). Making matters all the more surreal, the original sound of this scene must have been lost because this entire portion of the film is abysmally dubbed, resulting in tons of superfluous dialogue and general awkwardness.

It seems every move and decision the trio makes is frustratingly ill-advised. At one point the mother even surmises that the owners of the (clearly abandoned) abode must be in the basement fixing the fuse box and suggests that her husband go down to verify her demented fantasy. It’s truly crazy-making watching this family stumble about while the shadows of maniacs wielding weapons loom just out of their view. Nonsensical and partially infuriating as this entire segment is, it’s also beautifully shot and genuinely unnerving to me. Eventually, crazy townsfolk are jumping out of every closed door and crevice like demented jack-in-the-box clowns engulfing the terrified trio. As the family somehow makes it back to their vehicle, the way the ravenous mob is presented as a mass of menacing silhouettes following them is stunningly nightmarish (and brings to my mind the finale of THE DAY OF THE LOCUST). It’s hard not to feel bad for the hapless child, who is dragged about like a suitcase throughout and has no say in the blundering decisions of his ineffectual guardians.

THE FOUND FOOTAGE. The entirety of D&B is filmed in a gloriously gauzy and grainy way that rather resembles peering through dusty cheesecloth. Remarkably the murky-visual-ante is upped even further when Sheriff Dan Gillis (James Farentino) develops a mysterious roll of film for his wife (Melody Anderson) and decides to check out its horrific contents. I won’t give away the devastating plot point he discovers but I will say it is presented in a POV semi-snuff looking way that leaves you with the unclean feeling of having witnessed something vile and atrocious. Years before THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, D&B presented this grittier than a Philly mascot slice of visual miasma and it still feels as disorienting and downright icky as ever. I don’t know if it’s the leering oldsters, the decrepit surroundings or Joe (CHILD’S PLAY) Renzetti’s persuasive score but combined with the clips sleazy revelation it really gets under my skin. I can almost smell the moldy dank air as I write this and I also get a poisonously putrid Lovecraftian vibe. 

Not everything in D&B makes sense but I believe that is part of the reason I find it so disturbing. Some folks are able to “fall out” of a movie when it presents something that is unlikely to occur but I sometimes find such lapses in logic remind me of the relentless way an inescapable nightmare works. I get the feeling that the writers didn’t fully lock down exactly what is going down in Potter’s Bluff, there are mentions of voodoo, witchcraft, and pseudo-science but when a definite explanation is teased by the central culprit it is soon nipped at the bud with, “I’ll take my secrets to the grave.” I’m fine with that. I find the horror in DEAD & BURIED especially potent because it is so darn amorphous and impossible to fully pin down. You get the sense that Potter’s Bluff is a town abandoned by light and rationality long ago and now it’s kind of stuck in an endless death spasm. I wish I could chalk up the way DEAD & BURIED hits me in my psychological Achilles’ heal to mere nostalgia. The truth is the inescapable mortality that engulfs the town like an impenetrable fog may be even more unnerving to me today than it was when I witnessed it in my youth.

Tags: General Horror · Traumafessions · Uncategorized

10 responses so far ↓

  • 1 micksterNo Gravatar // Apr 4, 2019 at 5:02 pm

    I finally watched this one recently, and it really is creepy.
    Those parents were morons!

  • 2 bdwilcoxNo Gravatar // Apr 4, 2019 at 5:33 pm

    I think a number of things can contribute illogical twists in a plot: poor script, bad directing, substandard editing, too many cooks, a prematurely diminishing budget, and acting that was allowed to go off the rails. But when a movie doesn’t make sense and that creeps me out even more, like a fever-dream nightmare, I think of the David Lynch factor. Lynch said that of course he doesn’t know what his movies mean and if he did he wouldn’t make them. I think sometimes a seemingly random plot change just seems right to the director and they go with it even though they, themselves, don’t understand why it works.

  • 3 Chuckles72No Gravatar // Apr 4, 2019 at 10:29 pm

    I saw this a few years ago for the first time as an adult – I actually think it was a KT post or maybe a comment that got me to it. Anyhow, when I watched it I had one of those “forgotten trauma” moments where I suddenly remembered that I saw part of it when I was a kid – it was the after feature at a Drive-in show and I was supposed to be asleep.

    I don’t recall the foolhardy parents so much, but the rest of it is pretty vivid. The ending is a little clumsy but it makes up for it with Grandpa Joe finally going full Willy Wonka.

    I should add that I have been watching a crapload of Tubi TV after the recommend on this site. It has so much stuff that I have not been able to find anywhere else. I just watched The Lost Room on Tubi – this was a SciFi channel miniseries that many have forgotten but I highly recommend (not horror, more sci-fi).
    Next up – Curse of the Blair Witch (Fake documentary about a fake documentary – it’s great!)

  • 4 unkle lanciferNo Gravatar // Apr 5, 2019 at 12:08 am

    Mickster, I agree- the parents are maddening! It makes the scene all the more nerve-racking. It’s really hard to beat the atmosphere in this movie; truly creepy.

    bdwilcox, Lynch probably scares me more than anyone for that very reason. Now that I think about it, the supernatural/undead element in D&B isn’t nearly as frightening as the simpler mob element. Witnessing “normal” people outnumbering and attacking the victims so maliciously really gets to me.

    TUBI is the best! There’s so much good/rare stuff on there! The shock ending of D&B really freaked me out too. So many films have done similar things since then but this was the first movie I had ever seen that ended on such a hopeless note. Nobody wins in D&B.

  • 5 piptNo Gravatar // Apr 5, 2019 at 6:30 am

    Love, love, love this movie. Totally agree with you about the look of the film, the grainy, foggy look gives it such a great spooky surreal feel. I think I might dig out my Blu Ray and watch it tonight. Thanks Unk!

  • 6 hannitronNo Gravatar // Apr 6, 2019 at 8:11 am

    This is just to say

    i’ve been worshiping Kindertrauma for years now, it is set as my browser’s home page, it’s the first thing i see every morning when i sit in front of my computer screen.

    I’ve laughed, discovered flicks i’d never heard of, got reminded of others i’d forgotten about, i’ve even welled up at times [RIP Figgy :’-( ].

    It has also made me feel real useless and ignorant when i couldn’t recognize ANY of the funhouse pics just to find out after reading the comments section that almost all of them were out of movies i’d already seen or even loved, but that’s another story XD.

    Kindertrauma has been a huge part of my online life all this time and yet i never had the guts to register and speak out -until i read this piece on Dead & Buried.

    See, for me, Dead & Buried represents the definition of kindertrauma, even though i was well in the two-digit age group when i first happened on it at the video store [about 13]. Thirty five years later, i can still recall the chills i got the moment i laid eyes on that cover on the shelf.

    This piece you wrote is almost word for word what i would have written about this horrifyingly exhilarating encounter of mine with this flick, were i able to express myself as eloquently as you, Unkle Lancifer. The feelings, the dread, the darkness you’ve described, every little detail you put in words in this? it’s like my thirteen year old self has all of a sudden come back to life after three and a half decades. Damn, i’m welling up again 🙂

    Thank you, Unkle Lancifer, and thank you, cool members of this community for the countless moments of nostalgia, your teachings, your feelings you’ve been unknowingly sharing with me all this time.

    I love you all <3 Love and hugs from Athens, Greece.

  • 7 unkle lanciferNo Gravatar // Apr 6, 2019 at 9:50 am


    Thank you! That is one of the nicest comments I have ever read! I really appreciate that. I’m so proud we’re your home page and so glad we are bringing back memories and movie titles for you. It’s so cool to know that somebody all the way in Greece feels the same way about DEAD &BURIED! It sounds like we were the same age when we both saw it! And thanks for mentioning Figgy too. Does my heart good to know we are reaching you and that you’ve stuck with us for so long! You are the best! love & hugs back from Kindertrauma!

  • 8 Matt SunshineNo Gravatar // Apr 6, 2019 at 10:22 pm

    I agree with hannitron, Lance. Awesome write up for Dead and Buried. I also could have written this word for word. Except, this isn’t a childhood film for me. I saw it for the first time because it kept popping up here on Kindertrauma.

    I love the opening of the film too, as well as Joe Renzetti’s score. And I always wondered about the fishnet wrapped around and distorting the victims face..and on top, foretelling the future look of his burned face. Was that on purpose? Did anyone else notice that or am I just crazy?

    I was hoping you would have done a more thorough review for Halloween 2018, but I understand you are busy. However, if you feel up to it, I always enjoy reading your stuff.

  • 9 hannitronNo Gravatar // Apr 7, 2019 at 9:36 am

    unkle lancifer omg, my friends are gonna get so tired of my bragging about getting a reply from you XD <3

    Matt Sunshine i wish i could have one tenth of your ability to find the answers to kindertrauma funhouse quizzes, you're one of the brightest stars of this community in my eyes!

  • 10 Matt SunshineNo Gravatar // Apr 8, 2019 at 8:47 am

    Lol hannitron, are you being serious?

    Well, thanks man. But the truth is, even if I answer 4 films in one funhouse correctly, by the time Lance puts up the answers, I realize at least 2 other films in the bunch that I have seen, BUT DID NOT recognize.

    Nice of you to make your presence known, anyway. Lance & John have both lead this site for over a decade, and by example we treat each other and each others opinions with respect.

    Try joining in the next funhouse as well. Lots of us just take guesses when we’re not positive. The point is fun, and discovering a new favourite title you might not have otherwise.

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