1: The Opening Scene
DEAD AND BURIED has the most horrific opening scene I’ve ever experienced and it still haunts me to this day. It seems no matter how familiar I become with this scenario it never fails to unnerve me. It’s pretty simple; a photographer on a beach bumps into a pretty girl and she offers to pose for him in increasingly seductive ways. Just as he’s thinking he’s gotten lucky, a mob of random townsfolk beat the living daylights out of him, wrap him in a net, and set him on fire. So many things disturb me here; the betrayal, the trickery, the cruelty, the horror of being outnumbered, the way his face is monstrously distorted beneath the netting, the chilly calmness of the attackers, my Frankenstein-like general fear of fire and just the simple nightmare of going from contentment to pure horror so swiftly. Yikes.
2: The Cast
Vastly underrated JAMES FARENTINO (THE POSSESSED,1977) portrays everyman Sheriff Dan Gillis and he sturdily grounds the entire film. I’d put his journey of existential self-discovery on par with the protagonists of BLADE RUNNER (1982) and ANGEL HEART (1987). MELODY ANDERSON is equally well cast as his sometimes doting, sometimes darkly mysterious wife Janet who can change shades from kewpie doll cute to Noir dame sultry at the drop of a hat. JACK ALBERTSON (WILLY WONKA AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY) is as quirky as he is sinister and DEAD AND BURIED boasts his final cinematic performance. Horror fans will surely be happy to see ROBERT ENGLUND in one of his early pre-Freddy roles and LISA BLOUNT (PRINCE OF DARKNESS) is the ultimate ice queen.
3: The Cinematography
Thanks to cinematographer Steven Poster (who was also DONNIE DARKO’s director of Photography), DEAD AND BURIED has a distinct look all its own. It’s gauzy, foggy, murky and I’d bet, completely immune to being sharpened by a high definition upgrade. It’s almost like an amorphous dream, soft around the edges, where you can’t quite clearly get a visual handle upon everything. If the overall gritty rawness weren’t enough the story allows a further visual deconstruction via out of focus, BLAIR WITCH-style homemade snuff films that eventually weave their way into the gruesome proceedings as well.
4: The Town
You can almost smell the saltwater when you visit DEAD AND BURIED’s little town of Potter’s Bluff. There are many visual references to coastal life and franchise stores are nowhere to be found, every joint is a mom-and-pop shop. The entire place feels lost in time and you’re more likely to see a 1950’s hairdo than anything resembling then current eighties fashion. Director GARY SHERMAN (RAW MEAT, 1972) wanted the kill scenes to pop and therefore regulated that the color red (even car lights were changed to purple) would not be visible unless it was due to the sight of blood. This consistency of the muted hues makes the film’s setting (in my eyes) resemble decades away video games like RESIDENT EVIL or SILENT HILL more than its fellow eighties horror films.
5: Stan Winston’s Special Effects
STAN WINSTON is a veritable genius and DEAD AND BURIED lets him show off his talents frequently (he’s not responsible for a lesser effect shoehorned into the film’s climax by producers). The one effect I do want to specifically point out involves a victim bandaged head to toe who comes to a bad end thanks to a hypodermic needle being shoved into his lone exposed eye (!). Here’s the thing; rather than an actor being wrapped in bandages, WINSTON created an entire mechanical body beneath to squirm and react to the horrific fate! I would never have known that based on the film itself. It’s an incredible, seamless effect.
BONUS: Favorite Line:
My favorite line is the last one delivered just before the credits roll but I won’t share that here in fear of ruining the ending for a first-time watcher. Suffice to say it is spoken ALBERTSON’s character, Dobbs the elderly local coroner/mortician and it hits like a casket slamming shut.