Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Dead And Buried (1981): Potter's Bluff Is My Kind Of Town!

Upon recommendation from a review by James Gracey of Behind the Couch, I opted to check out this quiet little gem that has been sitting under the radar since its release in the most fabulous year in horror ever: 1981.
It was also right under my nose on my Netflix queue, and though it was slowly working its way up to the top, I did some rearranging and here we are.

Directed by Gary Sherman and based on a short story written by Alex Stern and Jeff Millar, Dead and Buried was adapted for the big screen by Ronald Shusett and the late, great Dan O'Bannon (Alien, The Return of the Living Dead, etc.) and tells the story of local sheriff Dan Gillis (James Farentino) and the residents of a small coastal town called Potter's Bluff. 
Did I ever mention how much I love horror movies based near the ocean?  Well, my love of Jaws should prove that on merit alone, but I am a big fan of seashore terror.
Moving on...

When a visiting photographer is seduced by a local woman, it turns out she wasn't trying to have sex with him after all: she was luring him to his death so a mob of villagers could beat him senseless, tie him to a post, and set him on fire.  What is terribly unnerving about this though, is that the townsfolk all whip out their cameras and start taking pictures as the screaming man burns to death. ("Say Gasoline!!") They plant his body in his van and make it seem like an accident - kind of like a criminal would do on an old episode of Charlies Angels or Kojak.

Only thing is, the poor soul doesn't die.  Yet. 
While Sheriff Gillis discusses the case with coroner/mortician Dobbs (Jack Albertson in a role far from his jovial, Fizzy-Lifting drinking Uncle Joe in Willy Wonka), the gravely wounded photographer is offed in a most unpleasant manner while at the hospital under the care of a nurse who happens to be the very woman responsible for the earlier seduction and the victim's ultimate demise. 

Something is not quite right in Potter's Bluff. 

The sheriff begins to notice that visitors to Potter's Bluff are ending up dead, and how. Anyone that stops over, gets lost, breaks down, needs directions, or even comes there on purpose is pretty much doomed.  As Gillis attempts to figure out what is going on, we as the audience are given a good, hard, jolting dose of reality when the photographer shows up very much alive and working in the town as a gas station attendant.  (What?!)
No burning car or untimely death is going to keep Freddie down! (Speaking of Freddys: Robert Englund himself has a role here as one of the townsfolk!)

When Gillis takes it up with Dobbs, he gets a rambling speech about how much skill it takes to get a body ready for burial and how much of a talent he is to the business.  It is an awkward moment and we are meant to be aware that something is off with the undertaker.When is that not true? Those creepy undertakers anyway... (sorry, Shawn!)

After the good sheriff runs someone over with his car in a moment of unbridled stupidity, he is aghast when the man he hits retrieves his severed arm from the grill of the police cruiser and runs off.   This furthers his speculation that there is something very wrong in his little town.  A pathologist in town (because all small towns have their own pathologist!) runs some labs on a piece of remaining flesh from the car bumper and informs the sheriff that the person he hit has been dead 4 or 5 months, that there is no way that tissue from that arm is alive. 

Utterly beside himself, Gillis has a background check run on Dobbs, only to find out he lost his previous pathology job due to performing unauthorized autopsies.  Hmm...
When he tries to get some comfort from his wife, she brushes him off and acts too busy to discuss it.  When she leaves, Gillis finds a book on witchcraft, among other things, in her dresser drawer.  We are then witness to her teaching a classroom of kids about zombies. Yeah, that's where your tax dollars are going, people!

With all the pieces to the puzzle still not quite fitting together, Gillis finally deduces that Dobbs is quite possibly responsible for the deaths of the out-of-towners and comes to the conclusion that he has been luring them to Potter's Bluff for years to be guinea pigs for his morbid fascinations.  Only thing is, what he finds in addition to those truths may ruin his entire existence and everything he holds dear.

Albeit a tad slow, especially in the beginning, Dead and Buried has a  lot going for it.  Great, spooky atmosphere with lots of fog banks (crucial for coastal horror) much in the same vein as The Fog, interesting characters which you actually begin to care about, and a twist ending that if close attention isn't paid will go completely past you.  While the film would have benefited from a quicker pace and better acting by minor characters, it's still a creepy little installment in the seashore horror sub-genre.


JP "Strange and Shocking Turn Of Events" Wendel said...

One of the most underrated horror films out there, great review.

Christine Hadden said...

Thanks JP!
I definitely think this is an overlooked film that deserves more praise.

Michele (TheGirlWhoLovesHorror) said...

I reviewed this a little while ago too, and yeah, I was also pretty stoked at how awesome Dead and Buried was - especially since I had never heard of it before! It seems to be very overlooked and definitely worthy of praise, because it is so different than other movies of its time. Great movie and great review!

Christine Hadden said...

Thanks Michele! And I have no idea how this one slipped by me for so long. It will be worth the menial price I paid for the DVD, as I'm sure it will get repeated viewings!

Luis said...

Another one that I was lucky to see on its original theatrical run. I'm really glad that newer generations of horror fans are discovering this film. Perhaps the best "creepy town with a secret" film of the 80's.

Anonymous said...

Is there any quaint little eastern seacoast remaining in the U.S. that is similar to Potter's Bluff or to the town in "The Fog"? A town that is atmospheric, old fashioned, not developed and laden with box stores and chain restaurants. A town that is basically a bedroom town that has retained its old fashioned charm?