Review Date: January 20, 2009
Released by: Blue Underground
Release date: 1/27/2009
Region A, HDTV
Codec: VC1, 1080p
Widescreen 1.78:1 | 16x9: Yes
Director Gary Sherman envisioned Dead & Buried
as a dark comedy, but coming out in 1981, it was marketed full out as a splatter picture. The truth is that it’s neither – too somber to ever be considered humorous, and too slow-moving to deliver traditional splatter thrills. Despite this indefinite characterization, the film has long endured with horror fans, and Blue Underground has heard the call. Dead & Buried
marks their third entry onto Blu-ray, after the beautiful debut of The Final Countdown
and the noise-laden opposite of The Stendhal Syndrome
. Is this new release more the former or the later? Well, it shares the same lead from The Final Countdown
, so that’s a good sign, right?
Welcome to Potter’s Bluff. It’s a quite coastal town, filled with foggy shores, small town hospitality…and dead bodies! The film begins with a photographer setup on the beach taking scenic pictures just long enough for the viewer to get a sense of the film’s main location. Once that is done, a beautiful young lady arrives, offers to pose, and flirtatiously disrobes. Before the photographer gets a chance to do anything, he himself is photographed as a group of Bluff residents tie him up and beat him. As he pleads for his life, one of the surly members strikes a match and burns and mutilates his body. Who are these people, and why are they doing it?
Sheriff Dan Gillis (James Farentino
) wonders the same question, as more and more of the town residents begin turning up dead. The recent influx of cadavers allows Gillis to get friendly with the local mortician, William Dobbs (Jack Albertson
). Dobbs is an eccentric, who dances around the morgue listening to big band music while chatting with the dead. He is obsessed with his craft, and enjoys restoring the dead to their pre-mortem beauty. He is also good friends with Gillis’ wife, Janet (Melody Anderson
), who Gillis finds out has been turned on to witchcraft.
Running out of motives for the recent slew of murders, Gillis begins to entertain the idea that witchcraft is behind it all. Could it really be that the dead have been reanimated by spells, or is there something more dark and sinister behind all the madness?
Dead & Buried
is a good film that is constructed from parts and clichés of better movies. The opening murder of the apparent main character recalls Psycho
, the climatic burial scene is right out of Deathdream
, and the anonymous costal murderers and foggy location shooting resembles The Fog
. Considering Buried
was partially penned by Dan O’Bannon, whom at the time was a close friend of John Carpenter’s (his name is even one of the characters in The Fog
), it is a wonder at how many story ideas for The Fog
and Dead & Buried
had been bled together. When the film is not playing off the successes of previous horror classics, it is recycling time tested genre clichés, like jarring musical queues, “it was only an animal!” shocks, random murders and characters carelessly sneaking up on each other. The film is at times insulting in how much it borrows from the genre staples, but it manages to still be effective thanks to solid production values.
The strong point of the film is undoubtedly Stan Winston’s gore effects, as eyes are punctured with needles, corpses reconstructed from scratch and bodies rotting. Although it may not be as graphic as Savini or Bottin, it possesses a realism that has scarcely been equaled in cinema. Save for one fake insert shot (of which Winston had no part) every effects shot could pass for real. Even if the story languishes at times into clichés, Winston’s effects always seem fresh, and are the main reason to see the film.
Although Sherman intended Buried
to be a black comedy, the most effective moments of the film are the somber ones, like the first murder and the melancholic theme song. Winston’s gore is great, but some of the more suggestive scenes, where the zombies slowly walk in silhouette, are just as effective in creating a strong atmosphere. Dan O’Bannon talks in a featurette on this disc about the power of atmosphere and location, and cinematographer Steve Poster manages to create a scary uncertainty to the town of Potter’s Bluff. Setting a film on the coast allows the filmmakers to play with hazy photography and intense fog, as well as to suggest a location with a deep and shady past. Like Carpenter’s coastal films, The Fog
and Village of the Damned
, the location is every bit as important as the characters in Dead & Buried
. The film may not structurally make sense, but it certainly feels like a good horror film.
The end of the film ends on a zinger, and while it may be effective in terms of shock value, it doesn’t hold up to close scrutiny and leaves a gaping plot hole into the entire film. If the ending revelation eludes the main character the entire film, why aren’t others facing this dilemma? The main character is the only one not to know the secret not because it is plausible, but simply because the plot requires him not to know in order for there to be an actual story. For a movie that Sherman claims was meant as an intellectual horror film, there certainly wasn’t much time spent thinking up a suitable ending.
As it stands however, Dead & Buried
is still a film that horror fans should appreciate. It appeals more to the gut than it does the mind, since the gore and atmosphere create an effectiveness that the clichés, borrowing and plot holes do not. Not bad, but not great either.
I had my qualms with the original DVD release and its extreme grain. There were so many dancing pixels in that fog that there were bound to be artifacting problems. With this new Blu-ray, the grain is still there front and center, but thankfully the added space and resolution of the format have made the grain much easier to tolerate. Unlike The Stendhal Syndrome, where the grain looked more like sharpened digital noise, this grain possesses an organic quality that seems to fit the original look of the film. Considering how shrouded in shadow the film is, the added contrast latitude here provides a lot more visual information that was previously blacked out. While the transfers and the blemishes seem to be the same between the Blu-ray and the DVD, there’s one noticeable exception. The opening from-the-camera shots have optical viewfinder focus aids in the Blu-ray, whereas in the DVD they were clear. The gist that what is being shown is from the camera is already evident from the smaller image and rounded edges, so the added circles on the Blu-ray are more a distracting redundancy. Other than that, though, this is no doubt a pretty significant improvement over the previous DVD release.
Sound wise, Blue Underground adds two more speakers to their already overkill 5.1 DVD track with both DTS-HD and Dolby True HD 7.1 tracks. Still, they do once more what they did with their original mix, and that’s provide some pretty enveloping audio effects. I noted in my original review that “The 6.1 track utilizes an effective amount of surrounds, whether it is the crashing of glass, sounds of the waves crashing, or the puttering of a vehicle. Dialogue is also separated nicely, particularly in a scene where Janet and Dan talk from different rooms and the sound alternates from front right and rear left speakers.”
and that’s again the case here. The added speakers don’t seem to do much more, but the added space allotted to each track provides for a slightly fuller sound. With all the added space of Blu-ray, though, you’d think Blue Underground would have been able to keep the original mono track, which is curiously absent from this release.
This Blu-ray disc opens up with another classy and effective menu screen from the Blue, although the pop-up buttons are pretty bulky and generic this time around. On The Final Countdown Blue Underground really made a menu structure that complimented the feel of the film, and hopefully they go back to that sort of style for their later releases. Content wise, though, this disc retains all the quality supplements from the previous release, minus a few still galleries. Here’s what we’re talking about
First up are three commentaries. The first commentary is with director Gary Sherman, and he has an interesting amount to say regarding the film, his influences, the changes that were imposed on Buried
and even the state of horror writing today. Sherman is a strong speaker, and does a good job at sustaining this track, even if it does contain a fair number of pauses. Less interesting is cinematographer Steve Poster’s commentary, which remains mostly technical. He divulges some good information on how shots were accomplished, but much of this had already been discussed in Sherman’s track. Still, Poster offers enough to make it a worthwhile listen. Co-writer.co-producer Ronald Shusett and actress Linda Turley provide a joint commentary for the third track. Shusett has plenty to say, and his recollections of the novelizations of his films is interesting. Turley is comparably fairly quiet, but still manages to get a few good anecdotes in. Blue Underground worker David Gregory moderates the three tracks, and deserves credit for making sure the speakers always have something to talk about.
There is forty minutes of video-based content, and the three featurettes included are all very entertaining. The best of the bunch is “Dan O’Bannon: Crafting Fear”, a 14 minute interview with the screenwriter who spends most of his time speaking about the horror genre itself rather than the film specifically. O’Bannon is a true intellectual, and his musings on the power of fright and the impact George A. Romero are much deeper than the traditional filmmaker interview. He is a great listen, and certainly speaks better than he dresses (nice bowtie). “Robert Englund: An Early Work of Horror” contains another memorable personality who is always able to mount some interesting anecdotes. Freddy’s alter ego talks about his beginnings in the industry and then more specifically the horror genre, and then speaks about his recollection of the film for the remainder of the 12 minute runtime.
Stan Winston voices the final featurette on the disc, which is a look into his effects work on the film. While Winson speaks well for the 18 minute entirety, the featurette seems a little less effective than other effects documentaries. The main problem is a lack of behind the scenes footage, since the featurette is mostly Winston’s talking head. Compared to Savini’s behind-the-scenes effects docs, this just isn’t as compelling. However, Winston’s warm and proud recollections of the effects are nice.
Steve Poster's still gallery was one of the few galleries that was actually worth going through on DVD, since it had a personal introduction that gave the stills more weight than normal. It's absence is the only notable omission from the disc. Thankfully the trailers are still intact, which memorably lampoon travelogue videos before showing the darker side of the Bluff. Overall, a fine batch of extras.
Dead & Buried
moves with the same pace as its fog rolling in off the coast, but as far as downer horror flicks go, it’s certainly one of the better eighties entries. It may be derivative of better movies like The Fog
, but considering all the pillaging Robert Rodriguez did of this in Planet Terror
, it itself has qualities worthy of imitation. This Blu-ray provides a nice visual upgrade from the previous DVD release, although it is still grainy as all hell. The audio sounds slightly fuller in 7.1, but the deletion of the mono track from this release compared to the DVD was a silly move. Unless you care about still galleries, the extras are still their same, enjoyable selves. Fans will likely want to upgrade, and those who haven’t seen the film should at least check it out. With Stan Winston gone now, this remains as good a film as any of his to celebrate.
*Because of the quality of the HD format, the clarity, resolution and color depth are inherently a major leap over DVD. Since any Blu-ray will naturally have better characteristics than DVDs, the rating is therefore only in comparison with other Blu-ray titles, rather than home video in general. So while a Blu-ray film may only get a C, it will likely be much better than a DVD with an A.
Movie - B
Image Quality - B*
Sound - B+
Supplements - A-
- Running Time - 1 hour 34 minutes
- Rated R
- 1 Disc
- Chapter Stops
- English DTS-HD 7.1
- English Dolby True HD 7.1
- English Dolby Digital ED 5.1
- English SDH subtitles
- French subtitles
- Spanish subtitles
- Commentary with director Gary Sherman
- Commentary with co-writer/co-producer Ronald Shusett and actress Linda Turley
- Commentary with cinematographer Steve Porter
- “Stan Winston's Dead & Buried EFX” featurette
- “Robert Englund: An Early Work of Horror” featurette
- “Dan O'Bannon: Crafting Fear” featurette
- Theatrical trailers