Dead & Buried
Review Date: August 27, 2004
Released by: Blue Underground
Release date: 7/29/2003
Region 0, NTSC
Widescreen 1.85:1 | 16x9: Yes
is, despite whatever ambitions director Gary Sherman had for it, a product of the early 80s splatter movement. This movement, more than just slasher pictures, was all about overwhelming the viewer with make-up effects and intense style. Even the taglines of pictures of the time were meant to involve the viewer in the horror, (“What you see can’t hurt you, it’ll kill you!”, “You won’t be coming home!” or even Dead & Buried
’s tagline, “It will take your breath away. All of it.”) The ambiguity of horror films past had been replaced with gory detail, and among the 80s splatter, Stan Winston’s work in Dead & Buried
remains one of the most memorable. Long a fan favorite, Buried
has been given the deluxe two-disc treatment by Blue Underground. Is it worth seeing, or better left Buried
on dusty VHS shelves?
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.
Blue Underground presents the film in an anamorphic 1.85:1 transfer, and the end result is ridden with grain. Right from the daytime credits up until the final shot, there is a thick coat of grain throughout the picture. At times it can be very distracting, as pixels dance uncontrollably in the background, making the fog seem as if its hosting its own little disco party. The print is also extremely dark at times, making it tough to make out some of the happenings in the night sequences. And although it was a stylistic choice by Sherman, the print is desaturated to a point where the image remains murky and unappealing throughout. Poster shot an atmospheric film, but it certainly isn’t one of clear and beautiful imagery. This transfer could have looked much better.
While the Blue’s video transfer left plenty to be desired, the audio is up to their usual high standards. Presented in either 6.1 DTS ES, 5.1 DD EX, Dolby Surround 2.0 or the original mono track, the film sounds great. 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. Joe Renzetti’s somber and accomplished score also comes through very nicely. While the sound can be a bit flat at times, lacking some needed bass, it still remains a strong surround remix, and will certainly not disappoint.
The first disc contains 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. The disc is rounded off with a few good trailers and a poster and still gallery.
The second disc runs only forty minutes in terms of video-based content, but 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 provides some very well shot location stills to round off the second disc. He gives the pictures a written introduction, and his humble introduction gives all the pictures more emotional weight than the standard gallery. The DVD is also packed in a nice slide out digipack with a shiny cover, with that ever prominent poster image remaining effective as ever.
Dead & Buried
owes its debts to better horror films and horror clichés, but the moody atmosphere and excellent gore effects make it easier to overlook the story problems. The video quality on the disc leaves much to be desired, but Blue Underground makes up for it with some solid audio tracks and a plethora of good extra features. Fans of the film should be satisfied despite the weak transfer, but others are recommended to pick up The Fog
or Blue Underground’s Deathdream
, which deal with similar subject matter, instead.
Movie – B
Image Quality – C+
Sound – B+
Supplements – A-
- Running Time - 1 hour 34 minutes
- Rated R
- 1 Disc
- Chapter Stops
- DTS ES 6.1
- Dolby Digital EX 5.1
- Dolby Surround 2.0
- Dolby Mono
- 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
- Poster and still gallery
- Steve Poster's location stills gallery