Dead & Buried (4K UHD)

Director: Gary A. Sherman
Screenplay: Ronald Shusett & Dan O’Bannon (story by Jeff Millar & Alex Stern) )
Stars: James Farentino (Sheriff Dan Gillis), Melody Anderson (Janet Gillis), Jack Albertson (William G. Dobbs), Dennis Redfield (Ron), Nancy Locke Hauser (Linda), Lisa Blount (Girl on the Beach / Nurse Lisa), Robert Englund (Harry), Bill Quinn (Ernie), Michael Currie (Herman), Christopher Allport (George Le Moyne / Freddie)
MPAA Rating: R
Year of Release: 1981
Country: U.S.
Dead & Buried 4K UHD
Dead & Buried

It is unfortunate, although not entirely surprising, that Gary Sherman’s atmospheric horror thriller Dead & Buried got a bit lost during its initial theatrical release. Despite being a sharply etched horror-thriller that managed a neat balancing act between old-school traditions of the resurrected dead and modern slasher tropes, it also happened to come out during the major resurgence of horror films that flooded the market in the early ’80s—“the biggest glut of nightmare movies in film history,” according to a 1981 article in The Washington Post.

According to a November 1980 article in Variety, nearly 40% of all domestic picture rentals that year were horror and sci-fi films. The year 1981 was even bigger, with the release of major horror sequels like Halloween II, Friday the 13th Part 2, and Omen: The Final Conflict; the special-effects-laden werewolf movies The Howling, An American Werewolf in London, and Wolfen; the slasher films Hell Night, The Prowler, My Bloody Valentine, and Graduation Day; European imports like The Beyond and House by the Cemetery; and, of course, Sam Raimi’s seminal horror-comedy The Evil Dead.

Nevertheless, like many well-crafted, low-budget horror films, Dead & Buried managed a second life on home video and went on to become a cult classic. It also earned a certain amount of misplaced notoriety because it was included, likely on the basis of the title and poster art, on the British Director of Public Prosecutions’ “video nasties” list in the early 1980s (interestingly, the Chicago Film Review Board, one of the last municipal film censors still in operation at the time, tagged it as being inappropriate for anyone under 18 even though the MPAA had already given it an R rating). The film was advertised heavily as being from “the creators of Alien,” Ridley Scott’s genre-defying sci-fi/horror hit from 1979. The screenplay was credited to Ronald Shusett and Dan O’Bannon, who had penned the Alien screenplay, although it was later revealed that virtually all of the writing on Dead & Buried was done by Shusett, as the vast majority of O’Bannon’s contributions had been dropped (the original story is credited to Jeff Millar, a film critic and creator of the long-running comic strip Tank McNamara, and Alex Stern, who apparently never wrote anything else that was produced).

The story takes place entirely in Potters Bluff, a small seaside town—it could be northern California, it could be New England—where things are a bit … unusual. The film begins with a startlingly effective sequence in which an out-of-town photographer (Christopher Allport) is on his way to being seduced by a sultry local (Lisa Blount) on the beach before finding himself suddenly and shockingly confronted by a group of townspeople (led by his would-be seducer) who beat him senseless, tie him to a pole with fishing net, and set him on fire. It’s a great shocker of an opening, and nothing else in the film quite lives up to it, although it effectively establishes the idea that anything can happen—any seemingly benign situation could turn suddenly horrific—and there is definitely something very, very wrong in Potters Bluff. Much of the story unfolds through the eyes of Sheriff Dan Gillis (James Farentino), who is charged with investigating the town’s murders. Dan is from Potters Bluff, but he is also an outsider because he left to pursue an advanced degree in criminal justice before returning. His wife, Janet (Melody Anderson), is young and seemingly vacant in a way that feels increasingly sinister. The town’s most memorable character, though, is William G. Dobbs, the local mortician played with maniacal and comical verve by Oscar-winning veteran character actor Jack Albertson in one of his final roles.

One could argue that the film’s true star is the make-up special effects work by Stan Winston, who had already won a pair of Emmys for his work on the made-for-television movies Gargoyles (1972) and The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman (1974), but was still a few years away from the international fame he would achieve working on John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982) and James Cameron’s The Terminator (1984). Winston’s effects are a times conventionally grisly—a hypodermic needle directly to a character’s eye, a throat slashing—and at other times are virtually invisible. One of his most notable effects is a surreal time-lapse sequence in which a woman’s crushed face is taken down to the bone and then reconstructed by Dobbs. While this makes the film sound incredibly gory, it really isn’t, partially because so much work has been put into its suspenseful elements and its evocation, via Steven Poster’s diffused cinematography, of desolate, fog-enshrouded isolation. Thus, when the violence occurs, it is shocking and nasty, but never feels gratuitous or out-of-place (although one sequence involving a young couple with car trouble bumbling into a large, deserted house at night is ludicrously drawn out and requires such idiotic behavior that it loses all tension).

Otherwise, Dead & Buried is well produced and solid in its suspense. As he did a decade earlier with his feature directorial debut, Death Line (aka, Raw Meat, 1972), director Gary Sherman elevates potentially preposterous material with a mixture of style and wit. The story winds its way into a crazed third act that feels self-consciously over the top, and it works better than it probably should. There is so much attention to pacing and suspense in the film’s first half, that it feels like a much-deserved cathartic release for Sherman to essentially allow the film to go careening off the rails in increasingly spectacular fashion.

Dead & Buried 3-Disc Limited Edition 4K UHD + Blu-ray + CD

Aspect Ratio1.85:1
  • English: Dolby Atmos
  • English: Dolby TrueHD 7.1 (48kHz, 24-bit)
  • English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
  • English: DTS-HD Master Audio Mono
  • French: DTS-HD Master Audio Mono
  • SubtitlesEnglish
  • Audio commentary by director Gary A. Sherman
  • Audio commentary by co-writer/co-oroducer Ronald Shusett and actress Linda Turley
  • Audio commentary by cinematographer Steve Poster
  • Audio commentary by film historians Troy Howarth and Nathaniel Thompson
  • “Behind the Scenes of Dead & Buried” featurette
  • Dead & Buried Locations: Now & Then” featurette
  • “Murders, Mystery, and Music”: Interview with director Gary Sherman and composer Joe Renzetti
  • “The Pages of Potters Bluff”: interview with novelization author Chelsea Quinn Yarbro
  • “Stan Winston’s Dead & Buried EFX” featurette
  • “Robert Englund: An Early Work of Horror” featurette
  • “Dan O’Bannon: Crafting Fear” featurette
  • Theatrical trailers
  • Poster & still galleries
  • Steven Poster’s location stills
  • Dead & Buried Original Motion Picture Soundtrack CD by Joe Renzetti
  • Insert booklet with new essay by Michael Gingold
  • DistributorBlue Underground
    Release DateJuly 20, 2021

    Blue Underground’s three-disc set features a new 4K 16-bit scan from the 35mm IP, with Dolby Vision HDR. They previously released the film on Blu-ray in 2009, and there was some criticism at the time of noise and the presence of damage. Those problems have been largely remedied in this new release, which uses the increased resolution and higher bitrate to bring out more detail and to better manage the inherent difficulties of the original cinematography, which is intentionally soft and hazy. There are numerous scenes that are shot in foggy and misty conditions, which could wreak havoc with the transfer, but is well managed here. There has been no attempt to artificially enhance or sharpen the image, which is commendable, as the transfer stays true to the film’s original look. The image is not very bright and intentionally leans toward muted, grayish tones. However, when blood shows up, it is bright and saturated, which was a purposeful strategy by director Gary Sherman and cinematographer Steven Poster. The Dolby Atmos soundtrack is very good, given the limited source material. Joe Renzetti’s score, which is also included in this package on a separate CD, is well represented in the multi-channel remix, as are various sound effects and atmospheric elements that help to heighten the suspense.

    As we have come to expect from Blue Underground, this multi-disc set is stacked with supplements, which include everything that appeared on the 2009 Blu-ray and a whole lot more. We get the same three audio commentaries from 2009, which together cover just about every aspect of the film’s production you could possibly want to know: one with director Gary Sherman; one with co-writer/co-producer Ronald Shusett and his wife, actress Linda Turley (who plays a waitress in the film); and one with director of photography Steven Poster. This release also adds a fourth commentary by film historians and horror genre experts Troy Howarth (author of books on Mario Bava, Lucio Fulci, and Dario Argento) and Nathaniel Thompson (author of the multi-volume DVD Delirium: The International Guide to Weird and Wonderful Films on DVD), who offer additional background, context, and critical analysis. From the 2009 Blu-ray we also get a number of featurettes, including “Stan Winston’s Dead & Buried EFX” (18 min.), which is an extensive interview with Winston about each of the major effects scenes (count me astounded when I learned that Freddie’s bandaged body was a full-size puppet!); “Robert Englund: An Early Work of Horror” (13 min.), which interviews the future Freddy Krueger about his work on the film; and “Dan O’Bannon: Crafting Fear” (15 min.), an interview with the film’s credited co-screenwriter, who discusses his general thoughts on the horror genre. Also from that disc is a gallery of Steven Poster’s location stills and several theatrical trailers.

    And now … on to the new stuff, of which there is plenty. We get more than an hour of new featurettes: “Behind the Scenes of Dead & Buried” (34 min.), which is comprised of raw 8mm footage shot during the film’s production with commentary by director Gary Sherman, cinematographer Steven Poster, and first assistant director Brian E. Frankish; “Dead & Buried Locations: Now & Then” (4 min.), which takes us back to the locations in Mendocino, California, where the film was shot to show how little they have changed since 1981; “Murders, Mystery, and Music” (16 min.), a conversation between Sherman and composer Joe Renzetti about their long professional collaboration (which includes eight feature films made between 1981 and 2006 and six episode of the television series Missing Persons); and “The Pages of Potter’s Bluff” (13 min.), an interview with prolific and award-winning author Chelsea Quinn Yarbro about her work on the novelization of Dead & Buried (there are some interesting comparisons between her prose and the corresponding scenes in the film). Also new to this disc are poster and stills galleries, the original motion picture soundtrack CD, and an insert booklet with a new essay by Michael Gingold about the history of Avco Embassy, the film’s theatrical distributor and their contributions to the horror genre in the 1970s and ’80s.

    Copyright © 2021 James Kendrick

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    All images copyright © Blue Underground

    Overall Rating: (3)

    James Kendrick

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