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Dead & Buried DVD

Tagline: The writers of alien... ...bring a new terror to earth.


Pizza: Pizza Rustica


A look of horror washes over their faces, as if they'd just seen a ghost. That's the reaction I get when someone asks me for a horror film recommendation and I answer DEAD & BURIED. Fer Chrissakes, anyone can answer NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968), THE EXORCIST (1973) or THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (1974). Why ask someone if you already know the answer? And although those are indeed my three favorite horror films, DEAD & BURIED is my favorite underrated horror film.

George the Photographer
I came across D&B quite accidentally. It was on Cinemax in the early 1980s while I was cleaning my room of its clutter, a task I still practice daily. The movie was just starting so I figured, What the hell?
Lisa, the killer flirty girl-next-door
It opened with a guy named George photographing a deserted stretch of beach in the sleepy, New England seaside town of Potters Bluff (I think there should be an apostrophe there, but who am I to argue with the town's sign?). He soon comes across Lisa, a flirty girl-next-door. It's all fun and games until someone, in this case George, gets clocked. Within seconds, a bunch of people swarm in using shovels and tire irons to bring him down.
George wrapped in a net
Then, they wrap him in netting to keep him upright and harnessed to a pole. It's done so violently that George's nose is squashed to its side, a tiny detail that adds terrific realism. From here, he's doused in gasoline, and before someone lights a match, this line is delivered: "Welcome to Potters Bluff." As George goes up in flames, the mob takes out cameras to document the event. This has got to be the worst welcoming committee I've ever seen. (SAD MOVIE TITLE IRONY ALERT: Christopher Allport, who played George, died last year in an avalanche.)

This guy is getting a needle in his eye!
Apparently, these townsfolk then moved George into his van and crashed it, making his charred body look like an accident. But Sheriff Dan Gilles (James Farentino), like any good movie hero, is suspicious. Potters Bluff doesn't get many deaths like that. But it will. Before the 94 minutes are up, people will get bludgeoned by large rocks, have acid pumped into their faces, get fish hooked and harpooned, and in a tour-de-force of special effects, a needle will be plunged into someone's eye. The latter is truly a clever and effective hardcore horror film moment that works every time, and I'm not even a huge Bunuel fan.

One of the things I love about D&B is how that first scene with George and Lisa sets the tone, and said tone remains impossibly consistent till the very end. For this is no mere slasher film, this B-movie is really a playful mystery or even a thriller dressed up in horror clothes.

Potters Bluff townspeople
Potters Bluff indeed has its odd characters, with Sheriff Dan never knowing who to suspect; horror staple Robert Englund (pre-Freddy), Bill Quinn (Mary Richards' dad!), workaholic actor Barry Corbin, mortician's assistant Jimmy (an early appearance by Glen Morshower, so great as Aaron on 24), and the scene-stealing Jack Albertson (who knew he was dying when he was making this movie) as mortician Dobbs. Why, even Dan's wife Janet (Melody Anderson) raises his eyebrow, especially when he drops in on her class lecture on witchcraft.

Sheriff Dan (James Farentino) and Dobbs (Jack Albertson)
Credit to director Gary Sherman who went about this with careful premeditation. This film has a look. It has a feel. Sure, it's very low budget and the look and feel seem cheap at times, but it's tenably solid in mood. There's a dim and grainy look to this movie even in the daylight scenes. There's mist and fog everywhere. And because he wanted the blood to stand out, he made sure it was the only red in the entire film (even tail lights and revolving beacons were changed to blue lights).

I'd also like to congratulate Dan O'Bannon and Ronnie Shusett for their script, but I'm not sure I can. While Shusett claims it was a page-one rewrite of a script by Jeff Millar and Alex Stern (who ended up with "Story By" credit), partner O'Bannon says he just doctored the script. But the O'Bannon/Shusett script ALIEN was so huge at the time they eventually took the credit, figuring their names would surely give D&B a marketing boost. Sadly it didn't work so well, as DEAD & BURIED's release was, well, you know...

Years earlier, O'Bannon did write a fantastic super low budgie with John Carpenter directing called DARK STAR. A funny and prescient ALIEN parody (the computer is called "mother" here too), where the alien is less monster than beach ball.

Dobbs works his magic
Another big part of D&B's magic is the great realism behind the recently departed Stan Winston's effects. But his work on DEAD & BURIED (one of his first features) was not limited to the death scenes. There's a stunning sequence where Dobbs makes a mutilated face all pretty again, all thanks to Stan Winston (those are actually his hands performing the "operation"). You should really check out Winston's body of work (
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stan_Winston). It's more than impressive.

I love so much about DEAD & BURIED, right down to its eerie piano-tink theme (Joe Renzetti), but by now I suppose you've guessed that. I even rented the VHS from my own store in the 1980s, and while racing to work, left it on the ashtray near the elevators (that mistake cost me $25). I also bought the 2003 Limited Edition (I have copy #8877 of 50,000!) 2-disk DVD, and I don't even buy DVDs that often. And I have the paperback (unread, natch)...somewhere. So imagine how thrilled I was when I learned a friend of mine knew director Gary Sherman. He set up a lunch meeting for a project for the three of us to work on, but I didn't care about the dumb project. All I could do was gush about DEAD & BURIED. I'm sure he thought me a nut.

Welcome to Potters Bluff

The only two things that really bother me about D&B are 1) One of the deaths looks really fake. It makes sense that it's the only one not perpetrated by Stan Winston (they couldn't get him back for reshoots). Now to be clear, I don't mean it looks really fake, I mean it looks spectacularly fake. It should never have made it into the final cut. And 2) There's a bit of a cop-out at the end. As an audience, we want to feel satisfied with the "how and why," and we're not. Though events leading up to the end are thrilling every step of the way, we walk away a bit empty.

You may ask, So Rich, what is going on with all these murders? Are the dead Potters Bluffians really coming back to life? And if so, how? Call it black magic, call it a medical breakthrough. I'll take my secret to the grave.


The chosen preshow fare for this month's RMC were two sitcoms from the 1950s. First up, Betty White as the title character in LIFE WITH ELIZABETH. The show's announcer was future game show host Jack Narz, who coincidentally died 18 days before we watched this. I loved Jack Narz. Besides being part of game show royalty (brother of Tom Kennedy, Brother-in-law to Bill Cullen), he was the narrator on the first few ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN shows (he went from that to ELIZABETH).

Life with Elizabeth starring Betty White
LIFE WITH ELIZABETH was actually Betty's first real gig. She was working at the TV station where she was scooped up for this show, as was costar Del Moore. The first of the three short skits found Elizabeth and her husband Alvin at home. She's reading a thriller and every sound in the apartment scares her. The second segment had Elizabeth and Alvin on the porch as she ogles the new (unseen) neighbor. And lastly (yes, they did save the best for last), the couple go to the mechanic to get their horn fixed by Elmer. Though apparently a two camera shoot, these early sitcoms were like a document of live theater, with stagnant two-shots lasting eternity.

Private Secretary with Ann Sothern
We only got to see a few minutes of Ann Sothern in SUSIE - PRIVATE SECRETARY, but it was a fun few minutes. Susie is an air traffic controller. No, not really...she's a private secretary. The story had something to do with a Metropolitan Opera star and a woman Susie's boss was seeing. Sothern did a staggering 153 episodes before walking out on her contract, only to start THE ANN SOTHERN SHOW.


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