Dead & Buried (1981)


A small town sheriff (James Farentino, The Final Countdown) is baffled by a sudden series of grisly murders.

Reaction & Thoughts:

 “I’ll take my secret to the grave.”

Unfairly ignored during its original theatrical release, Dead & Buried is one of those movies that was lucky enough to find a second life in the home-video market  — it is now considered a cult classic. Nearly forty years later, I think this eerie and unusual horror movie has held up against the test of time.

Dead & Buried had the misfortune of coming out at the height of the teen-oriented horror craze of the 1980s. Frankly, this is hardly the stuff teenagers get excited about: it has a predominantly older cast, the story unravels at a snail’s pace, there is very little nudity and sex, and violence is brutal but infrequent.

But the film’s atypical treatment of genre tropes is what sets it apart from more generic spook fests. For example, we learn the identity of the killer (or killers) in the first ten minutes, and sharp viewers should be able to predict the shocking climax. Morbid jokes — the movie has a devilish sense of humor — are deliberately inserted at the oddest moments. It’s patently clear that the film’s main goal is to confound viewers’ expectations, and in that regard the movie is a complete success.

As the original theatrical poster proudly announces, Dead & Buried was written by Ronald Shusett and Dan O’Bannon, the two men who wrote Ridley Scott’s classic Alien. Shusett, O’Bannon (he subsequently disowned the film) and director Gary Sherman (Death Line and Poltergeist III) are able to achieve a distinct atmosphere of dread and menace that persists from the opening shots to the very last scenes.

Strange and moody, Dead & Buried does everything in its power to make the viewer feel uneasy. The creepy little town seems like something conjured up by the mind of author Stephen King. The dilapidated houses, the old and dirty cars, the muddy and foggy streets, the lack of modern technology,  people sport passé hairstyles and clothes, everything appears to be either dated or just plain lifeless.

While making a movie is a collaborative effort, two things stand out (for me, at least): Stan Winston’s (Terminator 2: Judgment Day) then state-of-the-art make-up effects (he has a field day creating a handful of gruesome killings), and Oscar-winning actor Jack Albertson’s (Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory) beautifully creepy performance (one of his last movie roles) as the town’s pathologist and mortician.

In addition, I have always enjoyed James Farentino’s work. It’s too bad that his movie career wasn’t bigger (Farentino found better opportunities on TV). This is probably his best movie role. Farentino’s intense performance is the emotional hook that compels us to partake in the policeman’s bizarre, almost surreal quest for justice. Melody Anderson (Flash Gordon) has a rather unusual role as Farentino’s wife. Robert Englund (A Nightmare on Elm Street) has a small role as a townie.

Conclusions & Final Thoughts:

Dead & Buried is almost like a throwback to the Hammer and/or Amicus films of the 1960s and 1970s. The film also evokes classic horror movies like Frankenstein and Invasion of the Body Snatchers. While it’s true that Dead & Buried isn’t’ perfect, this is exactly the kind of movie I recommend to fans of slow-burn ghoulish tales. Give it a try, you won’t be disappointed. Color, 92 minutes, Rated R.

20 responses to “Dead & Buried (1981)

  1. Much like “The Thing”, which also came out at a time when horror fans were interested in seeing teenagers have sex and then get murdered….so glad you gave this gem a shout out – great review!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Yikes! This is excellent. You’ve convinced me to give it a shot! I’m terrible about horror movies and have always wanted to broaden my horizons where they’re concerned. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I have never heard of this film before now, but it sounds really good. I agree with you about James Farentino. One of those actor’s that for some reason never really broke through. Great post!😀

    Liked by 1 person

  4. This came out during the year when I really started going to movies…2-3 times a week at our brand-new local multiplex. But I have no idea why I didn’t go see this one…a cool title, and great poster…I should’ve at least given it a try on dollar night! But you’ve definitely got me interested now, so if I can find it on-line or at my library, I’ll give it a look!

    Liked by 1 person

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