We need a category on this site called ‘films we really should have seen by now’ and until now that would have been headlined by Dead and Buried. So why is this low-key horror effort from 1981 so apparently essential? It’s not so much the film itself which a relatively straight-forward horror thriller but rather the cast and crew.
Penned by Ron Shussett and Dan O’Bannon, the writing team behind Alien, and featuring a young Robert Englund of Freddy Kreuger fame, there’s some heavyweight talent on board here.
Dead and Buried is set in Potter’s Bluff, a typical little American town with a dark secret. The film opens on the town’s beach where we see a photographer who is approached by a young lady (played by the sadly-missed Lisa Blount). She seduces him but it’s a trap. The man is beaten to near death by a mob of locals who give him a good kicking while the lady photographs the whole incident (a feature of later murders in the film).
He is then tied to a tree and set fire to. Strong opening. The locals then stage the whole thing to look like a car accident. Because they are pricks. And, for a while at least, everyone buys it.
Local Sheriff Dan Gillis’ investigation leads him to suspect more foul play (probably because he was more burned than the car and had clearly been beaten up) and he becomes even more suspicious when a) more visitors to the town die and b) the photographer wakes up in hospital, fully bandaged up, and is stabbed in the eye with a syringe and killed by the girl from the beach.
As the grisly deaths mount up, Sheriff Gillis enlists the help of Dobbs, a creepy but respected local coroner who sends up several red flags by constantly going on about how much he likes restoring dead people so that they can have open casket funerals.
At this point, it’s your basic Village of the Damned style local murder ‘em up and the film does an okay job of delivering that kind of film thanks to the apparently senseless murders which counterpoints excellently with the apparent normalness of Potter’s Bluff’s inhabitants.
When a family turns up in town looking for petrol, the locals trap them in an abandoned house and attempt to kill the couple and their young boy. It’s a scene that is remarkably worrying as it shows the locals have literally no agenda other than kill anyone they don’t know. Even helpless families.
However, Dead and Buried’s zombie alluding title hints that there is more to the story and there is. The story begins to hint at more supernatural reasons for all this killing and the final third of Dead and Buried and the film does start to mix things up.
The Sheriff starts to suspect something is up when analysis on skin samples of a person he accidentally drives into suggests that the body has been dead for months and when his wife starts showing an interest in voodoo magic and zombies in particular, he starts to question the reality of life, and death, in Potter’s Bluff.
While not being a spectacular film, Dead and Buried has moments. From the macabre kill scenes, to the relentlessness of the locals and the film’s end sequence, it leaves you with some lasting memories.
Sure, the ultimate reason for all this killing is basically nonsense and some of the actors are prone to overacting – ’80s horror films are often littered with older actors who have clearly done their share of stage acting and don’t always know when to dial it back – but Dead and Buried has enough going for it to make it worth a first watch, maybe a second a decade or so later and that’s about it. Not an essential buy but a great example of early ’80s horror with a twist.