02 August 2014

(1981)

We enjoy zombie films just like the next person...but sometimes it's nice to see a movie with a different take on the subject matter i.e. where the undead don't move slowly with outstretched arms, their tongues lapping for live flesh.

Dead and Buried was directed by Gary Sherman and is a real treat. The script was courtesy of Dan O'Bannon and Ronald Shusett (Alien) and it is a clever piece of writing - with a sublime sense of humor and plenty of great twists.

Filmed in Mendocino, California, the action takes place in a small New England seatown.

On a beach in the town of Potters Bluff, a photographer (Christopher Allport) is on vacation and taking pictures. An attractive blonde woman (Lisa Blount) appears in front of the lens and they begin talking. She tells the man he looks like his name is "Freddie" and he guesses her name must be "Lisa."

The girl offers to pose for him and the photographer is thrilled. After some shots are taken, the blonde asks "Freddie" if he wants her. He approaches and the girl takes his camera away and snaps a picture of him. Just then, a group of four strangers attack the photographer with a crowbar...and then whack him in the head with a shovel.

The men lift the photographer up and bind him against a tree with netting. "Freddie" is in a daze...but when one of the men begins pouring gasoline on him, he struggles to free himself. There is a large group around him and some of the people are taking photos and filming the occasion.

A woman (played by Linda Turley) lights a match and drops it on him. The helpless man goes up in flames and screams in agony...as the blank eyed witnesses continue to snap pictures.

Sheriff Dan Gillis (James Farentino) is called to the scene of a car crash. The vehicle is on fire and turned upside down. The authorities are waiting for the local mortician/coroner, William G. Dobbs (Jack Albertson).

Known for his flamboyant entrances, the old man arrives in an ambulance complete with blaring music and flashing light. The photographer's charred body is visible inside the car and Dobbs reaches in to touch him. The victim is still alive and screams.

At a diner the next morning, Dan talks to Harry (Robert Englund) and his buddies about the unidentified man, who is in serious condition at a hospital. Madge the waitress brings the sheriff a cup of coffee. Dan is unaware that she's the same woman who lit the match that nearly killed the victim.

There's another attack that evening. A drunken fisherman (Ed Bakey) is walking around the boatyard. He's talking to himself and stops to lean against a wall. Suddenly, hands come out from behind the wall and grab him. Several of the people who ambushed the photographer appear. They again record the occasion as a man steps forward and slashes the sailor across the face and cuts his neck open.

Dobbs is at the mortuary listening to music from the 40s. The sheriff visits him and wonders if it's possible that the guy who was found in the car wreck could have been burned somewhere else and placed in the vehicle.

A call comes in about a murder and the two men head over to the area where the fisherman's body was found. They agree on one thing: this death was certainly no accident.

Dan goes to a small local hotel to try and find out the identity of the burn victim. Ben (Macon McCalmon), the proprieter, tells him that he hasn't seen one of the guests in recent days.

He takes the sheriff up to the man's room, where they find material on photography. There is no identification anywhere. Ben then informs Dan of something strange...the sheriff's wife had paid a visit to the guest in recent days.

Ben arrives home and asks his wife Janet (Melody Anderson) about it. She tells him that the man's name is George Le Moyne...and that she met with him because he was selling photographic equipment to the school where she teaches. The story makes sense until Dan runs into Mr. Haskell (Robert Boler), the principal, who claims that such a transaction never took place.

George is out of a coma in the hosptial. He's still wrapped in bandages from head to toe, with most of his body severely burned. Dan is talking to the victim's doctor, trying to figure out when the man will be able to talk. That might be hard, the doctor tells him...because George no longer has any lips.

As they're speaking, a nurse slips into George's room. Through an opening, the patient sees that the nurse is the same woman from the beach. George is unable to move as she sticks an injection in his eye. The doctor and the sheriff discover the horrific sight.

Dan goes home and is in a solemn mood. Janet arrives and her husband wonders where she's been. She tells him she had to work late and gives him a roll of film to develop...which she explains is a project her students are working on. She then leaves again to a "P.T.A meeting."

A family is lost in the middle of town. Ron (Dennis Redfield), his wife Linda (Nancy Locke Hauser), and their son Jamie (Mark Courtney) go into the diner to ask for directions.

Madge tells them how to get back on the road but the family still needs gas for their car. The waitress asks a gas attendant (who is sitting on a stool) to help them. When he turns around, we see that it's George Le Moyne!

The couple and their kid are about to drive out of Potters Bluff...when someone runs in front of their car. Ron brings the vehicle to an abrupt halt - and his wife becomes worried that their son might be hurt.

She sees a light go on in a house and they go in to get help. The home appears to be abandoned, but in fact, it's a trap. A group of townspeople descend upon the family with every conceivable weapon imaginable.

The family manages to get out of the house by climbing out of a window. They get to their car...but there's a woman in the backseat. The wife grabs at her hair and pulls part of her scalp off. As quickly as they can, they take off.

Sheriff Gillis is in his patrol car and happens to see them speeding by. During the commotion, he hits a pedestrian. When he gets out to help, he observes that the person lost an arm...but the reanimated limb is attached to the sheriff's fender.

Suddenly, the guy gets up, grabs his arm and dashes off! Dan tries to run after him but the person gets away. Dan takes a piece of flesh off the fender and drops it off to be examined.

Back home, he finds a book in a drawer called "Witchcraft and Voodooism." Janet claims she is teaching her class something they'd find interesting. She's irritated at Dan for not remembering to develop the film she gave him.

The following morning, Dan takes the film to his friend Ernie (Bill Quinn) at his shop and tells him not to let anybody else pick it up.

Dan gets a call from Harry informing him that a car was pulled from the water and that a toy was found in it. The sheriff goes back to the station...where Ben comes in and tells him that George is alive and working at the gas station. Dan doesn't believe him but Ben says he should ask Janet about it.

Dan goes to Janet's school and is unnerved when he overhears Janet giving an explicit lesson on Voodoo to a class of young children. One of the students is Jamie, the child killed with his parents the night before.

Outside of town, a truck driver offers a ride to a pretty hitchhiker (Lisa Marie). He tells her he's driving into Potters Bluff and stops the vehicle at the boatyard. Someone opens the passenger door and the girl falls out. There's a group of townspeople surrounding her as a man takes a huge rock and smashes her face.

At the morgue, Dobbs examines her body and vows to make her beautiful again. This he does...but when he leaves for the night, the girl's body sits up. The next day, he reports the missing corpse to Dan.

Meanwhile, a doctor (Joe Medalis) has examined the flesh that Dan found on his car. He tells Dan over the phone that the body appears to have been dead for a couple of months.

As he continues to test the evidence, a group of people show up in his office. They grab the doctor...and the girl from the beach takes an instrument and pumps acid up the man's nostrils.

Dan has an idea to dig up George Le Moyne's corpse. There is no body in the casket...but he finds a human heart wrapped in a shirt. Dan drives by the gas station and quickly takes a photo of Freddie/George. He intends to send it to St. Louis, where the photographer has been reported missing.

The sheriff instructs his secretary Betty (Estelle Omens) to uncover information about the eccentric mortician. They're both shocked to find out that he was dismissed from his previous job in another town because of unauthorized uses of corpses.

Dan gets a further jolt when he develops Janet's film. It shows Janet in bed with a man who she then stabs repeatedly in the back. Dan rushes to the morgue, where he confronts Dobbs.

The old man is watching footage of all the murders that have occured in the town. He tells Dan that the victims are better off after they've been killed and reanimated by him. He also reveals that Janet was his first and favorite creation.

Janet walks in and as she's approaching her husband, he shoots her repeatedly. The bullets momentarily daze her and cause some of her skin to come off. She says, "Dan, I'm dead. Please bury me!" before running away.

Dan shoots Dobbs and follows Janet to the cemetery, where he helps her cover herself with dirt in George's grave. When the locals show up with flowers and their cameras, the sheriff panics and heads back to the morgue.

But he discovers that Dobbs has reanimated himself. The mortician tells Dan to finish watching Janet's film. Dan looks up at the screen and sees something cruel: the man Janet stabbed in the back is Dan himself! Talk about wild goose chases...

The cost for Dead and Buried was $6 million, pricey for a horror project. Among its many assets are a great score by Joe Renzetti, and startling make-up effects by Stan Winston.

The story was shot as written but the screenwriters felt that the Voodoo angle was too far-fetched for audiences to swallow...and that the movie might falter without the gore seen in slasher flicks.

Several of the murders were reshot and made more explicit after principal photography was finished. Make-up artist William Munns (Swamp Thing, House and Return Of the Living Dead) contributed the "acid-up-the-nose" effect.

James Farentino leads a wonderful cast and is terrific as the naive sheriff. He is completely believable all the way through.

Jack Albertson gives a virtuoso performance as Dobbs. It was to be the last film role for the actor who had found great success in the 70s on television's Chico and the Man.

The great 1940s period music that constantly blares from his mortician character's radio - takes on an ominous tone throughout the film.

Dead and Buried has one scene alone that can freak you out more than any other. The "gasoline photo shoot" sequence is truly bizarre and frightening, certainly successful in every regard.

The whole movie itself rides on that surreal vibe, the plot gliding in and out of creepy moments and wholesome smalltown security. The result is a truly unique horror film.

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