I have learned many things in my years of reviewing horror movies. One of them is this: a beautiful woman you don’t know will probably not walk up to you apropos of nothing and offer to have sex with you for free, unless she intends to kill you. In fact, she’s probably a supernatural creature who will enjoy killing you. Secondly, if you vacation in a beach town that doesn’t have any tourists staying there, you gone die. Dead and Buried reinforces both of these lessons in the first five minutes.
The guy who played the sheriff in the Jack Frost killer snowman movies plays an ill-fated photographer here, who takes at face value an offer of free sex from the lady who ended up in the video dream transmission at the end of Prince of Darkness. Soon after she flashes him while he’s taking pictures of her on the beach, all her friends show up and burn him alive while taking pictures of him.
Later on, the town sheriff in this film goes to the cafe, and who does he find there but the head murderer from the beach, acting like it’s just a normal day at the cafe. They’ve made it look like the photographer died in a fiery crash, but somehow the sheriff realizes it was murder. Things get even weirder when the dead guy shows up a couple of days later as the gas station attendant, and not just because you’d think he’d be afraid of gasoline. Now he’s perfectly healthy again, has a different name, and apparently remembers nothing about his death, or his life before he came to the town of Potter’s Bluff.
You pretty much have only one shot at getting the full effect of Dead and Buried, so I’m not going to spoil it until after you scroll down past the poster.
Still with me? Okay, the best way to sum up the quality of this film is to listen to what Dan O’Bannon had to say when he watched Dead and Buried, whose script he punched up. He said in interviews that he was embarrassed by it, and also had a great time watching the finished product. The embarrassment is because the explanation for what is going on is weak, and because it’s unsatisfying, people think it makes no sense.
It makes perfect sense, in a way. The town mortician is a crazy asshole, and he is killing everyone in town in gruesome ways because he wants the challenge of restoring their faces. But he’s not killing them himself, he’s reanimating everyone who comes by his slab as a magic voodoo zombie that can still eat, work, and have sex, and also kill other people so they can be turned into zombies. He’s doing this because his huge ego won’t let his beautiful restoration work be buried under the ground to rot, so he makes a whole town of zombies. He calls the town Potter’s Bluff because what he has basically is a Potter’s Field in his magic cemetery, since he likes to lure in strangers, unknowns, travelers, hitchhikers, anonymous people, who he thinks won’t be missed.
But wait, there’s more! The sheriff is a zombie too, only he doesn’t know it, because the dead only have the memories that the mortician allows them to have. The sheriff doesn’t know probably because it provides a challenge and amusement for the mortician to watch him run around trying to solve the murders. For all we know, they do this every week, with the poor guy remembering and then forgetting again. The bad guy basically tells us all this in his opening monologue, more or less, but you don’t realize what he meant until later. And it’s hard to believe someone would go to all this trouble because he’s an egomaniac, so people try to make the film more complicated than it is.
So what is the good time part of this? Well, it’s super gory in really creative ways. A standout scene is the restoration of a young woman whose face has been bashed in with a rock, because the mortician takes her head and neck apart and puts them back together again. This movie made the video nasty list! Aside from that, there’s a genuine atmosphere of horror, the kind that evokes the definition of the word horror in the sense that “I am horrified by what is happening to these people.” The sheriff’s plight brings up a similar emotion, for me, as I have when I watch The Wolf Man with Lon Chaney Jr., if that makes sense. I feel sad that affable Larry the Wolf Man is doomed and doesn’t know it, just like I feel sad for the sheriff when his whole life turns out to be a lie. Also, even though there’s that thought of “you idiot,” every time I see someone in a horror film get killed because they think they’re going to get laid for no reason, it’s also hard to watch people meet with such an awful swerve when they’re at their most vulnerable. The scariest part, though, is that the bad guy is played by Jack Albertson, who I knew only as kindly Grandpa Joe from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory before I saw Dead and Buried. I was only 24 the first time I saw this movie, and believe me the betrayal was real when I watched Grandpa Joe making a personal army of zombies.
Well, that’s about it for Dead and Buried. It’s an awesome movie with some flaws. It’s objectively better than Ghosthouse, so you can trust me when I say this one is worth a watch. Luckily, you can find it on Shudder; please remember I never do sponsored posts, so if I’m telling you where to find something it’s because I want you to see the movie, not because I’m promoting the site. It’s hard for me to write about a movie I like as much as I like this one, so I’ll cover something I can mock (it’s much easier to be negative than positive, go figure) next time. P.S. If you like Dead and Buried, you should check out Gary Sherman’s action film Vice Squad, featuring a tour de force (seriously) performance from crazy ass Wings Hauser as a crazy ass pimp named Ramrod.