Bopping with Niall JP O'Leary

Niall O'Leary insists on sharing his hare-brained notions and hysterical emotions. Personal obsessions with cinema, literature, food and alcohol feature regularly.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Dead and Buried

Visitors to a small seaside town are brutally murdered and then mysteriously resurrected in the 1981 horror, 'Dead and Buried'. The local sheriff must track down the killer(s) and figure out what dastardly deeds are really afoot. What more do you need to know?
Wait! Don't dismiss it quite yet.
I vaguely remember this from my childhood, but cannot quite reconcile that impression with what I just watched; I'm pretty sure this might have scarred me for life. Well, that's repression for you! With Gary Sherman, the director of the impressive "Death Line" (and needless "Poltergeist III"), at the helm, this film is taut, eerie and very unpleasant. Unusually for a film full of atmosphere and creepy suggestion, it's also gruesome, refusing to shirk from some unnecessarily messy murders. Were it not for an uneven screenplay - witness some silly behaviour by a family who stop off in town for directions - and what is ultimately a ludicrous storyline, this might be one of the all-time greats.
Cast-wise it's a strange mixed bag of character actors and also rans. For instance, Robert Englund, of later Freddy fame, shows up as a member of the threatening townsfolk, and they are a nasty bunch. "Flash Gordon"'s Melody Anderson has a substantial role as the local sheriff's wife, and she performs well. In the sheriff role, James Farentino seems to me like a stand-in for Roy Scheider's Chief Brody from "Jaws", investigating not with any real deduction, but through sheer salt-of-the-earth stubbornness. He's just a little over the top, but that is probably appropriate given how he must stumble from one extreme horror to the next, finding himself way, way out of his depth. The undoubted star though is Jack Albertson as the mortician/coroner. You may remember him from the original "Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory". How could little, old grandpa ever send a shiver down your spine? Watch this.
As I mentioned the storyline is ridiculous. However, it is a demonstration of the film's success that one forgets (or at least forgives) its contradictions accepting instead a dream logic appropriate to nightmares. There is a hint of "Plague of the Zombies" to be sure, but hanging over proceedings is a more pungent influence. This is Lovecraft territory, not the Lovecraft of Cthulu et al, but rather the Lovecraft of 'Re-animator' and the creator of sinister villages like Innsmouth. Although the victims mostly come from out of town, there is a real sense that this town is off the map, maybe even the planet, a world unto itself. There really is no 'out there'. As the terrors mount, the focus draws tighter and tighter on the ostensible heart of the town, the mortuary. Did I say heart? This is a journey backwards to the source of the evil, to a foul womb (the undead are referred to as children). Oh, yes, this is definitely Lovecraft territory.
Mention should also be made of the look of the piece. For what is evidently a low budget film, this has some surprisingly beautiful aspects. From it's opening black and white still of a smalltown street suddenly coming to colourful, empty life, to its foggy nights and hazy interiors, the cinematographer is shooting well above what you'd expect to be his level. The worn wooden houses, fussy labs, tangled fishyards and crowded offices all contribute to the close-fitting sense of darkness too.
Don't think too much about it and you might see what I just watched, a real claustrophobic B-classic. It may be dead, but don't leave it buried.

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