Color, 1981, 94 mins.
Directed by Gary Sherman
Starring James Farentino, Melody Anderson, Jack Albertson, Dennis Redfield, Nancy Locke, Lisa Blount, Robert Englund
Blue Underground (UHD, Blu-ray & DVD) (US R0 4K/HD/NTSC) / WS (1.85:) (16:9)
As melancholy and twisted as a mainstream '80s horror film could possibly be, Dead and Buried has gradually earned its sleeper reputation over the years but still hasn't received the kind of credit it deserves. This peculiar blend of small town menace, zombies, voodoo, and jolting plot twists still packs a punch today long after its slasher brethren have faded into the woodwork, and the shock ending will definitely linger in your memory long afterward.
The film opens along the coastline of Potter's Bluff, where a photographer has stopped to snap a few nature shots. A beautiful young woman (Prince of Darkness' Blount) strikes up a conversation with him and asks whether she could be a model. The photographer offers to take her photograph, and she responds in an unusually seductive manner. Unfortunately, their romantic idyll is shattered when a group of strangers suddenly appear, tie up the hapless photographer, douse him with gasoline, and set him ablaze while recording his death throes via photographs and film. Later the town sheriff, Dan (Farentino), is called in to investigate a car crash, which has left its victim burned beyond recognition. Dan begins to suspect that the burning occurred outside of the accident, a theory he attempts to sell to the quirky local coroner, William Dobbs (Albertson in his last screen role). Dan's tranquil home life with his beautiful wife, Janet (Flash Gordon's Anderson), becomes strained as Dan is convinced that a mounting number of gruesome accidents could be related to the occult. Even worse, the victims have a nasty habit of coming back to life... and taking their place among the townspeople.
Written and performed with a quirky style hovering somewhere between macabre comedy and utter despair, Dead and Buried cannily uses its TV-friendly cast to gradually undermine viewers' expectations. The film has earned a reputation for its graphic gore and came under fire in the U.K., though Stan Winston's gruesome effects actually occupy a relatively small amount of screen time. In fact, the most memorable violent effect involves a simple syringe and no blood whatsoever. Apart from a prolonged and unfortunately fake-looking bit involving acid and one character's nasal cavities, the violence never overwhelms the compelling storyline which gradually tightens to a delirious final act. Genre fans in particular should look for an early role by Freddy Krueger himself, Robert Englund, and a haunting music score by Joe Renzetti, who later went on to Child's Play and several Frank Henenlotter films. Oddly enough, this film also marked a directorial comeback for Gary Sherman, who had vanished for ten years after the magnificent British shocker, Death Line (a.k.a. Raw Meat). Unfortunately his career was hit and miss after that, highlighted later by the memorable drive-in favorites Vice Squad and Wanted: Dead or Alive and 1989's criminally underrated thriller, Lisa.
Dead and Buried had the extreme misfortune of being released on VHS by Vestron, whose shoddy early transfers hit rock bottom here. Almost completely devoid of color, this tape sabotaged the film's carefully modulated misty atmosphere and completely removed the upper and lower matte on the image, exposing safety clips holding up the black and white photographs during the opening credits, among other goofs. The first DVD appeared from Dragon in Germany and matted the film to 1.66:1, though the transfer itself still left a lot to be desired. The heavy doses of grain and overworked digital noise reduction distortion made for a less than satisfying picture, but at least the original color schemes were back in place.
Salvation more or less arrived with the 2003 U.S. edition from Blue Underground, who issued the film in two different standard def DVD editions, a double-disc special edition as well as a single disc. The first platter contains the feature film, remastered in anamorphic widescreen but plagued with an insane amount of film grain which, coupled with what appears to be some slightly overzealous edge enhancement, results in a wildly inconsistent presentation. Night scenes are still almost unwatchable, while wide exterior shots appear to be under siege by waves of gnats. Colors are fine, though, and it's a huge leap up compared to bootleg and import editions. The DTS and Dolby 5.1 tracks only make sparing
use of the rear channels but have some nice directional effects in the front, especially the early nocturnal car wreck inspection. You also get the original mono track and a 2.0 stereo mixdown, though the remix sounds natural and faithful enough that only die-hard purists may opt for these options. Extras on disc one include the American theatrical trailer, the more graphic international trailer, and a teaser trailer (all making use of that fantastic promotional art), a gallery of stills and posters, and best of all, three(!) audio commentaries. Sherman goes solo in the first track, the best and most controversial of the bunch, as he covers the changes the film underwent from conception to finished product; apparently it was much more of a black comedy in conception, but the financiers demanded a more marketable straight horror film which resulted in rewrites and reshoots. This also explains why the film essentially cheats in a handful of key scenes; for example, after watching the climactic scene, try figuring out how the resuscitation of certain townspeople was carried out if a certain key figure wasn't in the room at the time. Co-writer and producer Ronald Shusett and his wife, actress Linda Turley (who appears in the film), appear for track two, while cinematographer Steve Poster handles the third; they're both more straight production commentaries and cover the locales, the selection of the actors, and much, much more. Disc two in the "limited" DVD edition (of 50,000 units, a pretty big number for something limited!) contains three video interviews starting with legendary and sadly missed FX maestro Stan Winston (17m38s) proudly talking about his achievements in this film (amazingly, he did this the same year as The Entity, The Hand, and Heartbeeps!). Then Robert Englund pops up for the second featurette, "An Early Work of Horror" (12m25s), talking about this early role (not long after his memorable horror debut in Eaten Alive) and briefly covering his memories of his fellow actors. Finally "Dan O'Bannon: Crafting Fear" (14m26s) features the Alien alumnus talking about his involvement in writing the film and quickly tying it together with his other films of the same period. All the supplements are credited to future Severin head David Gregory, who also does a solid job moderating the three commentaries. Disc two rounds up with an additional gallery of B&W behind-the-scenes and location photographs taken by Steve Poster.
In a surprise move at the time, Dead and Buried was announced as Blue Underground's third Blu-ray release in 2009; of course, anyone familiar with the format had ample reason to shudder in dread, as the format at the time was notoriously tricky for films heavy with natural film grain. Considering this was widely known as one of the grainiest American DVDs out there, fans had ample reason to worry, but the end result was better than expected given the unavailability of preprint materials. The second half of the main titles unfolding over beach shots still look very problematic due to the heavy film processing (as usual, the sky looks so noisy you feel like you need to adjust an antenna), but after that it's a huge improvement over the DVD. The edge enhancement isn't nearly as severe, and while there is a naturalistic film-like feel to the images, the highly increased detail results in a much more solid, satisfying presentation. The night scenes in particular are much more coherent and solid-looking for the most part, while the highly textured shots (such as Freddy's camera lens POV in the opening scene) are stable and free from the shimmering and jittering which plagued the standard def version. In another nice touch, the film has also finally been given English subtitles for the deaf and hearing impaired, along with optional Spanish and French subtitles. The sound this time is bumped up to uncompressed DTS and Dolby 7.1 options; both sound great, but don't expect a massive leap over the DVD audio. The music benefits considerably from the lack of compression, of course, but otherwise the mix is very similar. All of the commentaries are carried over here along with the three trailers and all of the video featurettes; the only missing aspects are the mono and 2.0 audio tracks and the two galleries.
In 2021, Blue Underground finally brought the film to UHD as a three-disc edition (available with three different slipcover designs including a great lenticular version of the needle scene) also containing a remastered Blu-ray and, finally available for the first time ever in any format, Renzetti's magnificent score on CD in its entirety. The new scan is listed as a new 4K 16-bit scan from the 35mm IP, so of course the big question is, how does it look? In a word, spectacular, especially if you're familiar with the challenges posed by this film. The most obvious differences here are more image info visible in the frame and a more balanced color scheme that's less green than before; in motion the grain is also handled wonderfully here with a fine, natural texture that shows just how far technology has come in just over a decade. The UHD sweetens the deal not only with higher resolution over the Blu-ray but with the benefit of Dolby Vision HDR, which brings out even more nuances in the colors and really helps those darker night scenes in particular sing like never before. Just bear in mind that this is a film that makes frequent use of diffusion effects and even filters over the camera in some scenes, and the results here are very satisfying indeed. (Frame grabs in the body of this review are from the 2021 Blu-ray; comparison grabs between the two Blu-rays can be seen at the bottom.) Audio is presented here with a new Dolby Atmos mix that sounds excellent, including some subtle but effective overhead bleed for the score and some nice shock effects where necessary along with some nice atmosphere for things like wind and crashing waves. Also included are the DTS-HD English 5.1 and 1.0 mono tracks, plus French 1.0 mono, with optional English SDH, French, and Spanish subtitles. The three preexisting commentaries have been ported over here plus a new one with Troy Howarth and this writer, so that can't be evaluated here. Video-wise it also carries over the Stan Winston, Robert Englund, and Dan O'Bannon featurettes, plus the three trailers and greatly expanded image galleries divided up into posters, advertising materials, the Japanese souvenir program, lobby cards, stills, Stan Winston's effects, the home video and book releases, and the location stills.
Several new video extras are added as well beginning with "Behind the Scenes of Dead & Buried" (33m18s), compiling together some fantastic 8mm coverage culled from over 15 hours(!) shot by various members of the cast and crew, with several of them conversing over the silent footage as well. Great stuff! "Dead & Buried Locations: Then and Now" (3m57s) features some gorgeous location shots of the seaside locales up the Mendocino, California coast in their natural splendor, while "Murders, Mystery and Music" (15m16s) brings together Renzetti and Sherman for a relaxed conversation about their work together and how the soundtrack was crafted, Renzetti's Oscar win, the approach to orchestrations and pulling off some of the more audacious moments, and the comparisons between analog and digital recording. Finally in a really nice touch, Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, author of the tie-in novel (which hits stands way before the movie), appears in "The Pages of Potter's Bluff" (12m49s) to explain the craft of doing a novelization versus the art of an original novel, the difference between violence on screen and the printed page, and essentially getting the character of the screenwriter to bring it all to a new medium.
Updated review on June 28, 2021