Saturday, 4 October 2014

Halloween 31 For 31: Dead & Buried (1981)


Dir. Gary A. Sherman

Returning to the Video Nasties well again for a review, there is a big question to ask myself since I've seen a lot of them by now: how many of them are any good? Common perception is that many are terrible. The highest tier, The Evil Dead (1981) to Dario Argento's inclusions, are seen as great films. Lucio Fulci's entries are held in high regard as well as Cannibal Holocaust (1980) and a few other works. Most of the films are seen as rubbish. Personally, barring one or two, the quality of the films are far and away better than their reputation are. This is bearing in mind that some of them are technically terrible, but even a film like Mardi Gras Massacre (1978) is amusing and memorable, always having something of worth in hindsight to like. For example, I can include a film I reviewed on my old blog, Frozen Scream (1975), which I originally hated but in the year or more from viewing it has retained a mad quality in its failures in my memory. (Only a film like Forest of Fear (1980), for anyone interested, is unable to be entertaining even in this context for me). The second and third tier films of quality, in the middle, are for debate depending on your individual tastes, the hidden gems that shine out for each person. The Witch Who Came From The Sea (1976) is one of the best of the Video Nasties for me, but it would also be a hidden gem for others. Dead & Buried is another example. In a small quaint costal town, Potter's Bluff, where everyone knows everyone and everyone is seemingly happy, strangers to the town are starting to be killed, becoming obvious to the viewer than to Sheriff Dan Gillis (James Farentino) that something is amiss, the later investigating the murders but with the foreboding sense of sinister machinations hidden in the community.


Dead & Buried becomes the equivalent of a horror comic or a short story which builds and builds up to a ghoulish plot twist for the finale. It is established before the protagonist is introduced that something very wrong is taking place in Potter's Bluff, but it is added upon with a greater, macabre addition and details befitting a comic book like narrative. Logically, a lot of the narrative itself, as Gillis juggles suspicions of his wife (Melody Anderson), the odd behaviour of resident mortician William G. Dobbs (Jack Albertson) and the murders themselves, makes no realistic sense especially as new information is made available and when it gets to its final plot twist. What it becomes instead is a film that firmly sits itself in the dreamlike, though its kept in the tone of a Tales from The Crypt narrative, little touches for most of its length that push it towards this unexpected combination of moods. Out of most of the nasties, this is one of them that has the visibly higher production values, one of the closest to being a 'mainstream' film. Interestingly I've encountered the director  Gary A. Sherman before with Raw Meat (aka. Death Line) (1972), and while I wasn't necessarily the biggest fan of his debut, the transition almost ten years later to this, his second, does show someone with a considerable skill in creating solid, atmospheric horror cinema. Dan O'Bannon is in the credits as one of the scriptwriters, someone of considerable legacy, though the other man credited Ronald Shusett has as much of an interesting pedigree, writing for both Alien (1979) and Total Recall (1990). The film itself in terms of its story feels like it's been  influenced by pulpy genre mediums like sci-fi and horror comics that come from the decades long before rather than the slasher films and b-movies of the early eighties or the exploitation cinema of the seventies. With a serene jazz and classical theme by Joe Renzetti, Dead & Buried has an elegance to the work, set in a tiny, close-knit town that drastically contrasts the gruesome (and noticeably latex effect heavy) deaths that take place, far more inclined to a lyrical, moody horror film from another generation than this period. The one thing, already mentioned, that puts it into the eighties is the death scenes and acts of violence, that were more than likely why it was on the Nasties list; even today thirty years later, a man being set on fire for the opening sequence is still vicious for a modern viewer to see and does become a message, despite feeling like a fifties or sixties horror movie in tone, that it's still not appropriate family viewing as a horror film.


The luridness contrasts against the grace as the narrative quickly elevates into the fantastical for the story, the supernatural quickly introduced and adding to the comic-like nature of the narrative. Sufferance to say it involves human hearts and occultism, and I won't reveal any more barring that an already creepy premise, as presences gather around unsuspecting victims, grows more so with the gristly suggestions of what has taken place in Potter's Bluff before what we see in the film. It's advantage as a film is that, as much as I enjoyed say, Mardi Gras Massacre or Don't Go Into The Woods...Alone! (1981), Dead & Buried's technical advantages, in terms of being a Video Nasty,  give it an immense advantage that it thankfully uses to full effect. A melancholic tone to the proceedings added by many scenes that are inherently eerie, especially when it comes to scenes set at night, one of which involves an abandoned house with an innocence group of people who, in context to what has happened to others previously in the plot, you instantly feel tension upon viewing as you do not want them to befall the same way others have. Were it not for the gristly death scenes, this would be something like I Bury The Living (1958) in style, but having the deaths, including one nasty instance with a rock, another with acid, all with added creepiness in that cameras are involved, firmly pushes it into being much more macabre. There is a slow, lingering pace to the film that, despite how ridiculous the content is when thought about, packages it together with a cohesive elegance mixed with these shocking moments. That the film is set in a quiet American town with a small population, including Robert Englund in a small role, where almost everyone knows each other, must tap into a fear for at least American viewers of the isolation that could take place in what should be an idyllic place to live, where Sherriff Gillis is completely at a loss of each discovery he finds and even his wife's behaviour, despite being the kind hearted, loving wife who is a school teacher, is up to question when the paranoia and stranger sights ramp up. It has a quality to its creation that makes it possible to take it serious in vast contrast to many a Video Nasty that one would merely find hilarious. In particularly for actor James Farentino, he has to bear the brunt of a plot around his character that spirals out of control into more gruesome, strange and twist heavy content. The film in general managed to balance itself out into the subdued and the content that takes place, able to take you into the reality being depicted as well as be cartoonish in premise. It's great virtue is that, while its the finale that knocked me for six, when it becomes its most outlandish, that film before it has plenty of moments just as memorable and good.


Abstract Rating (High/Medium/Low/None): None
No, it doesn't qualify for the Abstract list for the simple reason is that it's not abstract enough. While it does get ridiculous as it goes along, it's more of a pulpy spine tingling tale than something from an odder state of mind.

A Cinema of the Abstract movie?
Not necessarily, though it qualifies as the kind of film I am always to happy to discover - an underseen or underrated film, here particularly from the Video Nasties list, that is both a good film and also leaves a lasting effect for me. I like films that this, with no potential for sequels, very individual and different from a lot of films, which balance in a dicey position of being good and ludicrous and succeed in the end in their sprawling, unconventional tones. What Dead & Buried doesn't do in terms of being "abstract" it makes up for by being a good cult film and catching me by surprise in its quality. 


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