Thursday, October 13, 2011

It's a World of Pure Imagination (or just unconventional zombies)

Having recently read Shock Value, the fine and thorough study of the men behind some of the latter 20th century’s most genre-defining films, I’ve come to the realization that I should really watch more films touched by Dan O’Bannon. 1981’s Dead and Buried comes with his name (among others) on the screenplay, plus it’s a Netflix Instant Watch, so fate was predetermined.

Of course, a little research (or informed opinions from the good people over at the Palavr forums) let me know that Dan O'Bannon had absolutely nothing to do with Dead and Buried, save for selling his name to smack on the title after the success of Alien. So that's that.
Quick Plot: We open on a beach in Potters Bluff with the very strange flirtation between a photographer and random blond, who figures a chance meeting with a man and his camera could guarantee a modeling career. It helps when you show him your boobs.

Unfortunately for the almost-lucky stranger (whom the blond insists on calling Freddy), the day isn’t quite as peachy as a naked beauty would lead you to believe. Just as he moves in for a kiss, a herd of townsfolk (including a young Robert Englund) knocks him out, dragging him to a post to burn him alive. 

Dating is HARD.
Elsewhere in town we meet Sheriff Dan Gillis as he investigates the mysterious death of the unidentified passerby. On hand to help (sorta) is the town mortician Dobbs, played with extreme grumpiness by Grandpa Joe himself, Jack Albertson. See, Dobbs loves his art of repairing mauled or burnt or blown apart faces, and the fact that his town keeps giving him closed casket funerals is like asking Gordon Ramsay to turn country fair winning pig meat into ballpark hot dogs.

When another non-Potters Bluffian is found dead, Gillis’ suspicions grow to extreme levels of scowling. You can’t blame him, especially when the barely surviving and hospitalized “Freddy” is murdered in his mummy body wrapped immobile state, only to later reappear as a cheerful gas station attendant. Throw in the slightly odd behavior of Gillis’ own wife (Flash Gordon’s Melody Anderson) and you have some eerie mystery building, 1980s small seaside town style.

Dead and Buried is an interesting little film, one that never seemed to find any cult status. On one hand, I can see why: while it has some surprising actors and a neat premise, it’s a slow trail. Then again, so is Dan O’Bannon frenemy John Carpenter’s The Fog, a film with a very similar tone and style and one of which I never quite understood the intense genre adoration for.

I don’t know that Dead and Buried is necessarily better than The Fog, but it might be just as good. There are some genuinely tense scenes--witness the nighttime shadow attack on a young family with the nerve to make a bathroom break in a mystery town--and lots of macabre humor, most of which comes courtesy of the hilariously crotchety Grandpa Joe and his pride in corpse transformation. The makeup effects are credited to Stan Winston, and while they certainly look makeup effecty, they also boast that late 70s/early 80s charm that marks a film with a specific time stamp so near and dear to many of our hearts.

Ultimately, Dead and Buried was a far more interesting film than I was expecting, although its slow pacing in revealing the not terribly well-kept secret certainly kept me from feeling overly impressed. Director Gary Sherman has an uneven but not boring resume, beginning with the enjoyable subway slaughter film Raw Meat and stretching through the not-as-bad-as-it-quite-is Poltergeist III. His touch on Dead and Buried works well, blending odd humor with horror in an effectively creepy village setting. The film dragged for me, but that’s probably more due to that halfway through it, I realized there was a new episode of Hell’s Kitchen AND the annual Miss Universe Pageant to watch. That will make anything feel too long.

High Points
The central death of the film--I won’t spoil whose--is done with an outstanding balance of horror and sadness
Low Points
While I liked the reveal of what’s been plaguing Potters Bluff, I found something lacking in how it unfolded. We already suspected most of the secret, but the ultimate explanation just seemed clumsy

Lessons Learned
Photographers don’t get famous in St. Louis
You can always count on a diner waitress to be named Midge. Also, for her to burn people alive
Shells = bullets
1980s Alert!
An attractive but ill-fated hitchhiker dares to hop into a grungy truck. Remember folks, VHS tapes were still new and kids back then didn’t have the luxury of watching so many horror movies that they learned important (or Doll’s House official) life lessons explaining the horrors of hitchhiking in a movie
Overacting Drunk Alert!
I just adore any actor with the guts to go all-out slurry. So thank you, dude playing a drunk in Dead and Buried. Thank. You.

I liked Dead and Buried quite a bit. I did. I just really wanted to watch living mannequins known as pageant girls parading in Barbie gowns while attempting to incorporate God into their 10 seconds of allowed non-quiet time. It’s one of my many fatal flaws. Hence, Dead and Buried doesn’t get the fairest shake from me, since I just really wanted it to end for reasons that weren’t *necessary* its fault. I did like this movie and recommend a viewing (probably just a rental/stream) so long as you’re in the mood for something early 80s, something slow, and something starring Grandpa Joe.


  1. It was easily the funniest thing I've watched in the last year, next to Black Devil Doll From Hell of course!

  2. I love this one. But are you sure Dan O'Bannon had nothing to do with it other than having his name over the title? He is credited with co-writing the screenplay.

  3. The acting by the main character at the end, when the TRUTH is revealed to him... SO RIGHTEOUS.

    O'Bannon is criminally underrated. Alien and Return of the Living Dead alone put him ahead of Carpenter, for me anyways.

  4. Kev: definitely find a copy of Shock Value if you can. It does a great job of detailing the career and life of Dan O'Bannon, including how John Carpenter was kind of a dick to him.

    Ryan: now I'm trying to find where I heard about the Dan O'Banon name sale vs him actually writing it and am coming up empty. But I swear I saw it and will recomment with it when I find it!

  5. Grandpa Joe as the (spoilers-deleted)?!?! And the film's by Gary Sherman? Now I'm picturing a cross between Vice Squad's Ramrod and (deleted). (deleted) with a coat-hanger like Wings Hauser would probably have made you favour this movie much more highly than Miss Universe! Haha! (Assuming and here's hoping that you've actually seen Vice Squad.)

    ...and here's hoping my 'spoiler tags' didn't spoil the movie's villain surprise too much.

  6. Spoil me rotten! I haven't seen Vice Squad! Does it include a swimsuit competition?

  7. It does not, but it focuses on L.A.'s nightlife...I guess someone dressed as Columbia from Rocky Horror counts.
    As for Ramrod, he was Season Hubley's psycho pimp who is played amazingly by Wings Hauser (who also gets to belt out the ultra slimy-sounding opening/closing theme Neon Slime-!

    Point being, Vice Squad is THE 80's-tastic sleazy crime flick and you need to give it a watch stat!

  8. Added to the list with extreme excitement!

  9. I found this film quite by accident and was pleasantly surprised. It was better than I thought it had any business being. (I'd not high hopes when I decided to watch it, of course.) It's a very good period piece.

  10. It's definitely a nice special little find. Not mind-blowing, but just so different with a lot of twists you don't see in similarly styled films.