The 1980’s saw a string of zombie films, many of them based on George Romero’s interpretation of using zombies as a metaphor to denounce materialism and mindless groupthink. Granted, I love seeing Joe Pilato’s “Rhodes” get his innards splayed out on the floor in Day of the Dead as much as the next girl (that’s normal, right? Yeah, totally), there were several notable exceptions which followed more traditional voodoo-rooted origins of the genre that should be in the lexicon of every horror aficionado.
While The Evil Dead and Dead Alive are two of the best and most recognized examples, one overlooked but still awesome entry is 1981’s Dead & Buried, directed by Gary Sherman of Raw Meat and Poltergeist III fame and kind of brought to you by the writing team behind Alien, Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett. I use the disclaimer ‘kind of’ because it was actually written by Shusett, who then slapped O’Bannon’s name on it without technically receiving permission to do so. Oops!
Featuring one of the most brutal opening sequences I’ve seen come out of the decade it was originally banned in the UK as a “Video Nasty,” which is the coolest name for a ban ever. Dead & Buried stars James Farentino as Dan Gillis, sheriff of small New England town, Potter’s Bluff. Gillis is tasked with uncovering a string of sadistic murders carried out on hapless tourists and later the inexplicable reappearance of the victims, who are now walking around town with new identities and no memory of the lives they had before arriving.
What sets Dead & Buried apart from its lesser, voodoo-inspired 80’s compatriots (I’m never going to get back the 95 minutes I spent watching Zombie Island Massacre) is the care and attention Sherman paid to his actors, script, and audience. While we watch Sheriff Gillis run himself ragged trying to find the killers, we know who they are the entire time as we see him interact with people he mistakenly believes are friends and loved ones. Sherman’s pacing is also excellent as Gillis connects the dots in a way that’s never going to make you shout at the screen “Get on with it already!”
With equally creepy turns by Robert Englund of Freddy-fame and Melody Anderson and Lisa Blount (who sadly passed away on the 5th) as two beautiful women you never, ever want to meet in a dark alley (not to mention a masterfully disturbing performance by Jack Albertson as Coroner Dobbs that will make you never look at Grandpa Joe in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory the same way again), Dead & Buried is a genuinely scary film. Not the kind of scary that makes you jump out of your seat—a better kind of scary. The kind that leaves you unsettled as you sit there, jaw dropped, thinking whoever thought of this is brilliantly effed up.