The locals are pretty good about staging their kills to look like tragic, unfortunate accidents, but the sheriff around these parts (James Farentino) can't shake that nagging feeling that something's not quite right. Dan is convinced that the smoldering, unrecognizable body of that photographer was placed into an overturned car after the fact, but he doesn't have any hard evidence to back up that theory, and the town's oddball coroner-slash-mortician (Jack Albertson, in the last of his feature film roles) isn't buying it. As the bodies continue to pile up, Dan becomes more and more consumed by his obsession, but that investigation might go a little more smoothly if those gruesomely slaughtered murder victims would stay dead...
On a format where seemingly every last genre entry is either a sequel or a retread of a fright flick from back East, something as wonderfully eerie and atmospheric as Dead and Buried really stands out. Think The Wicker Man as penned by Stephen King, seizing hold of a story about an unrelenting cop uncovering a sleepy hamlet's dark secret and shifting the backdrop to the New England coast. Seasoned horror fans won't run into any trouble guessing who's to blame or why these murderers are armed with cameras and flashbulbs, but Dead and Buried still manages to catch me off-guard from its first startling kill. The question really isn't who so much as why. There's something about the impenetrability of a small, tightknit community that makes for an incredibly engaging mystery, and the seeming lack of motive and the way the undead are woven into the aw-shucks tapestry of this tiny little town are compelling hooks. I had a certain image in my head of the sort of climax Dead and Buried seemed destined to build up to, but what
Dead and Buried boasts an impressive selection of talent on both sides of the camera. Alien alums Dan O'Bannon and Ron Shusett are credited with the screenplay, Richard Kelly's preferred cinematographer shapes the look of the film, Academy Award winner Joe Renzetti contributes an unconventional, moody score, and the cast includes turns by a slew of recognizable character actors, including Robert Englund, Barry Corbin, and, most memorably, Jack Albertson devouring every scene he's in as he plays far against type. Stan Winston only had a handful of credits under his belt before tackling the extensive make-up effects in Dead and Buried, and despite his relative inexperience in these early days as well as the film's modest budget, the talent on display here is still startling. From Winston's wholly convincing lifelike puppets to a butchered hitchhiker reconstructed layer by layer, from bone to flesh, Dead and Buried's effects still hold up astonishingly well nearly thirty years later. The lone exception is the one kill Winston didn't field, and it's inept, distracting, and really doesn't even fit into the logic of the film. There are a few other scattered plot points that don't hold up to close scrutiny either, but they're easily shrugged off.
Although the commentaries on this Blu-ray disc are teeming with horror stories about clumsy re-edits, forced insert shots, and a disinterested studio, I really wouldn't know it just to look at Dead and Buried. Kind of like a vintage Twilight Zone episode sopping in early '80s splatter, Dead and Buried manages to be eerie and dreamlike while still standing out as about as visceral and gruesome as much of anything else from the class of 1981. Barely released and underappreciated in the years since, Dead and Buried was rescued from obscurity by Blue Underground who gave the film a lavish two-disc special edition release on DVD, and it's now among the company's first horror films to bow on Blu-ray. This isn't the sort of movie I'd expect to be an early high definition release -- dark, dingy, and about as grainy as they come -- but I'm thrilled to see it on Blu-ray just the same, and for genre fans disappointed by the lackluster selection of horror on the format, Dead and Buried is essential viewing. Recommended.
Director of photography Steve Poster opens his audio commentary by delving into Dead and Buried's intensely stylized visuals, and this is a film that's deliberately dark, diffused, desaturated, and exceptionally grainy. Blue Underground brought Poster onboard to supervise this high definition transfer, and although Dead and Buried doesn't exactly sparkle and gleam on Blu-ray, this disc does faithfully reproduce its unconventional cinematography. Detail and clarity are modest but an improvement over anything I'd expect to see on a standard definition DVD. The heavy veil of film grain is crisply defined, showing no trace of being processed away into a muddy smudge through excessive digital noise reduction, and there's no wear or speckling worth noting. The only flaw I could spot -- the only flaw that Poster couldn't explain away in his commentary, at least -- is some distortion in a set of sheer curtains flapping away in a dingy hotel room. Otherwise, this dark, gritty film looks about as perfect as it realistically can on Blu-ray.
Blue Underground opens the mattes slightly to reveal an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, and Dead and Buried's VC-1 encode is given plenty of room to breathe on this dual-layer Blu-ray disc.
Dead and Buried features a pair of lossless 7.1 soundtracks: one in DTS-HD Master Audio and the other in Dolby TrueHD. I'm assuming the movie was originally mixed in mono, and these remixes don't veer obnoxiously far away from that. The use of the surrounds is largely atmospheric -- lapping waves, a bleating record player, and creaking wood, for instance -- and never feels forced or gimmicky. There's also some directionality to a few short stretches of dialogue. The stems are in reasonably good shape, not marred by any distracting hiss or pops, although the track does understandably sound kind of flat and dated. Dialogue is dialed a notch or two lower in the mix than I would've preferred but is still consistently discernable throughout. Bass response is expectedly light too, with most of the activity in the lower frequencies owed to Joe Renzetti's reasonably full-bodied score. Dead and Buried sounds alright on Blu-ray, and it's more or less what I went in expecting. It's a bit of a disappointment that the original monaural soundtrack hasn't been included -- it's on the DVD, after all -- but the lossless soundtracks take so few liberties with its original sound design that it's not too much of a loss.
A DVD-quality Dolby Digital 5.1 EX track (448Kbps) has also been included alongside subtitles in English (SDH), French, and Spanish.
This Blu-ray disc does lose a few poster and still galleries, but otherwise, all of the extras from Blue Underground's two-disc limited edition DVD set have been carried over. Its featurettes and trailers are all presented in standard definition and anamorphic widescreen.
The Final Word
Even nearly three years in, there really isn't all that much horror on Blu-ray, and what little there is tends to be big, loud, and dumb. Dead and Buried is what a horror movie ought to be -- creepy, atmospheric, and unsettling -- and even though its deliberately rough-hewn photography isn't exactly jaw-dropping in high definition, this criminally overlooked film easily ranks among the best the genre has to offer on Blu-ray. Recommended.