It's a sad fact, but in the early '80s, the world of horror films was ruled by "slasher" flicks. Due to this, many supernatural horror films that were released during this time fell by the wayside. (The Changeling is a good example of a great ghost story that went unappreciated; The Evil Dead would be an exception to this rule.) However, thanks to the seemingly all-encompassing reach of DVD, many of these obscure films are finding a new audience. Dead & Buried, which has found a new home on DVD thanks to Blue Underground, certainly fits this profile.
Welcome to Potter's Bluff, a small seaside town where everything seems to be perfect. This is kind of place where the streets are quiet and everyone knows their neighbor. However, any stranger that dares venture into Potter's Bluff is brutally murdered by a group of people who document the crimes on film and with photos. Sheriff Dan Gillis (James Farnetino) is attempting to solve these crimes, but has no real clues. The local mortician, William Dobbs (Jack Albertson) is doesn't offer much help to the investigation, as he only wants to work on the corpses. To make matters worse, the townspeople, including Dan's wife, Janet (Melody Anderson), don't treat the murders with the same seriousness as Dan. As Dan comes closer to the truth, he learns that even the most beautiful places can hide the darkest secrets.
To say anything else about Dead & Buried would give too much away. The story builds to an amazing climax which offers one of the best shock endings in film history. Director Gary Sherman (Poltergeist III, Vice Squad) has created a very unique and interesting film which doesn't resemble a horror film in many respects. He and director of photography Steve Poster have done a great job in photographing the picturesque town, and creating an atmosphere of tranquility, which is shattered by the graphic murders (featuring special FX make-up by a young Stan Winston). As the story progresses, and Dan gets caught up in the mystery, the film grows darker, right up to that great ending.
The film does flounder somewhat with the pacing. In the attempt to keep things as "normal" as possible, Sherman lets the film get too slow in the second act. This is also the section of the film where the story does little advancing. But, if you can make it through this slow period, the finale offers quite a pay-off . Except that once you get beyond the fantastic twist at the end, the conclusion doesn't make a lot of sense. The film cops-out in explaining exactly what was going on in town, and why they were happening. Still, if you can get past the slow pace, and not question the loose ends, Dead & Buried is a nice little shocker that deserves to find its audience.
Blue Underground is the company responsible for digging up Dead & Buried for this DVD release. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. Dead & Buried is one of those films that offers a visual image which is a challenge to review. The film was clearly shot using a "soft focus" effect, which is only enhanced on this digital transfer. Thus, the image is very soft at times, but it's difficult to tell if this is a problem with the transfer, or something which is inherent in the way that the film was shot. Whatever the case, there are times when light sources look "blown out" and show definite halos. One thing is for certain, the image here is quite grainy, and this grain persists throughout the film. Also, the image is quite dark at times, making it hard to see all of the action. For this review, I compared the Blue Underground version of Dead & Buried to a German import from Dragon Film. The Dragon DVD shows far less grain, but it's clear that noise reduction was used to achieve this effect, resulting in an image that looks "digitized" and shows a great deal of pixellation. But, but dark scenes are easier to make out in the Dragon version. The Blue Underground release does offer the correct framing ratio and the colors are much better. So, Dead & Buried doesn't look perfect, but this is probably the best video of the film that you're going to find.
The audio tracks on the Dead & Buried DVD show some problems as well. The disc contains four audio options; DTS-ES, Dolby Digital Surround EX, Dolby 2.0 Surround, and Mono. The problem here is that none of these track is the clear winner. They all sound fine and each offers clear dialogue and sound effects, but the DTS and Dolby EX tracks don't sound much better than the 2.0 or mono tracks. The DTS, EX, and 2.0 tracks each display nice stereo effects, but there is never much in the way of surround sound, and I don't think the LFE meter ever moved. By way of comparison, after watching Dead & Buried, I watched The Seventh Sign, which contains a Dolby 2.0 Surround track, and the surround effects were much more prominent. The Dead & Buried offers adequate audio, but don't expect to be blown away.
Dead & Buried comes as a limited-edition (limited to 50,000 pieces) 2-disc set. If you're wondering why they had to split this into two discs, it may have something to do with the fact that there are 7 audio tracks on Disc 1! Disc 1 features three audio commentaries. The first features director Gary Sherman and David Gregory of Blue Underground, who asks questions to keep things moving along. But, that isn't really necessary, as Sherman speaks at length about the film's production. He discusses the locations and the cast, as well as the fight with the production company over the amount of violence in the film. He is honest about the film's flaws, but is very complimentary of the cast. The second commentary also features Gregory along with co-writer/co-producer Ronald Shusett, along with his wife Linda Turley Shusett, who appears in the film as the waitress. Gregory has to ask more questions here to keep the conversations going, but the Shusett's certainly remember a good deal about the production. The offer insightful comments about the cast and the shooting of the film. Gregory, the hardest working man in commentaries, talks with director of photography Steve Poster on the third commentary. Poster mixes his memories of the shoot with a good deal of technical information as well, as he discusses how the look of the film was achieved. He also explains why this DVD reveals such a grainy transfer.
Disc 1also contains some other extras. The disc offers the international, U.S., and teaser trailer for Dead & Buried, all of which are letterboxed at 1.85:1. (The teaser is simply the film's memorable poster graphic.) Be aware though, the international trailer is filled with spoilers. There is also a poster & still gallery, which contains over 115 images. The many foreign posters are very interesting.
The remainder of the extras can be found on Disc 2, which offers three featurettes. We start with "Stan Winston's Dead & Buried EFX". In this 18 minute segment, Winston talks about his love for horror films and provides in-depth analysis for many of the FX scenes in Dead & Buried. It's really refreshing to see this three-time Oscar winning speaking with reverence about a low-budget horror film that he made over 20 years ago. This makes him seem very down to earth. Next up is an interview with Robert Englund, of Freddy Krueger fame. Entitled "An Early Work of Horror", this 12-minute segment allows Englund to talk about his background, and discuss his work on Dead & Buried, where he also talks at length about the other cast members. The most disappointing extra is the interview with screenwriter Dan O'Bannon, which is called "Creating Fear". O'Bannon, the writer of Alien spends most of this 14-minute interview rambling about his love for H.P. Lovecraft and his dislike of the term "horror film". He rarely touches on Dead & Buried, and when he does, it's to state that he didn't deserve a screenwriting credit. I was really looking forward to hearing O'Bannon's thoughts on the film, but it appears that he doesn't really have any.
Despite some shortcomings, Dead & Buried has always been a favorite of mine, and it's great to see the film getting the deluxe DVD treatment. Some viewers won't like the film's deliberate pacing, but the ending still packs a wallop and makes the movie worth seeing.