UKHS’ Ecstasy & Agony #1 .
The Ecstasy of DEAD & BURIED (1981) by Duane Hicks
There are films you love. And then there are films you hate. In the first of our new limited run daily series spotlighting the UKHS team’s most cherished and most despised movies, Canadian correspondent Duane Hicks tells you why he just can’t get enough of the eighties cult classic Dead & Buried…
Mobs, lights and murder!
My main beef with modern zombie media is that the public demands too many answers, and the storytellers (perhaps because they’re fans themselves) feel obligated to comply. Questions include: Why are the dead walking the earth and attacking the living? How do they transmit their curse of undeath? Is it some form of virus? It’s got to be a virus, or something like like that fungus that controls ants in Thailand tropical forests. Who’s to blame for that virus? North Korea? The Man? I’ll bet it’s the Man. How much food and water do we have? How hard is it to pierce a human skull and sufficiently damage the brain? Should we all just go to Canada?
But all of this “rationalism” in the face of a fictional happening detracts from what zombies — be they a silent, deadly yet at the same tragic voodoo murder-slave; or a vengeful cuckolded husband; a fatally double-crossed business partner; or a blood-spattered bride returning from the grave — were once about. The simple fact was the dead are back. And they will kill you. And you will never know why. Run!
Which brings me to a favourite film of mine: 1981’s Dead & Buried, directed by Gary Sherman and written by Ronald Shusett and Dan O’Bannon- the scripting duo behind Alien.
After constantly passing this film over at the video store countless times in my youth, thinking it yet another Romero ripoff due to the cover image, I finally saw Dead & Buried a few years back after reading a promising review of it in a horror guide.I was captivated. Maybe it was the creeping sense of the uncanny. Maybe it was the sometimes slow and dreamlike pacing. Maybe it was the violence and gore, or maybe just the mind-bending storyline. Not wanting to pick favourites among those strengths, I can summarise it as being like several of the best issues of EC Comics being brought to un-life on my TV screen in a way not rivalled before or since (sorry, Sir Ralph Richardson …).
In brief: Sheriff Dan Gillis [James Farentino] moves to a nice quiet coastal town, Potter’s Bluff. The welcome sign at town limits promises “a new way of life.” Heh, heh, heh… His first case is a fatal car crash. The twist: It turns out to have been a murder. The second twist: The fatality shows up days later, working at a gas station with no memory of his former life.
This type of macabre switcheroo repeats itself, leading Sheriff Gillis to not only discover a puppet master behind the scenes, but also his own chilling destiny.Without giving away too much, Dead & Buried focuses more on the dead, and less on the buried. Not only is there unexpected and brutal death scenes where mobs of villagers ritually photograph and then kill anyone who visits Potter’s Bluff, there is also a scene where a nurse stabs a hypodermic needle right into a helpless patients wide-with-fear eye that would make any gorehound grimace.
Going further, we spend a good deal of time around corpses at the mortuary, including an impressive time-lapse photography of a facial reconstruction. Prolonged exposure to the dead creates a sense of discomfort and gives way to acceptance and perhaps even familiarity. And it’s all intentional. Heh, heh, heh …
Then there’s the atmosphere of Potter’s Bluff itself, which is quaint, but at the same time … stale. It looks like it hasn’t changed in 40 years. Just like the corpses prepared by the towns quirky mortician Dobbs [Jack Albertson, in his final theatrical role] for their funerals that never happen, upon closer inspection it’s merely an imitation of life.
Grandpa never wore rouge…
So what does all of this have to do with my introductory ramblings? Watch Dead & Buried and find out for yourself!