Dead & Buried: Alive & Not
Dir. Gary Sherman (1981)
Dead folks in town are coming back to life, and it's up to a sheriff and an all-too-serious mortician to find out what's going on and stop it before it goes too far. May or may not be a sequel to It's a Wonderful Life.
Dead & Buried, an interesting zombie flick with an even more interesting use of the ampersand (instead of just calling it Dead and Buried... Just call it Dead and Buried, you fucking weirdos...), has the distinction of being Robert Englund's first foray into horror. For that alone, it must be revered well above what might otherwise be deserved from what appears on screen. Thankfully, it succeeds otherwise with some delightfully campy performances, including a particularly effective one by Macon McCalman as the devilishly gossiping inkeeper with an inexplicable slightly-Southern accent.
Stan Winston, the makeup and effects artist responsible for pretty much all the cool shit from your childhood, contributes his legendary talents to this film's effects as well. And honestly, with Winston involved, you know that you're in for a wild, gory ride. He's the Academy's answer to Tom Savini, after all. His creation of, in particular, the autopsied girl who immediately comes back to life, is stellar, and he's also responsible for one of the gnarliest sharp-object-in-the-eye outside of the Italian masters.
Like American Girl dolls, for adults.
As for the plot, the townsfolk pull a Two Thousand Maniacs and start offing recent visitors to the town. They take a picture of their victims, uttering their catchphrase "Welcome to Potter's Bluff!" before killing their victims. This, of course, leads me to believe that this is a direct sequel to It's a Wonderful Life. Then, their victims come back to life. The sheriff begins to suspect his wife is into the kind of dark magic that he suspects is raising his town's citizens from the dead, and he suspects that she may have been having an affair with one of the deceased as well. He does a lot of suspecting, is what I'm saying. While his wife may not be the head of some Satanic conspiracy, she definitely hits the nail on the head with her lecture to a bunch of frightened school children roughly halfway into the flick. Of course, it turns out she's not completely inexperienced with the chaos in this little town, either...
This film is pure 80's, and it looks the part. There's an interesting contrast between the 80's-style slightly fuzzy video and Carnival of Souls, my last-reviewed movie which was made 20 years prior. The acting is much better, of course, but this was never an Oscar contender, let's be honest. There's a wonderfully blue-scale foggy color palette throughout the movie, so when the blood starts flowing it is in stark contrast to what we have seen otherwise. In fact, director Gary Sherman used purple taillights for cars to avoid all use of the color red except for in the murder scenes. My wife is huge into color theory for films and television, so it's quite interesting when there is such an intentional use or lack thereof of a specific color. It makes the more gory aspects of the film that much more shocking and bright.
Dan O'Bannon, one of the primary minds behind Alien, was allegedly coaxed into lending his name to this film, and has derided it since due to his proposed changes being left on the drawing board. That being said, from everything I can pick up about Dan O'Bannon, he seemed like kind of an asshole. The infighting during the filming of Return of the Living Dead is legendary, with cast members describing him as "difficult," "abrupt," and "maniacal" (always words you love to see applied to your director). O'Bannon is rightly regarded as a cinematic genius, having lent his name to most of the movies you've seen about aliens and RotLD as well, but Dead & Buried is not, apparently, one of his shining moments. Which is fine, because the movie does alright without his input.
All of that being said, this movie is not half bad for what it is. I do feel that it's a tad wasteful of Winston's talents. It could have certainly been more gory, and it could've been more exciting. It runs roughly an hour and a half, but I felt like it could've used another thirty minutes of excitement, whether that would've come at the expense of what appears on film or simply an increased runtime. They say you should always leave your audience wanting more, but when it's a film, you gotta also give them what they paid for. But, it's reasonably creepy, the effects that are there are decent, and the payoff is, eventually, there. Plus, it appeals to one of my greatest fears: meeting a hot woman on the beach and then being burned alive.
Bottom line: Definitely worth a watch, it's a cult classic in its own right. It doesn't add anything to the zombie genre, but it doesn't direspect it either, and it's more of a Re-Animator/Dead Becomes Her clone anyway. Jack Albertson's Grandpa Joe William G. Dodds is wonderfully mad scientisty, and Winston is always worth the price of admission. Decent twist that I actually didn't see coming, too!