Welcome to Fistful of Features, a celebration of film preservation through physical media and the discussion of cinematic treasures to maintain their relevance in the cultural lexicon. Today we’ll be discussing Gary Sherman’s cult chiller Dead & Buried now available on 4K UHD Blu-ray courtesy of Blue Underground.
“Call it black magic. Call it a medical breakthrough. I’ll take my secret to the grave.”
An oblivious tourist is snapping photos along the coastal beauty of Potters Bluff as a striking young woman suddenly appears in the frame. Steven Poster’s (Donnie Darko) steady cinematography gently waves around her, not unlike the tides along the beach where they stand. She offers to model for this eager paparazzo and, as she begins to become flirtatious, the lens zooms in as if, from this enchanted man’s point of view, there’s hypnosis taking place. As he’s lured in with her offer of seduction, a large vicious mob appears from behind her. They encircle him, ferociously snapping bright bulbs before his eyes. Filmmaker Gary Sherman really wants this surreal opening to jolt his audience. The ravenous locals severely beat him an inch away from his life before settling him afire. This sets up a mystery for Sheriff Dan Gillis (James Farentino) to solve that becomes more and more peculiar as bizarre homicides begin to pile up and end up at the doorstep of an eccentric mortician named Dobbs, who takes his cosmetology quite seriously. This morbid perfectionist is portrayed by Jack Albertson in his final film performance and it is, truthfully, one of his best. Most will remember him as Grandpa Joe from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, but without revealing too much, his character turn here is not to be forgotten and he manages to steal every scene he appears in. Sherman specifically chose classic big band music for Dobbs to play in his mortuary that will make sense when you get to the film’s reveal and there’re little moments where Albertson’s character is delicately dancing to it as if it is taking him to a place he hasn’t recalled in ages.
Dead & Buried is a dark horror comedy that unfolds like a William Gaines comic or a classic episode of “The Twilight Zone.” Conceptualized by Jeff Miller and Alex Stern and written by Ronald Shusett, the script was doctored by Dan O’ Bannon (Alien) who’s always managed to construct a great amount of tension and menace while not going overboard when it comes to the carnage, though he’s admitted his touches were barely reflected in the final product. Makeup effects legend Stan Winston doesn’t shy away from the gore as there’s a hospital scene involving a syringe and an eye pupil that’ll likely make you squirm. This film never relishes in those moments, though, and gives you just enough to make it last longer in your head. The ghoulish element that later comes into play is a great marriage of Winston’s astonishing makeup and Sherman’s clever approach of taking advantage of foggy weather conditions along the Mendocino beaches where they filmed. When layered with Joe Renzetti’s (Child’s Play) spellbinding score, Dead & Buried has a dreamlike quality that at times resembles the cerebral madness of Lucio Fulci’s finest work. He also purposely avoided using the color red in any scene that didn’t involve bloody mayhem and when those scenes come along, they’re much more jarring because of it. This film also notably has an early appearance from future Elm Street boogeyman Robert Englund that’s sure to excite newcomers.
Blue Underground has remained a gold standard in genre film restoration and this release over seen by DP Steve Poster is a beautiful 4K 16-bit scan from the 35mm IP with Dolby Vision HDR and Dolby Atmos audio. Stacked with extra behind-the-scenes features, the absolute highlight if you’re a fan of film novelizations such as this writer is “The Pages of Potter’s Bluff,” an interview with author Chelsea Quinn Yarbro. It’s a revealing and fascinating look at the creative process of adapting a screenplay into prose and her insight of being pressured into capturing scenes that can only be created visually through cinema was very insightful and her approach to compromise was quite creative. There’s a great essay booklet included that chronicles the legacy of Avco Embassy Pictures that was written by veteran Fangoria writer Michael Gingold. It’s a fun overview of their theatrical distribution in the early eighties that not only included this film, but included genre staples such as Phantasm, John Carpenter’s The Fog, and The Howling. There’re even images of the original one sheets to accompany his writing.
That’s just the tip of the iceberg in this stacked release that’s a no brainer purchase for any die-hard genre enthusiast. You can order this directly from Blue Underground’s page on Diabolik DVD.
Dead & Buried Special Features:
- Audio Commentary #1 with Director Gary Sherman
- Audio Commentary #2 with Co-Writer/Co-Producer Ronald Shusett and Actress Linda Turley
- Audio Commentary #3 with Director of Photography Steven Poster, ASC
- NEW! Audio Commentary #4 with Film Historians Troy Howarth and Nathaniel Thompson
- NEW! Behind the Scenes of Dead & Buried
- NEW! Dead & Buried Locations: Now & Then
- NEW! Murders, Mystery, and Music – Interviews with Director Gary Sherman and Composer Joe Renzetti
- NEW! The Pages of Potters Bluff – Interview with Novelization Author Chelsea Quinn Yarbro
- Stan Winston’s Dead & Buried EFX
- Robert Englund: An Early Work of Horror
- Dan O’Bannon: Crafting Fear
- Theatrical Trailers
- NEW! Poster & Still Galleries
- Steven Poster’s Location Stills
- BONUS! Dead & Buried Original Motion Picture Soundtrack CD by Joe Renzetti
- BONUS! Collectible Booklet with new essay by Michael Gingold
Available on 4K UHD July 20th, 2021.
For more information, head to Blue Underground’s official Dead & Buried filmpage.