Dead & Buried is a film that’s difficult to classify. While it’s certainly a horror film, it has a lot more going on thematically than what would first appear. And unfairly, this film gets lumped into the zombie genre although there is certainly a linkage that can be made.
Directed by Gary Sherman with a screenplay written by Ronald Shusett and Dan O’ Bannon, the film centers around a small town sheriff who’s at a loss for the strange goings on which are occurring left and right. Most notably, a car found wrecked, with a man burned considerably inside but still alive. Just how the man came to be so burned when the car didn’t have the necessary amount of damage becomes a bit suspect.
Things start to unravel further as our sheriff chases down a speeding car, a family of three trying to get the heck out of dodge. They’re being chased by the townsfolk who all appear to be under some sort of spell. When the sheriff takes off in his cruiser, he runs into one of the townspeople, his arm becoming lodged into the front grill of his car in the process. He sees the arm still moving on its own despite being removed from the owner. The owner, comes to and hits the sheriff, grabs his lopped off arm and runs off into the darkness of the night.
If that bit of weird wasn’t enough, the sheriff comes across some teaching materials that his wife plans to use in her class. A book labeled ‘Witchcraft and Voodooism’ along with a dagger is found in her dresser draw. He confronts her about it but she completely dismisses his first nervous notions. Things don’t really go off the rails until he’s asked to take a roll of film to the local developer, a film that the wife says her students shot. When our suspicious sheriff views the film, things go from the weird to the truly bizarre.
But what really carries the film and keeps our attention are the actions of the town’s coroner who also doubles as the mortician. At first coming off surly and eccentric, he becomes a lot more suspect when he approaches the sheriff one day, claiming that one of his stiffs is missing. As our film nears its end, our mystery is unraveled as the sheriff comes face to face with the truth and the devious dealings our mortician has been dabbling in.
In the film, there are more than a few passing nods to the classic 1956 film, Invasion of the Body Snatchers. In an interview with the website Screenwriting Secrets, here is what Dan O’Bannon had to say about that classic film:
The movie that I think is the scariest film ever made is The Invasion of the Body Snatchers.
In that film, the monster wasn’t there to be seen — and it didn’t do anything! The horror came from the abstract notion that your friends had been replaced. That was terrifying for me! Most efforts to accomplish that theme were pretentious, but Body Snatchers was genuinely scary.*
With the grand ‘reveal’ at the end of our film, we see a continuation of this notion which O’Bannon and Shusett also employed with Alien. This idea of a foreign ‘alien’ that could come on and take complete control over you, without having the slightest clue that you were under its influence. But the scariest part of Dead & Buried is the fact that this ‘alien’ influence was man made rather than a truly alien creature.
Smart, terrifying and wholly original, I believe that Dead & Buried deserves more notoriety than it’s received. It’s an underappreciated gem that is deserving of your time and attention. Check it out if you haven’t done so already. Oh and the makeup effects from Stan Winston are really incredible.