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DEAD AND BURIED (1981) ** ½

A series of strange murders has been happening in the small town of Potter’s Bluff. As the bodies pile up, the sheriff (James Farentino) wracks his brain trying to piece everything together. Maybe the town’s loony old mortician (Jack Albertson) knows what’s going on?

Dead and Buried is a movie that a lot of people have told me I would love, but I can’t quite say that I’m all that enamored with it. I’ve seen it a few times over the years, hoping that this time might be the time that it all finally clicks with me. No such luck on this viewing. Maybe if I catch it again in another decade or two, I’ll feel differently about it.

The film works in fits and starts. The opening, where a guy is burned alive on the beach is pretty good. Even better is the scene where his charred body wakes up screaming inside of a wrecked car. I also dug the part where he’s all bandaged up in a hospital and gets a hypodermic needle in the eye by a cute nurse. If this section of the flick was its own contained story, it would’ve made for a fine twenty minute long Creepshow segment.

The other kills are marred by the stupid townsfolk standing around and snapping pictures. Yes, we eventually learn what their deal is in the end of the picture, but they still seem out of place and take away from the atmosphere that Gary (Vice Squad) Sherman is trying to create. That atmosphere is another highlight. The frame is almost always shrouded by fog and some scenes feel like they came out of an old E.C. Comic.

The twist ending is predictable and poorly handled. Again, if this was a short Creepshow segment, it would’ve been excusable. However, it’s a bit tough to sit through a ninety minute movie when you know what’s going on and the main character doesn’t. Which brings me to my main criticism…

James Farentino makes for a rather crummy hero. It’s not entirely his fault because his character is rock stupid, but his overacting in the last scene helps to ruin whatever effectiveness the big twist might’ve had. I mean we’re talking about some Ryan O’Neal in Tough Guys Don’t Dance territory here.

The supporting cast fares much better. Albertson hams it up nicely, Lisa (Prince of Darkness) Blount is sexy and spooky as the killer nurse, Melody (Flash Gordon) Anderson does a fine job in the thankless role of Farentino’s wife, and a pre-Freddy Robert Englund has a few good moments as one of the townsfolk. Unfortunately, their efforts aren’t enough to make the uneven script (which was written by Alien’s Ronald Shusett and Dan O’Bannon) come together in a satisfying way.

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