Dead and Buried Gary Sherman 1981

or, "Why Not to Trust Fishermen"
Go ahead and try -- come up with a movie with a fishing village where the fishermen are not evil. Take "Cry for the Strangers", (starring the fabulous Patrick Duffy) where they sacrifice tourists to satisfy an ancient Indian curse. Take "The Fog", where some of the fishermen are good, but the old, bad fishermen come back to punish them for founding the town in the first place, which was bad, so in retrospect the fishermen are bad, too. I think. Take "Dagon", where they all turn into fish at some point or another. Or take "The Wicker Man", where they also grow fruit and that's bad, too. In "The Perfect Storm", they're greedy AND stupid. I disqualify "Jaws" because, although it is one of my favorite movies, it stars an EVIL FISH, so of COURSE the fisherman has to be good, to play foil to the baddie in the water. But save for fighting even MORE wicked aquatic life, fishermen are bad to the salty bone.

"Dead and Buried", recently lovingly released on commemorative DVD by the increasingly excellent Blue Underground label, is one of the best "evil fishermen" films out there. Boasting some fantastic scare sequences, a gorgeous look, brilliant staging and camerawork, and one of the most preposterous twist endings ever committed to film, it's a joyride well worthy of its careful presentation in this release. Plus -- Grandpa Joe as a freaky mortician! Look out, Charlie!

The film begins with a delicious seaside sequence where a photographer on vacation is taking snapshots on the beach. Of course, a local beaty queen shows up and starts stripping for his camera (ain't that always the way, boys?) until her henchmen pop out of nowhere and start beating the guy. They tie him to a stake, still alive, and set him on fire with a bunch of other villagers. But wait -- what's going on here?! This wasn't in the brochure! Do I still get my continental breakfast?

So the guy's body ends up in a car and the local police chief comes to investigate. But where's the town mortician, who should be taking the body? Cue one of the most fabulous entrances EVER as the hearse makes its way down a long road on the side of the mountain in the dark, its windows open, the sound of a big band recording creeping over the scene like a forgotten memory. The hush in the air is palpable. It's what moviemaking is all about. This creepy, delicious atmosphere-builder is then punctuated by a nice shock scare, and we're sold -- hook, line, and sinker. This is gonna be good.

The rest of the film boasts plenty of similar brilliant sequences -- a young couple and their child get stuck in the town and can't seem to get out, and find themselves set upon in a dark house in a confusing and effective scene. The burn victim's week gets even WORSE when our friend the town photo-slut shows up in his hospital room and sticks a hypodermic the size of Iggy Pop's -- um, well -- Iggy Pop into his eye. Yowch! He must have had the Oxford Freedom plan.

So our hero, the policeman, starts to suspect that the mortician, his wife, even the local gas station attendant may be involved in certain weird goings-on, which include moving dismembered limbs attaching themselves to the grill of his car, visitors disappearing and reappearing, and Robert Englund being allowed to act without 20 lbs. of Saran Wrap on his face.

Ultimately, after a dozen twists and turns (and the appearance of a very young Lisa Marie, before she met Tim Burton and he told her she could only work for him), we come to a predictable and completely ridiculous resolution, but at this point we've been having so much fun watching the great performances, gorgeous lighting and design, and classic staging and camerawork that we don't even mind. We've just watched a film that managed to be atmospheric, funny, clever, scary, and full of tension and scares. In other words, what contemporary horror has ceased to be on all counts. Rent it.

Rating (out of 5):