Release Date(s)1981 (July 20, 2021)
Studio(s)AVCO Embassy Pictures (Blue Underground)
- Film/Program Grade: A-
- Video Grade: A+
- Audio Grade: A+
- Extras Grade: A+
Though the success of Alien had little to do with 1981’s Dead & Buried, it at least gave the film more of a fighting chance to have Ronald Shusett’s and Dan O’Bannon’s name on the film, despite the fact that O’Bannon asserted that he was merely a “script doctor.” Unfortunately, it didn't get folks excited enough to see it in the theater upon its initial release. The film’s director, Gary Sherman, had helmed Death Line (aka Raw Meat) nine years prior and had mostly been working in TV in between projects. After Dead & Buried, he would go on to direct Vice Squad and Poltergeist III, the last of which left a bit of a sour taste in his mouth.
In the small seaside town of Potters Bluff, there are an increasing number of bodies piling up. The local residents appear to be ritualistically killing outsiders, leaving the town’s local Sheriff Dan Gillis (James Farentino) disturbed and frustrated by the sudden onslaught of what initially appear to be accidents. He’s also preoccupied with his wife Janet (Melody Anderson), wondering what she’s up to when he’s not home and sensing that she may be having an affair. Meanwhile, the recently dead are being handled by local coroner and mortician William Dobbs (Jack Albertson), who considers himself an artist when it comes to preparing the bodies of the deceased. Although Sheriff Gillis doesn’t initially suspect anybody of any wrongdoing, including the local townspeople (among them Lisa Blount, Robert Englund, Barry Corbin, and Michael Pataki), these horrific crimes eventually lead him to more than a few shocking and ghoulish revelations.
In the modern day horror community, Dead & Buried is considered a favorite. It’s much more appreciated now than it was at first for its performances, cinematography, and most prominently, Stan Winston’s amazing make-up and special effects. It’s also a film that takes its time and moves with an intentionally slow place, building an atmospheric story that, along with the main title theme by composer Joe Renzetti, has a truly haunting quality. It’s been stated that it was originally meant to be more of a black comedy, but since it was retooled with additional kills and gore effects (not unlike John Carpenter’s The Fog), it’s unclear to what degree. Yet even after adjustments by outside forces (leaving continuity errors and one truly awful special effect done without Stan Winston’s involvement in its wake), Dead & Buried is still a highly effective and spooky film with an underlying sadness that is only heightened its the twist ending.
Dead & Buried was shot on 35 mm film with Panavision Panaflex cameras and spherical lenses, and it was finished photochemically. For this new Ultra HD release, Blue Underground has taken a 4K 16-bit scan of the film’s 35 mm interpositive element, given it a digital restoration, and graded the image for high dynamic range (both Dolby Vision and HDR10 are available). The result is presented in the intended aspect ratio of 1.85:1, with the final approval of director of photography Steven Poster. According to Blue Underground, they searched for many years to try and locate the original camera negative, but were unsuccessful. Per Sherman, many of the elements pertaining to his original cut were destroyed by one of the film’s three production companies, so the OCN was likely lost as well. Blue Underground has also stated that they inspected an internegative element for possible use, but it was in much poorer condition. The interpositive that they did use was still littered with dirt, scratches, and other damage, which required many more hours of restoration than any title they’ve released so far.
That all being said, this is by far the best presentation of Dead & Buried ever released on home video. Though struck from an element one generation away from the OCN, loving care has been put into the result. This is a delicate film that uses darkness to its advantage, thanks to Poster's photography (his work also includes Donnie Darko). The image is thick with grain, but mostly tightly encoded—although it does waver in a couple scenes, particularly during Sheriff Gillis’ grisly graveside discovery. The diffused softness of the images is well-represented, yet everything is still crisp and highly detailed, with amazing depth in the shadows. Finer details are now more prominent, including things like the patch on secretary Betty’s jacket early on. The color palette offers a rich selection of blues, greens, and browns, but the red of Lisa Blount’s shirt at the beginning of the film pops off the screen, definitely signifying that something sinister is lying in wait for Freddy. As the film was originally finished with slight desaturation, the new HDR grade pushes the gamut as wide as it can go, yet the creative intentions of Sherman and Poster haven’t been compromised. Newfound clarity is off the charts, particularly during darker scenes, such as Gillis’ trek through a chicken coop in the middle of the night. This is a clean, stable, and naturally film-like presentation that easily surpasses all previous home video releases ten-fold.
The audio comes in multiple options, including a new English Dolby Atmos track (7.1 Dolby TrueHD compatible), English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, and English and French 1.0 DTS-HD Master Audio. Subtitle options included English SDH, French, and Spanish. The new Atmos track does a great job of spacing out Joe Renzetti’s score, spreading it to the rear speakers with a bit overhead while also subtly allowing ambient effects to poke through. Occasional bits of dialogue are placed around the soundstage, but it mostly sits front and center. Sound effects are also sometimes carefully placed in this manner, including doors opening and closing, bells ringing, machines whirring, floors creaking, gravedigging, and footsteps. Certain spaces give the dialogue room to breathe and aren’t as flat, particularly in the mortuary, but it still has an appreciably dated quality. The track can also have a narrowness in certain moments, including the discovery of Freddy in the hospital and the scene that follows. Things open up more during outdoor scenes, whether they take place during the day or at night. Panning effects are limited to passing vehicles while low end activity mostly comes from the score. Overall, the track merely expands upon the original mono rather than improving it, which is a definite plus. Also available is the similar but less spacious 5.1 track, as well as the original mono. All of these options are clean and free of any leftover defects such as hiss, crackle, or distortion.
This Limited Edition release not only includes the film on Ultra HD, but also on Blu-ray in 1080p with the same audio and subtitle options, as well as bonus materials. The presentation on the Blu-ray is stunning in its own right as it’s sourced from the same 4K restoration, minus the HDR pass and additional pixels. Bundled in with them is the film’s soundtrack by Joe Renzettii on CD, which has never been available before. The following extras are included:
DISCS ONE & TWO – UHD & BLU-RAY
- Audio Commentary with Gary Sherman and David Gregory
- Audio Commentary with Ronald Shusett, Linda Shusett, and David Gregory
- Audio Commentary with Steven Poster and David Gregory
- Audio Commentary with Troy Howarth and Nathaniel Thompson
- Behind the Scenes of Dead & Buried (HD – 33:18)
- Dead & Buried Locations: Now & Then (HD – 3:57)
- Murders, Mystery, and Music (HD – 15:16)
- The Pages of Potters Bluff (HD – 12:49)
- Stan Winston’s Dead & Buried EFX (Upscaled SD – 17:38)
- Robert Englund: An Early Work of Horror (Upscaled SD – 12:25)
- Dan O’Bannon: Crafting Fear (Upscaled SD – 14:26)
- International Trailer (HD – 2:30)
- US Trailer (HD – 1:55)
- Teaser Trailer (HD – :30)
- Posters Gallery (HD – 18 in all – 10:00)
- Advertising Materials Gallery (HD – 17 in all – 9:30)
- Japanese Souvenir Program Gallery (HD – 20 in all – 11:00)
- Lobby Cards Gallery (HD – 78 in all – 40:02)
- Stills Gallery (HD – 48 in all – 25:01)
- Stan Winston’s FX Gallery (HD – 28 in all – 15:00)
- Video & Book Gallery (HD – 27 in all – 14:30)
- Steven Poster’s Location Stills (HD – 36 in all – 19:31)
DISC THREE – CD
- Welcome to Potters Bluff (6:31)
- Freddy Gets Burned (2:23)
- Needle in the Eye (1:10)
- Undead Townies (1:15)
- Family in Fear (4:00)
- Into the Fisherman's Shack (1:54)
- Discovering the Witchcraft Book (:59)
- The Hitchhiker's Murder (2:03)
- Reconstruction (2:26)
- Death by Acid (3:38)
- Grave Diggers (3:42)
- Dan Picks Up the Film (1:53)
- Horrifying Home Movies (2:01)
- Janet's Secret (2:11)
- The Shocking Truth (3:43)
- Sentimental Journey (Bonus Track) (2:37)
- And the Angels Sing (Bonus Track) (1:56)
In the first audio commentary with director Gary Sherman and filmmaker David Gregory, the two discuss the film while watching it together. Sherman talks avidly about the genesis of the project, when and where it was shot, the level of violence, Sherman’s original intent, the use of color, working with the cast and crew, his use of long tracking shots, the score and working with Joe Renzetti, the difficulties of tenting and shooting in an old house, differences between the original cut and the final film, the fact that all copies of Sherman’s original cut were destroyed, other horror films that he appreciates, working with Christopher Lee on Death Line, the film’s dated qualities, working with director of photography Steven Poster, shooting black and white Super 8 mm footage, the film’s outcome, and his final thoughts. In the second audio commentary with co-writer/producer Ronald Shusett, Linda Shusett (nee Turley), and David Gregory, they go quiet a little too often as they tend to watch more than comment. Regardless, they talk about acquiring the script, hiring Gary Sherman, the cast, the “shock” scenes, trimming back on the violence, Dan O’Bannon’s involvement, Stan Winston’s work, Ronald Shusett’s other work, Linda’s work in the film, the influence of classic horror films, the movie novelization tie-in, Ronald’s feeling about how the film’s last third works better than the first two thirds, James Farentino’s performance, the budget, Michael Pataki’s involvement, the critical reaction, the final shot, Linda’s story about someone’s reaction to her character in the theater, and their final thoughts.
In the third audio commentary with director of photography Steven Poster and David Gregory, they discuss his background, working with Gary Sherman, the specific look of the film, using diffusion and slight desaturation, scouting the film’s locations, Stan Winston’s involvement, budget limitations, interior shooting, the revelation that the rat in the boat captain death scene was also in Willard, extended camera moves being trimmed in editing, matching shots later during pickups, Jack Albertson’s presence, the economy of shots, working on location, the producers’ involvement, working with Technicolor, technical information about how certain shots were achieved, shooting inside the darkened house, using matches and flashlights to light scenes, the lack of coverage, seeing the film projected in a theater, poor presentations on video prior to DVD, overseeing transfers of his films, the reception to the film, members of the crew going on to do other things, cool skin tones, still photography, the intricacies of the scene that features projectors, reflective surfaces, staging for character movements, working for Herschell Gordon Lewis, and being proud of his work. In the new and final audio commentary with film historian Nathaniel Thompson and writer Troy Howarth, they discuss the film’s terrible framing on VHS, the score and its composer, Lisa Blount and her association with cult horror films, Oscar-winning talent working on the film, other films with similar ideas and themes, building atmosphere slowly, Robert Englund and Jack Albertson’s presences, the perceived secrecy of the plot while shooting it, AVCO Embassy, the film not connecting with audiences initially, Gary Sherman’s previous film Death Line, the film’s authorial identity, the original tone which morphed during production, the needle death sequence, adding extra footage into horror films, James Farentino’s performance, comic relief in horror, Vice Squad, Poltergeist III, Melody Anderson, folk horror, not knowing everything about the plot, the original writers and the genesis of how the film went into production, the special effects and how they hold up in high definition, the worst effect in the film, and the realization of the plot.
The new Behind the Scenes segment is fascinating as it’s been edited down from 15 hours of random 8 mm footage from the set, which was shot by various members of the crew. It’s silent, but it features an introduction by Gary Sherman, as well as a fun audio commentary by Sherman, director of photography Steven Poster, and first assistant director Brian Frankish. It shows just what a fun time the cast and crew had making the film, but it also features a behind-the-scenes moment of a shot trimmed short in the final film in which the sheriff inspects the body of the hitchhiker. In Dead & Buried: Locations Then & Now, we get a modern-day comparison of what the film’s shooting locations in and around Mendocino, California look like today. In Murders, Mystery, and Music, Gary Sherman and composer Joe Renzetti have a back and forth discussion about how they met, writing the script and utilizing music during the process, scenes from the film and the music in them, how they worked together, and where they got ideas for the music. In The Pages of Potters Bluff, novelization author Chelsea Quinn Yarbro talks about her realization at an early age that she was going to be a writer, how writing movie novelizations was tricky at the time, how she got involved with the project, adapting screenplays, meeting with Ronald Shusett, conveying ideas without visuals to go by, and the book’s success. Stan Winston’s Dead & Buried EFX features the legendary make-up and monster effects creator himself discussing his career, his feelings on the history of horror films, the film’s special effects in depth, his favorite effects, and how well they hold up. An Early Work of Horror features an interview with Robert Englund who talks about his career around the time he began working on Dead & Buried, other actors in the film, where it was shot, crushing on Lisa Blount, Jack Albertson, the effects, his take on the film’s walking dead, and his reaction to the film. In Crafting Fear, Dan O’Bannon discusses the genesis of Alien, his feelings about atmosphere and ideas in horror, getting involved with Dead & Buried, not stepping on George Romero’s toes, his reluctant credit on the film, and what he thought of the final film.
The various still galleries contain a total of 272 images. They include posters, promotional materials, lobby cards, souvenir programs, newspaper clippings, on-set and behind-the-scenes stills, and home video and movie novelization artworks. Also included is Steven Poster’s pre-shoot photography stills. Last but not least is a 20-page insert booklet featuring cast and crew information, an essay by Michael Gingold, a CD soundtrack track listing, and a chapter listing for the film. All three discs are contained within a clear amaray case with double-sided artwork featuring the original theatrical artwork on the reverse. Everything is housed within a slipcase featuring three different styles of lenticular artwork, all of which can be purchased here, here, and here.
A favorite of filmmakers like Guillermo Del Toro, Dead & Buried holds up beautifully as an effective piece of atmospheric horror cinema, the likes of which are rarely made. Though director Gary Sherman dismissed the film for many years, he came to appreciate it much later, as did many horror fans. Blue Underground does another stellar job at restoring the film with an amazing A/V presentation in UHD and a bulky and entertaining extras package to go with it, including the film’s soundtrack. Like all of their releases, this is an essential purchase. Highly recommended!
- Tim Salmons