Dead & Buried: The Best 80’s Horror Movie You Haven’t Seen

Sometimes movies just fall through the cracks. When it hit theaters in 1981, Dead & Buried barely made a ripple at the box office. One can even forgive older horror fans for missing this one in the VHS years. Despite making the UK’s ‘Video Nasty’ list, Dead & Buried went against the grain for 80’s horror. Neither a slasher nor a straight-up supernatural thriller, Dan O’Bannon contributed to what’s a pretty unique horror movie for the time period.


Potter’s Bluff, a small US coastal town, seems like the kind of place where you’d want to retire. Quiet, small, friendly people – it’s a postcard-perfect community. But a sudden series of gruesome murders of out-of-towner’s stumps Sheriff Dan Gillis. With no suspects and no motive, Sheriff Gillis struggles to find a connection. And things only get stranger when he believes he’s seen some of the victims re-animated and walking through Potter’s Bluff. The local coroner and mortician, William G Dobbs, seems unconcerned. In fact, Dobbs is delighted with the new business. Then Sheriff Gillis discovers his wife has a collection of books on witchcraft, leading him to wonder if his wife is raising the dead.

Dead & Buried a Triumph of Low-Budget Atmosphere and Horror

Where Dead & Buried’s strengths lie are in its atmosphere and storytelling. In spite of a lower budget, director Gary Sherman maintains a fairly consistent sense of unease throughout the movie. This isn’t surreal horror film-making, but Dead & Buried’s dreamlike pacing has more in common with 70’s horror movies like Let’s Scare Jessica To Death than its 80’s counterparts. When Sherman does rely on jolts and jump scares, they’re surprisingly well-executed. Like much of this 1981 release, the scares have held up well to the test of time. Even jaded horror fans may find a few clever curves in Dead & Buried. A murder of a photographer in broad daylight – in the movie’s opening scene no less – is both nasty and completely unexpected.

…Sherman nails the twist, and if Dead & Buried is indeed a 90-minute Twilight Zone episode, at least it’s a good one.

From that point onward, Dead & Buried spins a rather engaging mystery. Most available synopses for the movie capture just the barest of the story’s direction. In addition to the mystery and a few unexpected directions, Sherman includes some eccentric ticks that further distinguish his movie. Some critics may point out that the final twist makes the movie feel like an extended Twilight Zone episode. And Dead & Buried drags a little occasionally. Nevertheless, Sherman nails the twist, and if Dead & Buried is indeed a 90-minute Twilight Zone episode, at least it’s a good one.

Dead & Buried Puts Sparing Gore To Good Use

Aside from its better than expected mix of The Stepford Wives and zombie movie narratives, Dead & Buried boasts decent low-budget gore effects. Part of its success here lies in necessary restraint. That is, Sherman doesn’t double-down on the explicit violence. Instead, Dead & Buried focuses on mood using its handful of gruesome death scenes as shocking set-pieces. If you weren’t raised on ‘Torture Porn‘ or New French Extremity horror, there’s enough here to have you squirming. It probably doesn’t hurt that legendary make-up artist Stan Winston (Pumpkinhead, Wrong Turn) contributed to the movie’s effects.

…Sherman doesn’t double-down on the explicit violence. Instead, Dead & Buried focuses on mood using its handful of gruesome death scenes as shocking set-pieces.

A decent cast elevates the movie in its slower moments. Veteran character James Farentino makes for a believable, in not entirely compelling, protagonist. At the very least, Farentino strikes the right feel of an ‘everyman’ confronting the unthinkable. Most importantly, Farentino’s grounded performance helps Dead & Buried nail its ending. Cult movie fans may recognize Melody Anderson from the wonderfully schlocky Flash Gordon. As a bonus for horror fans, a young Robert Englund (A Nightmare on Elm Street) has a small role. But it’s Jack Albertson’s performance that steals the show. Did you watch a lot of cable television growing up? If so, you’ll recognize Albertson as ‘Grandpa Joe’ from the original Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Clearly, Albertson had fun playing mortician William G Dobbs. And horror fans will undoubtedly have fun watching him.

Dead & Buried Conspicuous By Its Absence From the 2000’s Remake Craze

To be fair, no one is likely to add Dead & Buried to their ‘best of’ list of 80’s horror. It’s not going to rank alongside the decade’s genre heavyweights. Still it’s surprising that Hollywood skipped this one over during the 2000’s horror remake craze. This is a decent low-budget effort that’s head and shoulders above a lot of early 80’s slashers. Sherman soaks the surprisingly good story in a healthy dose of atmosphere. Low-budget movies today also don’t get the kind of actors and performances found in Dead & Buried. If it’s not among the best of 80’s horror, Dead & Buried may be the best 80’s horror movie you haven’t seen.


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I am a Criminology professor in Canada but I've always had a passion for horror films. Over the years I've slowly begun incorporating my interest in the horror genre into my research. After years of saying I wanted to write more about horror I have finally decided to create my own blog where I can share some of my passion and insights into the films I love.

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