Underrated? Overrated-underrated? Underrated-underrated? These are but a few of the subtle variables of merit-vs.-public-perception that we movie nerds love to obsess over. Dead & Buried is one of those oft-talked about “underrated” horror flicks that insiders love to champion, but personally I think it’s rated just about right. It’s pretty good, but that’s about it.
First off, I have to address the "Plus-One Principle," in which a fan of any particular genre gives a little boost to anything aiming for his nerdlinger little heart. I think about this as a relative dilettante, movie-wise. I dabble in all kinds of genres, but give my heart to none. So when I’m listening to a horror fan, I take into account that they’ve bumped up their assessment one extra Entertainment Weekly-style letter grade further to every flick. A bad movie (a “D”) becomes okay (a “C”), and a so-so movie is pretty good (a “B”), a good movie is great (an “A”), and if it’s actually a great movie -- well, then, it’s one of the greatest movies of all time.
Dead & Buried fulfilled its nominative promise, and was pretty much just that - dead and buried - upon its theatrical release. But for those looking for a late-night spookathon with a couple surprises, it does satisfy. Watching it at midnight, in a blood-red color-shifted print, with a crowd of Nasty-fans, was comforting as warm milk-- and the Stan Winston effects, a couple good kills and a nice quasi-neo-’50s sense of paranoia and mystery essentially get you across the finish line. But, as a movie, it’s middle-of-the-road stuff, and with its structural problems alongside a generic and uncharismatic lead, it’s no wonder the film hasn’t secured a place in the Horror Hall of Fame.
The middle of the film drags. I’m not fond of police investigation subplots - it’s one reason I’m not partial to British horror films. Watching some curious coppers going over how bizarre a crime scene is, with comments about how “this bite seems to be from some kind of animal...but no animal I can imagine...”, when we all know it's a fucking werewolf, is death on toast, attention span-wise. In Dead & Buried, we may not know the details, but we’ve seen the killers in the first scene of the film, and the real mystery of the film (how all these folks are dying and coming back to life) isn’t even the one our hero is trying to solve. We’re on totally different beats, and watching him ask all the questions we don’t care about is boring.
So that’s strike one for the film’s middle. Secondly, there are two or three fairly dull kills, ones added last-minute by the distributors to ramp up the gore factor, that are pretty much rinse-and-repeat stuff - minus Stan Winston on board to juice the special effects up. Gary Sherman himself isn’t a fan of these scenes, and it’s no wonder - they really drag down the running time.
That said, what Dead & Buried does have that is a crackerjack last act, and we all know you gotta go big or go home. Cause once we get into the series of unveilings and turns they’re all pretty darn creepy and fun, and have a ring of psychological resonance that should send y’all into the good night just fine. I know I just went on a long rant about the easy use of the term “dream logic” any time a film gets weird or nonsensical in a satisfying way, but the the conclusion of D & B is truly, literally nightmarish. As in, “I had the weirdest nightmare last night, and I really want you to help me figure out what it meant." Like some kind of mixture of a mid-life crisis, marital crisis and impotence anxiety all rolled into one, all the elements of our protagonist's life line up into one scream dream that would wake most of us up with the cold sweats.
Video Nasty meter: 5 (one good shot of a syringe in an eyeball)
Fun meter: 5