10/2/08

Say it Ain't So Uncle Joe

When I was a wee Bug, I always felt that Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory was one freaky ass movie. I loved it, don't get me wrong, but the surreal boat ride sequence, with it's LSD visuals and Gene Wilder's menacing performance, would give me the heebie jeebies. Yet I knew everything would turn out just fine. After all, it was a kid's movie and nothing bad could happen to Charlie and lovable Uncle Joe, and that's why I'm glad I hadn't seen a moment of tonight's film. It's not just that the gore would have scare the socks off me (After all, I've still never gone back and watched all of Something Wicked this Way Comes. I got to the part where the kids see their own heads get chopped off, and I was done.), but the fact that I could never look at poor old kindhearted Uncle Joe the same way again. Maybe Willie wasn't the one I should have been worried about.  

Dead and Buried (1981) starring James Farentino, Melody Anderson, and Jack Albertson. Directed by Gary Sherman. 

Dead & Buried is the story of the small Maine town of Potters Bluff. It's a quaint little fishing community with the slogan "A New Way of Life", and indeed it is. When a photographer comes to visit, he takes a walk on the beach to photograph the idyllic surroundings. Imagine his pleasant surprise when a smoking hot blond shows up and wants her picture taken. That's a damn site better than taking pictures of seagulls I can assure you, and it's unlikely that a hot blond will crap on your head. (One would hope at least, but hey, it takes all kinds.) She gets him totally entranced with her as she doffs her shirt for some topless poses, and he doesn't notice the gaggle of townsfolk ready to jump him. They wrap him in a fishing net, beat him, and burn him alive, and as the crowd takes film and pictures of the event one of them intones "Welcome to Potters Bluff."

That evening the Sheriff Dan Gillis (Farentino) is called out to the scene of a grisly car crash
He investigates and waits for town mortician/coroner Mr. Dobbs (Jack Albertson, the actor who played the aforementioned Uncle Joe). When Dobbs arrives and examines the body, they are very much surprised to find the man, who had been badly burned, still alive. As they take the man away, Dan wonders if everything is as it seems. He has little time to wonder because the next day after a breakfast in the local diner (occupied by various townsfolk that we have already seen up to no good), he's called out to a murder of a traveling fisherman. The Sheriff becomes even more concerned as the murder rate has doubled in his sleepy little town in less than a day. 

He investigates the burn victim's hotel room, and discovers the man's occupation as a photographer. The hotel manager also informs Dan that he had seen Dan's wife, Janet (Melody Anderson of Flash Gordon fame), come to visit the man. When Dan inquires about it, she dismisses it with an explanation about buying some photographic equipment for the school where she teaches. Dan accepts her explanation, but he remains skeptical. The hospital is his next destination to check on the burned man. As he consults the doctor about when the man might be able to answer questions, the blond from the opening scene comes in and kills 
the man with a hypodermic needle to the eyeball. This scene is one of the reasons the movie made it on the 1980's list of banned movies in Britain called the Video Nasties. However compared to eyeball trauma in Thiller, Zombie 2, or even Star Trek:The Next Generation- First Contact, it seemed quite tame to me. Dan consults about the burn victim with  Mr. Dobbs who is creepily eager to get his hands on any disfigured corpse he can to "make it even more beautiful than before".

Dan's wife comes under further suspicion when he find a book on witchcraft and a ceremonial knife in her dresser drawer. (Usually men have to worry about other disturbing "objects" they might find buried in dresser drawers.) She of course has an explanation of this as well. She is going to teach her class about the history of witchcraft.  Deaths continue to plague the community as a family passes through town. They get gas at a station manned by "Freddie" who is a dead ringer for the former burn victim. When the father runs off the road trying to swerve to avoid a man running across a road, they seek refuge in a house on a hill. Unfortunately the townsfolk strike again, and dump the family car into the ocean for the Sheriff to later discover. Dan is having driving problems of his own when someone jumps out in front of his car and he hits them. He jumps out of his cruiser to find an arm, still moving, attached to his grill. He gets jumped by someone and they make off with the arm, but he finds a few shreds of flesh he takes to the town doctor to be examined. 

Sheriff Dan visits his wife at her school only to find her actually teaching about witchcraft, voodoo, and zombies. (Does the school board know? How times have changed. Nowadays Harry Potter is too "occult" for some people.) Dan is soon called away to another killing. This one is a lone hitchhiking girl who was passing through town (Played by Lisa Marie, the future fiancee of Tim Burton and star of his films such as Mars Attacks and Ed Wood). Mr. Dobbs takes the disfigured girl back to his mortuary and lovingly brings her beauty back in a stunning time lapse sequence that was perhaps the high point of the film for me. After Dobbs is done and leaves, we see the corpse get up
from the table and walk away. Dobbs runs to tell the sheriff the body is missing, but Dan is already reeling from the news that the flesh from his car is three to four months old. Bit by bit the mystery unfolds for Dan, and he realizes there is little he can trust of the life he thinks he knows. 

Dead and Buried gains a lot from the work of legendary FX maker Stan Wiston (who I previously covered in the review of his film Pumpkinhead). The scenes of violence are wonderfully done, and as I mentioned the reconstruction of the girl's body was exquisite. Where it fails is the disjointed feeling that permeates the narrative. There is little suspense as an audience since we know much more about what's going on than Sheriff Dan. The scenes also have a feel that seems to hearken to some of the more hackneyed storytelling of pot boilers from the 1940's and 50's, but not always in a good way. However, it has it share of cool ideas and twists. Some feel easily predictable. Others are good surprises that work in a highly original way, but it does at time come off like an extended and gory episode of a Twilight Zone type series. D&B features some brief work by a pre-Freddy Robert England as one of the townsfolk. (The DVD I have mentions him as "Co-Starring" which I suppose is true in the loosest sense of the word.) The script was written by Ronald Shusett and Dan O'Dannon, the team responsible for the scripts for Aliens and Total Recall, but unlike those films this one did not enjoy the same success.  This is a good one to see, and it's 94 minute running time is near perfect. It makes for an enjoyable watch, but I may have to look at Uncle Joe in a whole new light.

Bug Rating

3 comments:

  1. I'll have to add this one to my list. I saw it years ago, but reading your review I realized that I don't remember it at all!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Check it out Jenn. I was overall surprised at what it was, nto really what i expected.

    Thanks for stopping by.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Aw, I want it. It's fairly cheap here in South Africa so I'll pick it up.

    ReplyDelete

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