Dead & Buried

2 out of 5

Directed by: Gary Sherman

I like the idea of horror mysteries, in which the central inciting event – something occultish, or a strange murder, perhaps – requires investigation by a lead, leading toward weirder and maybe bloodier and scarier things. Now that’s a pretty broad definition, of course, and could be said to encompass giallos, or anything where the culprit is kept off screen, but I think that a good horror mystery isn’t just ticking off the time inbetween kills – you could strip it down to just the story, and still be intrigued.

Dead & Buried has a pretty good hook for that, with the residents of Potters Bluff teaming up en masse to kill off any newcomers to the town – in often spectacularly over-the-top fashions – and our protrag, Sherriff Dan Gillis (James Farentino) fills the requirements of putting the mystery through its paces, actually effectively going around town and asking the right questions, and clicking clues together for us.

You might spot a potential flaw there, though, with a large percentage of an everyone-knows-everyone small town all executing these kills – and that’s not a spoiler, we’re shown them right out in the open – and Dan somehow none the wiser, but the film’s mostly able to sustain a suspension of disbelief on that by upping the oddity of those murders, and also tossing in some amusing side characters throughout, including a wonderfully quirky mortician (Jack Albertson).

At the same time, there’s a tradeoff: the way the movie is so up front about what Bluff’s denizens are doing (though not why) sort of negates the effectiveness of the scenes in which they stalk victims, even though there are some great shots in those scenes, and so the tone can never quite settle into Twin Peaks black comedy, an indulgent kill-fest (you’ll note Stan Winston’s name on effects, though to be frank, there’s nothing especially crazy here), or a solid thriller, and the air completely goes out of the mystery when Gillis finds a book in his house that pretty much explains what’s going on.

Thereafter, we’re just sort of kicking the can until the ridiculous ending, where all sense is thrown out the window in an exposition dump from the exposed villain, and someone has the time to scrawl out a name on a grave and replace it with that of a main character, because that makes for a better visual.

No pun intended, but buried somewhere in here is a tighter version of the flick that perhaps plays up the mystery throughout, and is a bit more cagey with its kills, but I guess there was more money to make by bloodying things up a little.