Dead & Buried is one of the dirtiest and grimiest looking films ever made. There was absolutely no chance that this was going to resemble anything like the normal hi-def presentation that we have come to expect.
Showcased here in its original 1.78:1 frame (encoded via VC-1), not the 1.85:1 advertised on the box, the movie is diffused, muted and vague. There is so much grain filling up the image that it becomes difficult to spot any actual noise that may be in there as well. Comparing the new transfer to the old one doesn't help a great deal either. Both exhibit thick flurries of the stuff and the mushy effect of it around the frequently seen bright lights - street-lamps, headlights, distant house lights etc - can look quite horrible. But, there is no doubting that this grainy, de-saturated image is faithful to the original film. Dead & Buried, as its title suggests looks as though earth has been shovelled on top of it. What few moments of colour there are have been deliberately muted, with primaries lacking any sort of bite and variable hues none existent, other than for shades of murky brown and grey.
Detail developed by the new encode isn't substantial in comparative terms to today's hi-def product, but you have to remember the source material was vague and downplayed in the first place. Therefore, relatively speaking, you may be surprised at the level of visual information that the new transfer offers up. Wounds - the well-lit daylight killings, for example - are more revealing. The net flung around poor Freddie before his immolation, and the flickering of the flames have more detail than before. The needle in the eye shot has more precision on the lashes and the orb, itself. The black-and-white super-8mm recordings of the killings playing in the background during the bizarre finale look clearer. The landscape around the graveyard - again, best observed during the day - has more depth and detail. Close-ups, which I doubt have ever shown any grand texture - other than the excessive filmic grain - are marginally better than before, but don't go expecting a glint in the eyes or any definition of the hair or material etc. Distance shots aren't in abundance either, the film keeps things fairly reined-in, so background detail is largely consigned to décor, fixtures and nick-knacks and these are variable in the amount of clarity they possess. This is certainly not a disc that you will use to show off your kit, that's for sure. And one thing that actually didn't look as clear in this transfer as it did in the SD version, is the exposed skull on a female attacker after a chunk of flesh is torn off her head during the family-assault, which is a little disappointing.
It should also be mentioned that the criss-crossing line effect that mired one or two shots - usually involving Farentino stepping out onto the main street in the town - are still there and, now, in 1080p they look even more pronounced. Other nicks and spots and scratches are in evidence too, but this type of age-related damage is not detrimental and mainly only very slight.
But whilst there is no troubling edge enhancement, no smearing or intrusive evidence of artefacts in the image, this transfer poses some problems with regards to scoring for its picture. On the one hand, this looks incredibly accurate to how Dead & Buried should appear - arguably it was never meant to be presented in such an unforgiving format as this - so we should actually be applauding a faithful reproduction. Yet, on the other hand, as a hi-def incarnation, this just doesn't represent that much of an upgrade over the Blue Underground SD that many fans will already own. That looked murky and indistinct, too, and the BD edition only seems to intensify this dour aspect all the more. But, with numerous comments by those involved with the film on their respective chat-tracks, and Sherman and DOP Steve Poster actually being involved with the original SD transfer and being very pleased with it to boot, we can only concede that this is exactly how Dead & Buried is meant to look, and it will, undoubtedly, never look any better.
So, taking all this into account, I'm going to give this a 7 out of 10, as it only makes a couple of tiny errors and, in the main, actually improves upon the SD image. Some people will no doubt disagree, but this is how Dead & Buried should look in high-definition and you can't really mark that down, can you?
Blue Underground have bestowed Dead & Buried with the same audio extravagances that it did for The Final Countdown - which is another way of saying that they have gone completely over-the-top with high-end 7.1 surround mixes for a movie that only ever had mono sound to begin with. Hmmm. You really have to wonder why they do such things, don't you? I mean even a 5.1 mix would be actually be pushing it, since it would mean extending the signals, throwing in bogus effects and utilising delays and echoes to create the impression of wraparound sound. But to then stretch this out to 7.1 just beggars belief.
And here we have 7.1 in DTS-HD and Dolby TrueHD flavours ... and then there is a 5.1 EX track, as well. Just like the actions of the mysterious murderers in the film, this is pure wanton overkill. We are back in the days of Anchor Bay's wretched surround remixes and my advice is to skip any and all of these pseudo-wraparounds and stick with the mono, because they add absolutely nothing of worth. Oh no, wait a minute ... you can't, because in their infinite wisdom, Blue Underground have neglected to bring the original track over to the Blu-ray, even though they provided it on the SD edition.
Okay, well, let's consider what we have got, then.
Two lossless tracks to choose from and, to be honest, there's nothing between them. The rears - and this is meant to cater for a 7.1 set-up, remember - do virtually nothing throughout, merely catching the odd effect - lapping tide, creaking wood - or mumbling some vague ambience and whispering along in dull echo to the musical stingers. It is not a surround experience at all. The soundtrack is spread along the frontal array and here, at least, things come over with some clarity and presence, although I would say that dialogue is slightly downmixed. The width isn't particularly impressive though, and steerage is slight and unconvincing. We do get the mournful sound of the foghorn presented with more prominence, and the sub is rather pitifully brought into play for some of the “stingers” and the impact of, say, that body slamming into Dan's jeep. But, beyond this, strong bass isn't particularly hauled to the fore. But then, the track was never designed for such things.
Thankfully, what surround usage has been incorporated is hardly ever that intrusive or impacting as to become a distraction. Which, of course, begs the question why bother with creating fancy lossless tracks if you aren't even going to then beef them up a bit? This sort of thing has to stop. Blue Underground performed the same daft stunt with the film's SD edition, pitching us DTS 6.1 and DD EX tracks that were clearly designed to attract the punters, yet delivered no audio benefit. At least with that version, they kept the original mono track, though. You could argue that we basically still getting that mono track as the extra channels are purely superfluous, but the design has still been mucked around with, and not to the benefit of the film.
The bottom line is that Dead & Buried does not have its original audio track in place and you will have to suffer the slap-dash addition of signal-stretching and sham effects.
Blue Underground port over most of the extra features that they had on their previous SD Limited Edition disc, including the pretty exhaustive triplet of commentary tracks.
The first chat allows us to hear from the film's director, Gary A. Sherman, as he reminisces with regular punctuations, prompts and enquiries from host David Gregory, from Blue Underground, about a film that he feels very proud of, despite the fact that he is not altogether happy with the final release cut. He tells us about the original ideas he had for the production, the casting and the shoot, itself. There are lots of anecdotes about the cast and the crew, and he shakes his head in regret about certain scenes that really shouldn't be in there. The fact that the money-men didn't much care for his original cut obviously still bothers him and he is keen to point out that much of the humour was lost in the transformation that Dead & Buried subsequently underwent. He tells us about the extra gore/shock scenes that they demanded and how he insisted that he, himself, should go back on location and film the additional violence because he didn't want anybody else to interfere with his movie.
The second commentary track is much more chatty and light, with Shusett and his wife, who played that nasty waitress in the film, providing the production stories and what-not. Shusett, who also co-produced the film can't quite recall all the facts and is possibly being charitable regarding certain individuals, but the track is still worthwhile to get a different perspective on the undertaking. David Gregory moderates again.
The third commentary, this time from cinematographer Steve Poster, is nice to have as it provides a chance for one of filmdom's most essential, but rarely heard from, contributors - the guy who actually composes the shots, lights them and then shoots them. Naturally a little technical, Poster still delivers ample anecdote and opinion about the factors that he believes help made the film more memorable. His use of shallow-depth photography and the strange camera movements, the de-saturation of the image and the reverse angles employed to totally transform Mendocino from quaint and lovely to dark and sinister and the effect the film and its grisly tale had upon the cast and crew are all interesting observations that he makes. Once again, David Gregory is on-hand to steer the ship, but there are less lulls than you might think.
Then we get the featurettes.
Starting with Stan Winston's Dead & Buried EFX, Winston is interviewed in front of some of his creations and, after a brief spiel about his love for the horror genre, he goes through his effects for Dead & Buried, one by one. It is worth mentioning here that the very fake-looking head that gets acid tubes shoved up its nostrils, is not actually from Winston. As Sherman, himself, states in his commentary, Winston's work is much more realistic than that. There are only a few behind-the-scenes stills of the man at work on the film, but Winston is very fluid and descriptive about his methods and also pretty frank about a couple of things that he disagreed with on the set. But one of the most remarkable things that he divulges is that the entire body in the hospital bed, awaiting that dreaded needle, is actually a puppet. Suddenly, the most shocking effect in the film becomes even more impressive once you realise this. A great little feature, folks, lasting around 18 minutes.
Next up is a twelve-minute chat with Robert Englund in An Early Work Of Horror. The modern-day monster-icon is perfectly erudite, witty and full of trivia regarding the era in which the film was made. His adoration for Lisa Blount is given full pelt and he tells us how great it was to work with such a cast. The town, itself, and the people who reside there get a mention and Englund is frank about how and why he got the part - his unique face. A cracking little overview, this says a lot more about the man than it does the film, and even if the piece does seem like it is milking the fact that Dead & Buried had a major genre-star “in-the-making” in its ranks, it is certainly very entertaining.
The same cannot really be said about the final featurette and its main topic - Dan O'Bannon: Crafting Fear. The movie-scribe, director (of Return Of The Living Dead) and one-time buddy of John Carpenter is all over the place with this fourteen-minute wander through his ideas and opinions. By his own admission he hardly even worked on Dead & Buried, merely doctored the script, and there is some undeniable consternation boiling away within him about this. He waffles on about “atmosphere”, George Romero, H.P. Lovecraft, Stan Winston and then goes off a frankly idiotic tangent about eyeball mutilation. You get the feeling that the poor guy was roped into this interview (again mediated by David Gregory) and then just left to hang himself out to dry. But, be that as it may, he is not a very personable character and this piece comes across as shambolic and embarrassing.
All three featurettes were directed by William Lustig, the maverick director of gore-epic Maniac.
The extras are rounded-out with US, International and Teaser trailers for the film, but the BD ditches the galleries of stills, posters and Steve Poster's locations shots - which is a shame.
Gary Sherman's Dead & Buried is a cult classic horror from an era that spawned possibly far too many of them. The Twilight Zone meets H.G Lewis, Sherman's film is a grisly genre bunk-up that doesn't hold water when put to the test, but more than gets by on sheer shock-value, mystery and an all-round, pervading “creepiness”. James Farentino chews his way through a role that is endlessly encircled by deceit, enigma, suspicion and painful revelation. His trademark expression of dumb incomprehension suits his character perfectly, even if he does seem to be the most useless town sheriff in the movies. Jack Albertson relishes his doddery-Dobbs part and lends the film a touch of sinister class that goes a long way to smoothing over the “huh's”, the “but how's” and the “well, whys” of the plot. And Stan Winston's effects, barring that pathetic acid-drop dummy head (which he didn't actually do, anyway), are still pretty effective.
The transfer for Blu-ray will almost certainly create much head-scratching. It doesn't look at all hi-definition. But it does add detail, slightly more depth and shadow and a consistency that is faithful to Sherman's and Poster's original cinematography. The audio is a different story and Blue Underground loses points for ditching the original mono track and stitching us up with a series of poor bogus-surround options. The extras, however, are fine. With commentary tracks that delve deep into the production, a fun look at Winston's makeup fx and a light-hearted chat with Robert Englund and a more serious, yet infinitely dafter one with Dan O'Bannon, fans of the film will be happy enough. Whether or not this warrants an agreeable upgrade over the SD edition is difficult to say. But that disc was a limited issue and there are many out there who may be coming fresh to this movie. Thus, if you haven't already got it, this BD release would certainly be the one to go for. If you have, however ... hmmm ... you really aren't gaining a great deal, to be honest. The image is better, but not by much.
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