When Dead and Buried starts, you'd be forgiven for wondering if this is the film you'd heard about. As a photographer takes some shots of a comely young girl on the beach, who strips off in front of him as a sax solo plays on the background, you might well think this is a soft porn film you've stumbled upon.But this invitation to sex is a misdirection, just a taster of how good Sherman's film can be. And if it isn't entirely successful right to the end, it gets enough things correct to earn your attention.
The town of Potter's Bluff doesn't take kindly to strangers. Bodies start piling up around the place as hitchhikers, visitors and holiday makers are set upon by the local inhabitants and viciously murdered. But that's not all that's happening, as the inhabitants have something else in mind for the bodies, much to the chagrin of the local sheriff (James Farintino) who stumbles across their bloody plot.
Dead and Buried resonates with the nostalgic thrill of the kind of film you'd sneak downstairs to watch in the dead of night when your parents were asleep or your friend would smuggle an illicit copy of it to you. For the most part, Sherman conjures up an atmosphere of foggy and muggy dread - Potter's Bluff itself is a beautiful town, but Sherman shoots it hazily and thick with cold sweat. There's something off about the town and Sherman does wonders with the location shooting. It gives the murders a tangible, earthy quality to them and they're unsettling because Sherman avoids the usual pitfall of making them seem like set-pieces brutally shoved into place at regular intervals and they instead feel like genuine extensions of the plot. From the opening shocking set-piece to a genuinely nerve-shredding family exploration of an abandoned old house, Sherman gets horror on an instinctive, gut level and at times, Dead and Buried plays out like John Carpenter at his finest.
Yet it's a shame that this early promise isn't quite fulfilled. The explanation of what's going on in Potter's Bluff requires a fine tuning and steady hand to keep it going awry and Sherman doesn't quite pull it off. Likewise, the final plot twists requires some serious emotional hefting from Farintino and unfortunately he just isn't up to it. And for all the gut-wrenching murder scenes that Sherman gets right, there's one notable one that belies the relative cheapness of the budget he was working on - although IMDB does suggest that it was a scene forced in against his behest, so it's no wonder it plays like a deleted scene forcibly reinserted.But while Dead and Buried ultimately can't make the plot twists and developments of the second half marry to the slowburning atmosphere of the first half as effectively as it should do, that's not deny just how effective that first half is. And despite my criticisms of the final third of the film it has one of the all time great final lines in cinema.