Dead & Buried (1981), directed by Gary Sherman

This surprised me, but out of all the films I have watched for Horror Pledge 2012 this is potentially my favourite so far, or at least tied with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2.

It surprised me because I had never heard of it before reading about it on some list of the best horror movies, or overlooked horror movies, or something. Also I was surprised because it has a really crap cover that makes it look like some horror-themed 1980s David Bowie video.

Turns out though it’s a well-crafted, atmospheric horror film that manages to find a great balance of shocking gore and storytelling. It’s really quite discomforting, but it’s also a pleasure to watch.

You know right away things are going to get weird. A guy is taking some photographs on a beach and it just couldn’t be more pleasant. Before you know it, a pretty lady shows up and he starts taking pictures of her and everything is soft-lit and lovely, like some wistful Truffaut film, except you know the movie’s called Dead & Buried so this probably isn’t going to end well.

Before long she’s topless and now you KNOW things are too good to be true for this guy. And they are. Next thing is he’s having his head lit on fire by the entire township of wherever he’s picked the wrong place to take a few nice nature snaps. Cue credits.

Things only get worse from there as the town sheriff tries to solve a string of murders. And it’s hard because some of these dead people keep showing up, like working at the gas station and stuff. That has to complicate things. Then again, maybe he could just ask them who killed them.

Dead & Buried looks and feels like a good old-fashioned horror film with a touch of class to it. I half-expected Orson Welles to show up. But then it has these moments of intense slasher-type violence that are all the more shocking because of the set-up. You think you’re being set up for a Diabolique-type scare (which, don’t get me wrong, is a good one) and they go all Friday the 13th on you.

There is one apparently famous shot of nurse-inflicted nastiness (I won’t spoil it) and it’s a great moment, because damn does it ever come out of nowhere. I really liked how the movie doesn’t build up to its most shocking moments, you don’t see them coming. And then, bam, needle in the eye (okay, I spoiled it).

I read that when the movie came out half the people didn’t like that it was so “plot-heavy,” while the other half didn’t appreciate the graphic violence in an otherwise atmosphere-heavy suspense movie.

Well, they were all wrong. It’s just that blend that ties the whole thing together. And really, are we that particular about how a horror film is supposed to be? It can only be one or the other, a slasher or a classy scare show? Come on. The very strength of Dead & Buried is that it goes for something else, something different. And it does so with a great degree of skill and talent.

If there’s a “hidden gem” in my Horror Pledge, it’s this one. Even the clerk at Pic-A-Flic commented that he’d never heard of it before and that it looked weird. High praise. I felt “cool.” So if you want to be “cool” too, watch it and throw the title around when you’re hanging out at a film nerd cocktail party and someone starts talking about horror.

And if that situation actually ever exists, maybe invite me?

Dead & Buried is available from “cool” video stores everywhere.