This is our ongoing series about films that were banned by the British government, using the Video Recordings Act of 1984. You have the right-wing gutter press and a few Christian pressure groups to thank for these films becoming more famous than they had any right to be (in all but a few cases), and the fact they’ve now virtually all been re-released, uncut, while the law remains in place, tells you more about moral panics than it does about the content of the films. See the VRAs “mission statement” here.
Part of the fun of these films is trying to figure out why they were banned, and without looking it up I’d honestly have no idea about this one. Is removing peoples’ will to live a reason for banning something?
The first thing to notice is this is appreciably higher-budget than any of the VRA films we’ve covered so far. A whole small town is used and the special effects, by Stan Winston, while occasionally terrible even by the standards of the time, are often excellent. There’s also a decent cast assembled, with many future TV stars and dependable character actors early in their careers. But enough of that!
A photographer has driven to the small town of Potters Bluff to take photos of the beach, apparently. After being entranced for what would pass for a beauty in small town standards, he’s tied up by a bunch of mean-looking locals, photographed repeatedly and then burned almost to death, which brings in Sheriff Dan Gillis. He’s a solid guy, but the same definitely can’t be said for the rest of the inhabitants of Potters Bluff – the woman serving him coffee was one of the people present at the burning, and a few others around him look a bit suspicious too.
The photographer is visited in the hospital by a nurse, who drives a needle through his remaining good eye and walks off, no-one thinking of stopping her even though the guy starts screaming and the Sheriff definitely sees her leaving his room seconds before. But the rest of the murders are almosty equally un-subtle – hitch-hikers, families passing through, a drunk fisherman – all are fair game for the locals, and the bulk of the film is a sort of cross between “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” and “The Wicker Man”, with the Sheriff gradually suspecting more and more while the town’s remaining friendly inhabitants meet grisly ends.
This film was co-written by Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett, who also wrote “Alien” a few years previously. O’Bannon is one of those guys who just seemed to not give a damn, and had a fascinating career – friends with John Carpenter at film school, and he wrote and co-starred in “Dark Star”; special effects work on “Star Wars”, was attached to the Alejandro Jodorowsky version of “Dune” before it fell through; wrote and directed “Return Of The Living Dead”; and wrote “Total Recall” among many other films. Sadly, it appears his contribution to this was name only, as Shusett asked him to attach his name to it to make it easier to sell, promising to make some changes from the rather crude original draft which ended up not happening.
The thing that’s surprising about this video nasty is that it’s not that nasty. With a few seconds of trims, this could easily qualify for a 15 certificate in the UK of today, and the best guess anyone has it that it’s the special effects, including some fairly unpleasant autopsy scenes and a “live” burial which were the reasons for its banning (it had already enjoyed a fairly successful cinema run in the UK).
There are moments where you want to shout at the Sheriff – hey dum-dum! In a town as small as this apparently is, why aren’t you noticing the new people suddenly doing menial jobs? but, to be fair, the ending has a decent crack at explaining all that. While not the most surprising conclusion in the world, it’s done well and provided you aren’t too squeamish about endless facial scarring, and can tolerate that peculiarly slow-paced horror which was in vogue at the time, you should enjoy “Dead & Buried”. Up to now, this is by a mile the best of the VRA films we’ve covered, and probably the only one which would be remembered now with any degree of fondness.
Rating: thumbs up