Dan O'Bannon's Dead & Buried, Definitively In 4K

Hey, guys!  Welcome to the first of a little series of posts I'm going to be doing here, as I add some more key back catalog films to this site.  It's pretty straight forward, a pair of releases from a particular label; so this post and the next one will be looking at Blue Underground discs, another set will be a pair of Scream Factories, and so on.  You know, just to make things a little more interesting.... if it even does that; I'm not really sure.  haha

Update 1/14/19 - 7/9/21: The original title of this post was "Dead & Buried, Potentially In 4K?"  Well, in two weeks time, we can consider that potential realized, because BU is putting it out on 4k Ultra HD disc, in a new, extra-loaded special edition.  Let's take a look!
1981's Dead & Buried is a neat little Dan O'Bannon horror movie.  Maybe it's not quite as awesome as his Return Of the Living Dead, but it's also substantially better than Bleeders.  Set in a small fishing village, it has a grim, oppressive atmosphere, but soon a hint of O'Bannon's signature wit begins to poke through.  The story revolves around a series of cruel murders, seemingly perpetrated by at least half the community acting in conjunction, and with a curious propensity for photography.  The local sheriff tries to investigate, growing increasingly paranoid until even his own wife begins to feel like a suspect.  It doesn't help that circumstances continue to get stranger, especially once the victims start turning up again as living townsfolk.  There's not exactly an all-star cast in this one, but cult fans will have fun picking out supporting roles being played by people like Barry Corbin, Lisa Blount (Prince of Darkness), Robert Englund, and Jack Albertson (Grandpa Joe of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) as the local mortician.  And the great Stan Winston drops by the provide some impressive, and somewhat disgusting, special effects.
Blue Underground originally released Dead & Buried on DVD back in 2003 as a Limited Edition 2-disc set.  A wider release edition followed in 2005, the difference being the second disc of extras and the individually numbered slip-box of the LE.  Mine is #03141 of 10,000.  Ha, remember the heyday of physical media when 10,000 copies was considered a limited run to be snatched up quick?  Anyway, BU released it again in 2009 on blu-ray, with all of the Limited Edition extras reunited with the film.  2009's a bit old for a blu-ray, though, and this title had been floated out there for a while as a possible 4k re-release if their initial UHDs were a success.  Apparently, they have been, because lately, BU seems to be blasting their whole catalog out onto UHD, including Dead & Buried in an impressive 3-disc (if you count a soundtrack CD) limited edition (9000, divided into 3000 copies of 3 lenticular slipcover editions... actually not much fewer than the DVDs) set.
1) 2003 BU DVD; 2) 2009 BU BD; 3) 2021 BU BD; 4) 2021 BU UHD.

Dead & Buried's a bit of a challenging film to even discuss in terms of picture quality.  What's the first thing you notice from these screenshots?  Maybe that they look like murky swirls of brown and grey?  But that's presumably an intentional defused and desaturated aesthetic of the film.  It all takes place in a provincial, muddy fishing village shot in low light and taking place largely at night, and in his commentary, the DP talks about putting multiple filters over the lens and the slower emulsion of the film they used.  Then again, even in the opening, where the scene takes place on the beach in bright daylight, we're looking at heavy, yellow grain dancing all over the otherwise bright blue sky.  Between that and the chunky black flecks that appear sporadically throughout the picture, it almost looks like a 16mm film, like Maniac.  Except this Dead & Buried was actually shot in 35mm.  So as much as we're assured that the film is meant to have a muted look that draws the viewer in, making us peer through the fog and search out the action, I can't help but suspect that a fresh 4k scan of the original camera negatives - which I do not believe were used for these existing discs - couldn't reveal at least as much as Maniac's impressive redux.

Unfortunately, those are still lost to the world.  So while we did get a 4k restoration, on a proper 4k UHD no less, it's from an interpositive.  Oh well.  It's still an improvement.  Let's see.  After the flat, brown look, the second thing you'll probably notice about these shots is that the DVD and blu look awfully similar.  The DVD is slightly matted to 1.84:1, while the blu-ray removes those mattes, opening it up to 1.78:1.  But apart from that, the 2009 blu is almost certainly using the same master, giving viewers almost the same viewing experience watching the blu that they got from the DVD.  Not to accuse BU of selling us an upconvert or any bad business like that.  Look at the smaller print on the gravestone they're digging up in the second set of shots: it's definitely clearer and easier to read on the BD than the DVD.  And what is clearly film grain on the blu is often just compression smudges on the DVD.  I just mean to say, that if you're not hunting and pecking for distinctions like I am, because so much detail is soft or hard to discern in either version, you don't feel the boosted resolution of the HD.  It's there; it's just a very subtle boost.
2009 BU BD left; 2021 BU UHD right.
And it's another subtle boost the second time around.  The mattes are back, bringing this film to 1.85:1, but otherwise the framing is essentially the same.  Obviously the resolution is increased, so edges are smoother and more natural, as you can plainly see in this close-up.  Tiny detail is slightly easier to make out, but you mostly just notice it when you zoom in like this.  The real story is the color correction.  The film's still a diffuse mud room, but there's more separation, making it easier to discern characters and action in the shadows.  Bright spots that were flared out, like the shine on the right point of the sheriff's badge, is more delineated and natural.  The sky over the cemetery is the bluest it's ever been.  Subtleties are captured, making the film feel more life-like, even if you won't be able to put your finger on quite why in motion.
Audio-wise, they really lay out the options, even to the point of excess.  The DVD gives us four audio mixes: English DTS 6.1, Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround and Dolby Digital 2.0 Dual Mono.  The original mono's all I really worry about, and it's clear and strong enough.  But as long as that's included, I'm certainly not mad at them creating stereo and additional multi-channel mixes; in fact some of the separation is rather effective and adds to the suspense.  Good thing, because the blu-ray chucks it.  They lose the stereo mix, too, but keep the 5.1 while adding two new, lossless mixes in 7.1: TrueHD and DTS-HD.  They sound great, but I missed my original mono.  "Missed" past tense because - huzzah! - the UHD brought it back!  It's got the original mono, now lossless for the first time, the 5.1 and a Dolby Atmos track.  They also have a French (DTS-HD, mono) dub.

And while the DVD has no subtitle options, the blu-rays do.  All three (the 2009, the 2021 and the UHD) have optional English subs, plus Spanish and French.
The extras came pretty strong right out of the gate.  The DVD features not one, not two, but three audio commentaries.  One with director Gary Sherman, one with co-writer/ producer Ronald Shusett and actress Linda Turley and the aforementioned cinematographer Steve Poster one.  They're all quite good, though the moderator has to keep prodding Ron and Linda out of silence and I suppose the Poster one could be a little boring for casual viewers.  But serious enthusiasts will appreciate the more technical info provided.  But on the main disc - the only disc included in the non-limited edition version - that's all there is except for a photo gallery and a couple trailers.

The limited edition, though, has a second disc, with three interviews.  It's not a ton of material, totally less than 45 minutes that could've surely fit on the main disc if they wanted it to.  But it's pretty neat stuff, with one talking to Stan Winston' about his graphic special effects, a light-hearted chat with Robert Englund about his early role, and the most essential: an on-camera interview with O'Bannon himself.  And they threw in one more stills gallery - location photos by Steve Post - for good measure.

The 2009 blu-ray doesn't add anything new to the mix, but they at least remembered to include the bonus disc interviews as well as the commentaries and everything from the main DVD.  So maybe a little disappointing to not get anything new, but we got so much already, you can't say it doesn't feel like a pretty decked out disc.
In 2021?  Yeah, they're adding new stuff to the mix.  First of all, everything from the past editions in carried over, including the booklet.  And they've added, yes, a fourth audio commentary, this time by Troy Howarth and Nathaniel Thompson, giving us the expert overview on the film.  Then director Gary Sherman gives us a look behind the scenes with about half an hour's worth of 8mm footage he shot during the filming, with commentary by himself and the crew.  And there's a brief but rewarding look at the locations as they stand now.  And there are new, on-camera interviews with the composer and most interestingly, the author of the novelization.  Also included is the soundtrack CD, and as I mentioned earlier, there are three lenticular cover options available (I went with #1, the classic), and inside artwork is also reversible... although Cover 1 curiously includes the same artwork on both sides.  But hey, who cares?  This set is incredible in any cover.
Given this film's naturally dingy look (and the lost negatives), the leap to 4k may not be as exciting as one would hope.  I can see why BU wanted to hold out for the negatives, but if they're lost for good, what can you do?  This is still an undoubted improvement over the old BD.  Couple that with all the new special features, plus the return of the original mono soundtrack, and this is one nifty, underrated O'Bannon flick that's finally gotten the treatment it deserves.

2 comments:

  1. Digging these new reviews highlighting certain label titles! This is one I've been meaning to pick up for awhile. Saw it years ago on vhs and remember it being really atmospheric. I may go with the dvd release first since definitely prefer the mono mix as well with these old films. Thanks again for these great detailed reviews John!

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    1. Thanks! You can probably tell from my opening paragraph how much readers would take to these, so I'm glad they're working for you. I've already got more pairs planned. =)

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