A Pair of Blue Undergrounds #1: Dan O'Bannon's Dead & Buried, Potentially In 4K? (DVD/ Blu-ray Comparison)

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
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 in fact this title has been floated out there as a possible 4k re-release if their initial titles were a success.  And considering how good Maniac turned out, I'm certainly ready for more.  But does Dead & Buried really need another upgrade?  Let's see.
2003 BU DVD on top; 2009 BU BD bottom.
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, again 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.

But rather than getting even more speculative, let me reign myself back into what we've actually got on hand.  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.
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 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 miss my original mono (restoring that could be another potential selling point for a 4k release - just sayin'!).  If that's somewhat of a step backwards, though, the fact that the DVD has no subtitle options, while the blu-ray does (English, plus Spanish and French) is a nice step forward again.
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 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.
So look, what we've got isn't bad.  It's certainly a satisfying special edition of a cool but not especially famous little horror film.  I already recommend it as is; but it was a pretty mild advancement to HD.  I honestly don't know how much more there is to pull out of the film, and I at least know better than to expect a technicolor Oz; but again, it was shot on 35, so I'm optimistic.  If BU could can work the level of magic they did with Maniac, which was 16, then this would be a very exciting upgrade I'd jump all over.  🤞

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