My Rating: 5 out of 10
4-Word Review: Dead people terrorize town.
Dan (James Farentino) is the sheriff of a sleepy New England town called Potter’s Bluff. Normally his days are routine but suddenly he finds himself investigating a bizarre case where a group of people murder a visiting photographer by burning him at a stake for no apparent reason. Soon other strange murders begin occurring and his peaceful little town as well as his own life gets turned upside down as neither he nor the town’s coroner (Jack Albertson) can come up with any answers especially as the dead victims start to come back to life.
The film, which was directed by Gary Sherman, starts off well as the big band era music and picturesque small town scenery makes it seem like something straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting. Sherman went to great lengths to keep every scene consistent with a gray color tone including having a giant flag hung over a cliff in order to block out the sunlight during outdoor scenes and keeping everything looking like it was under a continual foggy haze.
The story though can’t match the atmosphere and the interest level wanes pretty quickly. The dead coming back to life angle has been used too often and is no longer novel to the point that it’s now almost boring. There’s no consistent protagonist either. The sheriff eventually becomes one, but there are long breaks where the film follows other characters including a young family, who come into contact with the killers, but they’re not that interesting and it becomes difficult for the viewer to connect emotionally with anyone on the screen.
For years Dan O’Bannon was credited with creating the story and many movie posters advertised this due to his success with Alien, but O’Bannon later stated in a 1983 interview that he actually had nothing to do with the script and disown the film. Ronald Shusett apparently wrote the entire thing, but in order to get it sold he felt a big name writer needed to be attached to it, so he promised O’Bannon that they would implement some of the ideas that he had into the final revision in order to allow them to use his name on the credits, but when the film eventually came out none of O’Bannon’s suggestions had been used.
The film’s tone is yet another issue. Sherman had wanted to approach it as a dark comedy, but one of the film’s investors PSO International pushed for the gore to be emphasized more. The result is jarring as half the time it’s this quant atmospheric chiller while at other points it becomes without warning graphically gory.
Farentino is good, but Melody Patterson, who was 17 years younger than him in real-life, is miscast as his wife. Jack Albertson is the best thing in the movie. Initially I feared that his part was too small, but he comes on strong at the end, which is great and I was also happy to read that despite the fact that he was dying of cancer while the movie was being made he still remained alive long enough to attend its premiere although he had to do it while being in a wheelchair and connected to an oxygen tank.
If you’re looking for a horror movie that emphasizes atmosphere and an offbeat touch then this may hit-the-spot, but the plot needed to encompass a broader time frame as it didn’t seem believable that so much of the town’s people could be in on this secret without the sheriff becoming suspicion of things much sooner than he does. The twist ending is weak too as it’s full of loopholes and creates way more questions than it answers.
My Rating: 5 out of 10
Released: May 29, 1981
Runtime: 1Hour 34Minutes
Director: Gary Sherman
Studio: AVCO Embassy Pictures
Available: DVD, Blu-ray (Region B/2), Amazon Video, YouTube