Conversations With Gary A. Sherman Part Two: DEAD & BURIED

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Part two of our series of interviews with horror filmmaker Gary A. Sherman.

Last week, SHOCK ran part one of our ongoing series of conversations with filmmaker Gary A. Sherman, beginning with an in-depth interview about the making of his mesmerizing 1973 horror classic DEATH LINE (aka RAW MEAT).

Sherman is one of the most under-appreciated auteurs working in the genre, his own personal brand of fright-filmmaking serving as a vehicle for expression of his political perspective, and acknowledgement and advocacy of basic human rights.

Here, Sherman discusses what might be his most famous horror film, writer Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shussett ‘s unsettling 1981 chiller DEAD & BURIED.

Here’s Gary…

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SHOCK: Your sophomore directorial effort, DEAD & BURIED, has garnered a considerable cult following within the horror community. In an era where knife-wielding masked psychopaths were invading the horror landscape and the term “Slasher” became a subgenre of its very own, you came up with a completely original concept for a horror picture, which features one of the most bizarre endings ever committed to celluloid. What inspired the premise of DEAD & BURIED and what enticed you to do something entirely different than what was prevalent in horror at that time?

SHERMAN: Ron Shusett and I sat down and worked on a few scripts together, and Dead and Buried was one of them. I didn’t do the original script, but I sat down with [Ron] and went through it and I just kept saying, ‘there’s way too much mumbo-jumbo in it that you’re going to have to convince an audience to believe, and they’re not going to believe it, so I don’t think it’s going to be a very successful of a movie because I don’t think that audiences today swallow mumbo-jumbo just because you put it in front of them and expect them to believe it. I said that by integrating a kind of tongue-in-cheek attitude about the whole thing—and the more tongue-in-cheek we were, the more comic relief we could put into the piece—the scarier the scary stuff would be. I felt that in Death Line I had achieved that. I felt that the Donald Pleasence comedy and the stuff that went back and forth between Donald and Norm Rossington increased the horror considerably, because you’d go from a scene where Donald was being absolutely stupid to scenes of incredible horror. You get an audience to laugh and then show them something horrific it’s going to be even more horrific because they’ve had the release of the laugh before it. So basically as we got into DEAD & BURIED, we got more and more into that kind of thing. That’s one of the reasons why we cast Jack Albertson as Dobbs, because he was a fantastic comedian. We thought that it would just give life to that part that a straight dramatic actor could have never have given that part.

SHOCK: What was it like working with veteran comic actor Jack Albertson in his final theatrical film before succumbing to terminal cancer?

SHERMAN: It was tough; Jack Albertson was an absolute joy. Whenever the camera was shut off, he was doing nothing but standup for us, and making us laugh. He was absolutely fabulous, filled with incredible stories of his career. So to have DEAD & BURIED be his last movie was quite an honor for us; I’m sorry that we lost him. We had just done his ADR about two days before he passed, and we went out to dinner that night with his wife and had an absolutely wonderful time. He wasn’t feeling really well so they went home. Then the next morning I’d heard on the radio he had been taken into the hospital and then he passed away. But we all knew that jack was in bad shape. I think for most of us we were just gentle with him and we were lucky enough to enjoy every minute we had to spend with him. For Jimmy Farentino it was really difficult. Jimmy had just lost his father, and we were doing a scene in Dobbs’ embalming room where Dobbs was sitting behind a desk and the character that Jimmy was playing was sitting on the desk, and when we were doing Jimmy’s side of the shot, from Jack to Jimmy, Jack fell asleep three or four times, which was mainly from his medication that he was taking, and Jimmy just started crying because he remembered sitting with his dad in the hospital and talking to his dad and he kept falling asleep. Jimmy just broke down completely and at one point ran off the set and got into his trailer, and just didn’t want to come out. He was so upset. I had to go in and sit down with him and we talked about his father’s death. I finally got Jimmy to come back to the set and finish the scene. That was pretty moving; it was moving for everyone on the set. Working with Jack Albertson was one of my great joys.

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SHOCK: You also cast genre legend Robert Englund in one of his first roles, as Harry in DEAD & BURIED…

SHERMAN: And that wasn’t the first time that I worked with Robert Englund. I cast Robert in a TV movie that I had done right before DEAD & BURIED called The Mysterious Two, which was an NBC Sunday Night Big Event. I met him and just thought this guy is an amazing actor! He was pretty well unknown at the time; I mean he hadn’t done anything and I cast him in one of the leads of this television movie. He just did such a great job, and when we got the go ahead on DEAD & BURIED I just said this guy’s gotta play one of the parts in the movie ‘cause he’s just really great. I probably would have worked with him a lot more afterwards because we had remained pretty good friends, but then he became Freddy and that became the thrust of his career. During his reign as Freddy it was pretty hard to cast him as anything else. I’m really happy that I helped start that career—and he had a well-deserved career.

SHOCK: DEAD & BURIED was originally intended to be a black comedy as opposed to the horror film that it came to be known as. At what point during production did your original comedic vision become skewed and how do you feel about it now, almost 35 years since its release?

SHERMAN: When we started the film, Richard St. Johns’ production company was the original producer of the film, and Richard absolutely understood what Dan and Ron and I wanted to do with this film, and he was extremely supportive of it. At one point, the secondary production company, which was Aspen Productions, actually took over the film from Richard. Richard had other commitments and John Hyde came up with some money and bought off Richard’s company. Hyde’s company had a slightly different view of what the movie should be but was still pretty supportive of what we were doing. And just as we finished production—I think I had just delivered the director’s cut—PSO International bought out John Hyde’s company and it became a PSO production. There was a screening of my cut and Bob Raime, who was running AVCO Embassy at the time, and a lot of other people from PSO were there. The screening went fantastic and it was just incredible. Ronny and I felt so proud of the movie. Mark Damen comes over and takes me into a corner and he looks at me and says, ‘you know what, if I wanted Bergman to make a horror movie for me I would have hired Bergman. Now let’s get rid of all this bullshit and make it into a horror film.’ I was stunned. So to try and protect the movie, I went in and did some of the stuff that I just didn’t want to have anything to do with at all. In the meantime, some of those scenes were shot without me and they were put into the film. I went to a screening of it after it had been changed and I absolutely hated it. Bob Raime, who was going to be the distributor of the film, also hated it and he wanted to change things back, so we started to change some of the stuff and then Mark Damen threatened to sue me if I assisted AVCO Embassy into making any of the changes.

Next round: Sherman dishes on the brutal VICE SQUAD!

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Weekend: Jan. 24, 2019, Jan. 27, 2019

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