Sheriff Gillis seems a stranger in an unstrange town, his childhood haunt now full of a nihilistic dread of murdered tourists and the walking dead. Potter’s Bluff is an interesting name as the very town is a “Potter’s Field” for the intransigent and the Bluff is not a cliff but a rude deception! Gary Sherman’s deft direction and narrative structure reveals little clues one at a time, relying on foreshadowing events and not just talky exposition. Combined with Steven Poster’s languid cinematography and Stan Winston’s gruesome effects (needle in the fucking eye, holy shit) their talent elevates this from mere exploitation to classic horror.
The film begins with a photographer being seduced by a lovely woman who then participates in burning him to death while a ghastly group appears to watch and capture his torturous demise on super 8. As the film progresses more out-of-towners are gruesomely murdered by this barbarous bunch who appear at each scene like apparitions, materializing from the night and fog. Meanwhile Sheriff Gillis is trying to solve this murder mystery in which everyone seems tangentially implicated to included even his wife and co-workers. Director Gary Sherman allows this feeling of panic to develop slowly as the Sheriff discovers the identity of the unknown photographer (ID was burned) and sees him pumping gas in town or the results of the scientific analysis of decaying flesh left by a severed arm on his rusted Ford Bronco. Dobbs, the local Coroner/Mortician is a strange beast who seems a bit mad-scientist but could be just a grumpy old man obsessed with his handy-work. Everything is slightly off-kilter until the big reveal as the story crashes towards its EC Comics climax! The entire town seems aged and decomposing (like its inhabitants) such as Gillis’ rusted police 4×4 or the houses that seem empty and in disrepair: this subtly adds to the onerous anxiousness. One scene in the final act is horrifying: when Gillis’ wife realizes she’s one of the walking dead, she wanders to an open grave and begs her husband to bury her, to put an end to her un-life. It’s reminiscent of another 70’s horror classic Bob Clark’s DEATH DREAM when the young undead protagonist urges his mother to bury him, to allow him to finally find peace.
The acting is first-rate as everyone plays their part perfectly straight though Jack Albertson as Dobbs goes a bit campy in the final scenes. As he lays dying he is able to inject himself with the serum that will prolong his un-life yet why didn’t he do that years ago? I mean, he would never age and just have to touch himself up once in a while. Why wait until he has a heart attack or some other natural catastrophe or gets shot in the torso when he could have done it at his leisure? And how does Gillis not know he’s an undead? Does he shit and have normal bodily functions? You may ask yourself these questions and a few more (Did Dobb’s really wire his lab with a dozen projectors?) but the film is composed so well it makes sense within the confines of the narrative. Just go with it.
Here in Potter’s Bluff they let the dead bury the dead. Literally.
Final Grade: (B+)