John Carpenter's influence is arcanely noted (The Fog, mainly), but the presiding reference is Capra -- Potter's Bluff is Pottersville after a stroll with Romero, so Dan O'Bannon and Ronald Shusett lay out the screenplay accordingly. The coastal setting provides a green ocean and rocky, pale sands, a photographer is passing through and quickly directs his lenses to Lisa Blount, whose Nick Ray-like red blouse is promptly doffed off as bait; next thing you know, he's wrapped in a net and roasted alive, the gal who lit the pyre is glimpsed manning the diner counter, offering sheriff James Farentino a cup of coffee. The murders pile up, the slaughtered outsiders somehow emerge alive as part of the townsfolk (the town sign promises "A New Way of Life"), and Farentino finds a book on witchcraft plus a ceremonial dagger in his wife's (Melody Anderson) drawer. Jack Albertson, the wacky mortician of desiccated elegance, loves big-band classics and declares funeral cosmetics an art, and Stan Winston's makeup work seconds the notion -- a series of dissolves restores the squashed visage of the latest victim, from skull to skin, all scored to "Moonlight Serenade." Ray Bradbury and Invasion of the Body Snatchers figure in the portrait of small-town ghoulishness, and director Gary Sherman stills the camera only long enough to compose deep-focus Gothic: Sheriff and doctor face each other on opposite sides of the hospital corridor while in the background Blount, decked in nurse whites, saunters into the charred patient's room to administer the old five-inch-hypodermic-needle-to-eyeball gag. The hero watches as Anderson educates her classroom on the walking dead, and later offers her a heartfelt burial as the ultimate love declaration; the bloody bits are documented in black-and-white reels and unspooled climatically over multiple screens to "teach them about narrative" ("them" might be the critics that year who drooled over Chariots of Fire while vilifying horror gems such as this, or Possession, or The Howling, or The Fun House, etc.). With Dennis Redfield, Nancy Locke, Christopher Allport, Joseph Medalis, Robert Englund, and Barry Corbin.
--- Fernando F. Croce