Dead & Buried was written by Ron Shusett and Dan O'Bannon, who were coming off of a big success with Alien (1979), with the posters for Dead & Buried boasting that "the creators of Alien bring a new kind of terror to Earth." Sherman had been MIA since helming the 1972 cult favorite Death Line (aka Raw Meat) but even after almost ten years, Dead & Buried wasn't a rusty re-entry to the director's chair - it's clear that he hadn't missed a step. Sherman went on to direct two more notable exploitation films - 1982's Vice Squad and 1987's Wanted: Dead or Alive - before stumbling with the troubled Poltergeist III (1988) and never quite recovering his momentum.
But Dead & Buried remains a real dark gem. This got in just before the MPAA got tough with horror films in the '80s - I can't imagine that it would've earned such a lenient R-rating even a year later. And while it's storyline is absurd and shouldn't work, it does, thanks to Sherman direction never copping to how preposterous it all is. William G. Dobbs, the small town mortician with the ability to resurrect the dead that Jack Albertson (in his last role) plays here, is a villain right out of a comic book and while his ghoulish deeds seem to have no real purpose, the movie is never less than convincing as pulp horror.
The sick joke of Dead & Buried is that it's a film about the dead desecrating the living. This isn't a zombie film about the dead mindlessly devouring the living for subsistence; it's about the dead not just taking life, but maiming and mutilating life. As directed by Dobbs' will, the undead residents of Potter's Bluff don't just kill their victims, they go the extra mile to make them into unrecognizable corpses - burning them, crushing their skulls with stones, melting their faces with acid (FX genius Stan Winston really outdid himself on this early assignment). In Dead & Buried the dead are like zealots to a cause, coming together as one to destroy and disfigure life anywhere they find it in their tight-knit community. If you want to live in Potter's Bluff, you have to die first. And even if you don't want to live in Potter's Bluff, you still should be prepared to die.
Typically in zombie films, the dead are either pathetically mimicking the living (the zombies still compelled to wander the mall in Dawn of the Dead) or else are completely inhuman (like the thoroughly rotted forms seen in Fulci's Zombie or the Rage-fueled crazies of 28 Days Later) but in Dead & Buried the dead are true works of art - their mangled faces restored post-mortem with painstaking skill by Dobbs, the Michelangelo of the morgue to whom a closed casket was a sin (one of the most striking sequences in the film is a time-lapse depiction of a hitchhiker's crushed face being reassembled). His zombies weren't a parody of life but in his eyes, an improvement. It's no surprise that he learned how to bring back the dead - he loved his work too much to let it stay buried.