Buried in the ‘Burbs – Rediscovering ‘Diary of the Dead’ (US 1976 – 93 mins)

Posted in Rediscover by - July 21, 2014
Buried in the ‘Burbs – Rediscovering ‘Diary of the Dead’ (US 1976 – 93 mins)

An excellent PG-rated potboiler with a first-rate cast, ‘Diary of the Dead’ is a delicious slice of urban chaos, based on Ruth Rendell’s 1971 novel ‘One Across, Two Down’.

Crossword loving Stan (Héctor Elizondo) is 39, out of work, and lives with his wife and her domineering mother, Maud (Geraldine Fitzgerald). Struggling to make ends meet, Stan devises a plan to get his hands on Maud’s fortune. He switches her pills with sugar substitutes, in the hope of causing her a fatal stroke. Things go awry however when Maud collapses and dies during a heated argument with Stan. Covering up the accident, much deception follows, including body-swapping old ladies and keeping his beloved wife Vera (Salome Jens) from finding out the truth. All the while Stan has to contend with his annoying neighbour Walter (Joseph Maher), and Walter’s nosy pet dog.

Filled with unexpected surprises and neat twists, ‘Diary of the Dead’ is a quietly entertaining little thriller that builds nicely to a smile-inducing payoff. There are some tense moments such as Stan attempting to smother Maud while she’s sleeping, and his subsequent burying in the back garden, of incriminating evidence.

The vastly under-rated Héctor Elizondo is perfect as the down-on-his-luck Stan, an underachiever scheming to better both his and his wife’s lives. Elizondo was earlier memorable as the psychotic Mr Grey, in Joseph Sargent’s terrific thriller ‘The Taking of Pelham One Two Three’ (’74). More recently, he had a brief but memorable role in ‘Pretty Woman’ (’90), and won an Emmy Award for his role as Dr. Phillip Watters on the long running series ‘Chicago Hope’. Hollywood stalwart Geraldine Fitzgerald plays the overbearing Maud to perfection. Fitzgerald was an Oscar nominee back in 1939 for her supporting role in ‘Wuthering Heights’, and went on to play Dudley Moore’s grandmother in ‘Arthur’ (’81). Talented stage actress Salome Jens is very good as Vera, Stan’s devoted wife. Jens had previously played a prominent part in John Frankenheimer’s cult sci-fi drama ‘Seconds’ (’66), and had a recurring role as a female changeling, in Star Trek: Deep Space 9. In a vital, supporting role, Joseph Maher is also good as Stan’s bothersome neighbour Walter, whose snooping pet dog leads to Stan’s eventual downfall.

Future ‘NCIS’ director Arvin Brown made his feature debut here, and it remains his only feature to date, spending the last four decades solely in television.

‘Diary of the Dead’ was a movie that I’d never heard of, so unearthing it was a pleasant surprise. A darkly comic thriller full of offbeat characters, it keeps your interest from its body-burying opening, right up to the memorably creepy finale. Rarely has a rocking chair sounded so unsettling!

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2 Comments on "Buried in the ‘Burbs – Rediscovering ‘Diary of the Dead’ (US 1976 – 93 mins)"

  • MARK Martucci

    Just watched this and it on Vista Home Video VHS and it’s great, but only runs 85 minutes and appears to have been re-edited, It opens with a scene that is not indicated as a flashback and should be much later in the film. There are a lot of plot holes in this cut due to all the missing footage.
    Did you watch an uncut version at 93 minutes? I would love to see this restored.

    • admin

      Sorry, but it’s been a few years since I saw the movie and do not currently have a copy. IMDB have it at 93 minutes, but I cannot recall the length of the version I saw. It really needs a Blu Ray release as I’d love to see it again. Regards, Steve.

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