An amateur photographer arrives in coastal Potters Bluff to practice his craft. A beautiful woman offers to model for him, but when he accepts her invitation to have sex, a mob of townspeople beat him and set him afire. The man survives the attack, but is later killed by the woman posing as a nurse in the hospital.
More visitors are murdered by the townspeople. Sheriff Dan Gillis (James Farentino), assisted by Dobbs (Jack Albertson), the eccentric local coroner-mortician, works hard to discover the motive for the killings. Gillis becomes increasingly disconcerted as a grisly death occurs every day. In each case, the killers photograph the victims as they are murdered. Gillis’s investigations are complicated by the bizarre behavior of his wife, Janet (Melody Anderson).
Gillis accidentally hits someone with his squad car following an attack. On the grill of his car, Gillis finds the twitching severed arm of the accident victim, who attacks him and flees with the arm. After the attack, Gillis scrapes some flesh from the vehicle and takes it to the local doctor, who tells him that the tissue sample has been dead approximately four months. Gillis grows suspicious of Dobbs and conducts a background check. He discovers that Dobbs was formerly the chief pathologist in Providence, Rhode Island, until he was dismissed ten years before for conducting unauthorized experiments in the county morgue.
Gillis confronts Dobbs, who admits he has developed a secret technique for reanimating the dead, and all of the townspeople are reanimated corpses under his control. Dobbs considers himself an “artist” who uses his reanimated to murder the living in order to create more corpses for him to create art with. Even Janet is a reanimated corpse. When she appears in Dobbs’s office, Gillis shoots and mortally wounds her, then shoots Dobbs as well. He follows her into the cemetery, where she pleads with him to bury her in an open grave. After he does as she asks, the rest of the townspeople come to pay their respects.
Gillis returns to Dobbs’s office to discover that Dobbs has used his technique on himself. Dobbs then shows Gillis a film of Janet stabbing him to death as the townspeople and Dobbs watch. As Gillis stares at his own decomposing hands, Dobbs offers to repair them.