BURIAL GROUND [1981] [HCF GUILTY PLEASURES]

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Directed by:
Written by:
Starring: , , ,

 

AKA LE NOTTI DEL TERRORE, NIGHTS OF TERROR, BURIAL GROUND: NIGHT OF TERROR, THE ZOMBIE DEAD, ZOMBIE 3

AVAILABLE ON BLU-RAY AND DVD

RUNNING TIME: 85 mins

REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic

 

Rather than give you a synopsis of the first third or so of this film [which barely has a plot anyway], I’m just going to give you this, possibly inspired by the books of Enoch and Eibon [in Lucio Fulci’s City Of The Living Dead and The Beyond respectively], which appears in text right at the end even though it hasn’t been previously referred to whatsoever. It doesn’t give away much and you may quake in fear:

The Earth shall tremble, graves shall open, they shall come among the living as messengers of death, and there shall be the nigths of terror.

THE PROFECY OF THE BLACK SPIDER

Dawn Of The Dead was a huge box office success in Italy which led to Zombie Flesh Eaters and a brief boom in living dead movies, though aside from Fulci’s increasingly offbeat efforts the films like Zombie Creeping Flesh and Nightmare City tended to be of the”so bad it’s good” quality. Probably none of them though are as bewilderingly stupid yet as strangely entertaining as Burial Ground [I’m using its current UK title though of course its original Italian moniker translates as Nights Of Terror], a film whose sheer idiocy, utter haphazardness, and lack of things like plot, characterisation [well, except for one particular individual who I will get to in due course] and even suspense have resulted in something almost genuinely dreamlike though that was probably accidental. For a start this is a movie in which the undead are actually far more intelligent than the living, none of whom uses a phone to ring for help, jumps in one of the cars just parked outside the main house or even thinks to actually outrun the slow moving dead to escape. And yet I can understand how many horror fans love it, because it features an impressive variety of zombie makeup and gory set pieces, including a scene at the end that really does make you drop your jaw at its audacity, a scene which probably no American horror film maker would think about including even today. It dispenses with stuff like build-up, motivation, any kind of sense – it’s just an hour and a half of atrocious filmmaking showing zombies attacking people occasionally interspersed with an incest subplot which is handled with all the sensitivity you’d expect from the director of titles like Strip Nude For Your Killer and Malabimba: The Malicious Whore.

Certainly one of the film’s oddities was born out of necessity, the 25-year-old Peter Bark being cast as the young boy Michael to circumvent Italian laws restricting the use of children in film scenes featuring sexual and violent content. The no-name cast was a result of the tiny budget, most of which went on the special effects. The movie was shot over four weeks mostly in and around the Villa Parisi in Frascati just outside Rome, a place that will be instantly recognisable to fans of the likes of Bay Of Blood and Flesh For Frankenstein. Studio work included the finale being filmed on the same set as the ending of Inferno. An earlier scene in which some of the zombies are set on fire went terribly wrong and one of the actors actually started burning in front of the camera. Bianchi cut ten minutes from the film, almost all of it from the first quarter with some of it being sex and zombie footage, before unleashing it upon the world. However,  Burial Ground wasn’t released in Italy for nearly a year [I can’t think why], though it did get a limited release in the US in 1985 as Burial Ground: Nights of Terror, combining its two main titles though some countries also saw it as Zombie 3 [one of four films given that title]. The UK video lost a whopping 14 minutes of cuts. Virtually all the gore was removed, the BBFC even deeming that shots of dead bodies and close-ups of zombie faces were too much for British viewers. Possibly in an attempt to smooth over these cuts, many scenes lost innocuous footage too or were removed entirely like several murder scenes. Only in 2002 did we [legally] get to see the uncut version in the UK entitled The Zombie Dead.

Right, so we begin with a big-bearded professor uncovering a tunnel by removing a stone in an Etruscan crypt in the garden of a large mansion. “I’m the only one who knows the secret. It’s incredible. Incredible. Yes it’s true, it must be” he says to himself back in his office before he goes back into the tomb from which a zombie appears. “No, no, stand back, I’m your friend” he strangely cries before the side of his face is bitten off. The release of the film from 88 Films also includes the Italian language track which lacks some of the stupider bits of dialogue in the English version but has a few of its own such as a cry of “dirty bastards, dirty bastards” when the zombies start using tools. Being as the cast members seem to be mostly speaking Italian, I guess the Italian track is the one to hear though it’s hard for me to part with the English one which I’ve been used to laughing at so much over the years. Anyway, as the main theme for the film plays which sounds suspiciously like a variation on Dave Brubeck’s ‘Take Five’, we now cut to several rich couples, plus the boy [well, the one played by an adult] Michael, arriving at the villa. There’s some vague talk about them intending to meet with the professor whom we’ve just seen, but really they all seem to be there just to get it on. Sample dialogue: “You look just like a little whore, but I like that”. One of their number, Janet, says that something awful is going to happen, but is of course ignored. The next day the zombies rise out of the ground, and there’s no attempt to make the sequence creepy, it’s handled as if it’s the most normal thing in the world, set to a really relaxing, calming synthesiser track. The score for this film by Bert Rexon and Elsio Mancus is often quite extraordinary with some really wacky spaced-out electronics interspersed with what sounds like an old library track from the 1950’s. The cues are often randomly placed and amateurishly cut off.

One of the zombies we actually get to see climb out of a coffin which is rare as most films avoid showing this because it might look awkward [it’s rather funny in the Hammer Dracula’s the way they always cut away from Christopher Lee getting out of his coffin and then cut back to him standing in front of it], but thankfully Bianchi isn’t afraid of his film looking silly. Another zombie crawls on hands and knees towards the amorous couple he fancies for lunch. After one death, the rest of the humans go inside the mansion to be besieged by the zombies who are clever enough to use things like a battering ram, and who are somehow skillful enough to behead somebody with a scythe who’s pinned to a wall some 30 feet above them [I’m not making this up]. Every now and again one of the living dead seems to get in so eventually bright spark Mark has this amazing idea, almost unparalleled in horror movies. “We’ll let them inside, we’ll keep out of their reach, they’re all so slow”. After more gruesome shenanigans, the survivors managed to escape – or do they? It could be a post apocalyptic world they’re now in, this film in a way serving as an alternate prequel to Dawn Of The Dead just like Zombie Flesh Eaters. There’s a genuinely eerie bit with some zombie monks in meditation, and then a climax that then seems to freeze frame because they ran out of money – though a certain subplot is taken to its logical conclusion. You see – young Michael likes his mom an awful lot and has a particular fixation on her breasts. She rejects him, and he goes off to be bitten by a zombie. Undead Michael finds mother, who’s now totally happy for him to suckle her. You may not need me to tell you what atrocity occurs next, but it’s hard to get offended when you can just imagine Bianchi and screenwriter Piero Regnoli sitting around like naughty children trying to think of something shocking that hadn’t been shown in a film before.

One murder scene unashamedly rips off Zombie Flesh Eaters [which only came out a year before] when a woman’s eye is moved closer and closer to a shade of glass, though it lacks the uncomfortable suspense that Fulci created and doesn’t give us a money shot. Elsewhere though special effects man Gino De Rossi really makes the budget stretch, piling on the gut munching and keeping the blood flowing. It’s Rosario Prestopino’s zombie makeup though which is the film’s most notable ingredient. There’s immense variety in the look of the zombies, you’ll notice ones inspired by Plague Of The Zombies, Tombs Of The Blind Dead, Zombie Holocaust and other previous living dead efforts. Some are truly decayed and rotting – when one zombie bends over a victim in closeup, we even see worms crawling across his face, while another one has a worm coming out of an eye socket. Unfortunately you can also see somebody wearing a Boris Karloff mask with a wig on and some blood on the face in a failed effort to disguise it. Bianchi doesn’t feel the need to do what directors of similar films tend to do and have the less made-up extras near the back, but I guess the varying degree of undeadness makes some kind of sense because some of these zombies are meant to be over two thousand years old and others are only just deceased.

It’s easy to root for the zombies. Partly this is because of the extremely shoddy acting on display, with the women all seeming to have been chosen for their looks and nothing else [though call me sexist but there are times when that’s not a bad thing]. And partly it’s because of the stupid things the characters do and say. Then again, if the characters made the right choices, such as actually trying to make a move rather than just standing there like statues so that the almost slow-motion zombies can get to them, the movie would only last half an hour, which some may of course consider to be good. I do wish that we were given just some kind of explanation as to what’s going on, but then again when you’ve begun to continually say to yourself “what?” and “why?” in response to the happenings onscreen, you surely know that you’re watching something very special where normal ideas of what makes a film good just don’t apply. If you’re the type who enjoys a bad movie from time to time for relaxation and some laughs, and who hasn’t yet sampled the crap genius of Burial Ground, and consider yourself to be a zombie fan, then you really have to see it. It’s probably funnier than all the zombie comedies out there despite all the splatter it throws at the viewer, while if you’re a more serious type then you’ll probably just sit there open mouthed at the astounding ineptitude and lack of reason yet bizarre kind of gusto to what’s taking place on screen.

And – last but not least – yes, the ubiquitous J & B whisky is on view, a waiter serving somebody a glass of it from a bottle, and some folk having some much needed glasses in-between zombie attacks. Why is it I get the feeling that it was on offer to the filmmakers free or at a very low price throughout production?

Rating: ★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆

 

Dr Lenera
About Dr Lenera 2433 Articles
I'm a huge film fan and will watch pretty much any type of film, from Martial Arts to Westerns, from Romances [though I don't really like Romcoms!]] to Historical Epics. Though I most certainly 'have a life', I tend to go to the cinema twice a week! However,ever since I was a kid, sneaking downstairs when my parents had gone to bed to watch old Universal and Hammer horror movies, I've always been especially fascinated by horror, and though I enjoy all types of horror films, those Golden Oldies with people like Boris Karloff and Christopher Lee probably remain my favourites. That's not to say I don't enjoy a bit of blood and gore every now and again though, and am also a huge fan of Italian horror, I just love the style.

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