A clean 85 mins.
Italian gut-munching zombie
Trivia One of the many films to be released as Zombie 3.
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Burial Ground: Nights of Terror (1981)
16th Sep 07
Guy raises zombies using an ancient burial incantation then gets killed by them. Later on a bunch of horny couples come and stay in the same house, with predictable but highly entertaining results.
Being a splatter movie fan in Britain in the years following the “Video Recordings Act” became deeply disheartening as every tape released in the UK had to bear a BBFC certificate, in a nanny-state bid to prevent any recurrence of the “video nasties” debacle. This meant settling down to watch a movie like Nights of Terror (1981) and gradually realising that the reason the film is only an hour-long is because some FUCKER HAS CUT OUT ALL THE GORE AND MOST OF THE ZOMBIES!
Viewing it was thus a bit like tuning into The Sound of Music with all Julie Andrews’ scenes removed or browsing a teenage porn site with all the perky tits excised. (This could very well be the only time in history that Julie Andrews has been associated with Italian zombie flicks and teen porn sites in the same sentence… lets hope it won't be the last). The film in question, most commonly known as Burial Ground, and directed by Andrea Bianchi, finally found itself uncut (and in widescreen, to boot!) on these shores courtesy of the late, lamented Vipco under the moniker The Zombie Dead.
This was among the first Italian knock-offs to emerge in the shadow of both Dawn of the Dead and Zombie Flesh Eaters. It appeared in the same movie year as Nightmare City (fast-moving blood drinking zombies!) and Cannibal Apocalypse (the one where a police chief catches a colleague munching on a woman’s torn-off breast and says, calmly, “My God, put it down, son!”), to name but two. Whatever they were smoking in pasta-land in the early eighties surely should be available on the NHS for the sake of us all.
For Burial Ground, Bianchi borrows Fulci’s favoured make up effects man (Gino De Rossi) and gives him plenty to do. It’s a pared-down gore flick with only a handful of explanatory lines of dialogue about the possible origins of the zombie rampage and character intros limited to seedy sex scenes (“You look just like a little whore… but I like that!”).
It plays almost like one feature length, sustained zombie attack sequence, though the very generic nature of the horror scenes and an ultra-duff dubbing job means that it often unfolds like an outright parody. What’s surprising, however, is that, beneath the unintended hilarity, there are genuine moments of suspense and creepiness that, for once, represents a successful emulation of Fulci at his near-best. It’s fair to say that this is a better movie than you’ll probably remember it being - and, if you’ve only ever seen the 80’s UK tape version, prepare yourself for a shock…the zombies now kill people onscreen!
Burial Ground’s exposition is largely limited to a prologue in which a beardy professor, studying the experiments conducted with corpses by the ancient Etruscans, pleads with some advancing cadavers : “No! Stand back! I’m your friend!”. That kind of pathetic plea for mercy may work if you were being pursued by an undead Felicity Kendal but, in a hardcore early 80’s Italian horror flick, it cuts no ice, and the winner of that year’s Oscar for Outstanding Facial Hair In An Italian Zombie Flick quickly becomes lunch.
While the strange - and strangely appropriate - electronic score makes odd noises, a bunch of unsympathetic socialites enjoy a decadent jaunt in the countryside. (Sample dialogue : “You’re getting a raise from me, alright, and it has nothing to do with money!”) The only character anyone ever remembers is “Michael”, the weirdest looking kid in horror movie history. If Michael Berryman and Dario Argento ever conceived a child together, (and that image will now live with you for at least the next 20 years - you’re welcome), something resembling “Michael” would be the disturbing result. This immature adolescent with a face only a mother could love (and she does, a little too much) is, naturally enough, dubbed by what appears to be a slightly high 50 year old man. As dubbing jobs go, it’s not quite as excruciating as the ear-hackingly shrill English voice of blonde moppet “Bob” in The House by the Cemetary, but it’s close.
The overwhelming dumbness of this film’s characters has played a large part in Burial Ground’s undeserved reputation as a full-blown turkey. A horny couple foolishly stand around looking at a slow-moving zombie heading toward them while yelling impotently “It’s a walking corpse!”. Later, in a similar vein, soon to be mutilated characters scream “They’re going to eat us! Monsters!” while standing still and letting the zombies catch up with them! The daylight horrors of the first half, meanwhile, segue into a conventional nocturnal siege scenario that traps these obnoxious fools in one building with the marauding undead (in this case, unusually, the zoms are armed with assorted weaponry) outside.
Bianchi and DeRossi presumably got a bulk discount at the local butchers’ shop - aping Dawn of the Dead, various characters are vividly disembowelled in gaudy close-up. The infamous eyeball poking set piece of Fulci’s film is directly quoted in a scene of a woman being grabbed by the head, her face slowly dragged toward shards of glass destined to perform some ocular damage. Bianchi favours lingering close-ups of bleeding stumps as characters are nailed to walls and beheaded with scythes, and the Romero influence follows through with the inevitable exploding zombie heads. The moment cherished by every gorehound, however, now plays like a splatter movie extension of Little Britian’s recurring “bitty” sketch. Mum tenderly embraces Michael, her newly zombified son, and the lad just seems to want feeding like old times (“Just like when you were a baby - you used to love it so!”)…until he bites off her nipple in lip-smacking, rubbery close-up. Well, breast is best, folks!
This is an undeniably tacky movie (you want class? Go and see The English Patient, you’re welcome to it!) but it’s better paced than most of its kind, with more zombie action than talk for once. The zombies themselves are genuinely sinister : impressively detailed, maggot-ridden make-up gives them the right look, they bleed decayed yellow/green gunk when wounded and grim throwaway details (when bashed with rocks, portions of their decomposed heads simply fall off) add to the effect.
There’s even a potent charge from the fashionably downbeat final scene, as the movie ends on a suitable note of chaos and screaming with the zombie hordes closing in on our doomed hero and heroine. This being Burial Ground, however, the impact of this well done bit of closing mayhem is somewhat diluted by the fact that the final on-screen quotation manages to spell both “prophecy” and “nights” incorrectly! But, in the words of life-long porno fan Mary Whitehouse*, “who the fuck cares” when the movie is as much fun as this one.
(* N.B. Mrs Whitehouse never actually said that.)
Versions Vipco's R2 The Zombie Dead is uncut, but the Shriekshow release has much better packaging. Both are uncut though, I believe.