Monday, July 6, 2009

Final Girl Film Club: Burial Ground (AKA The Nights of Terror)

This is part of the Final Girl Film Club -- this month tackles my favorite subgenre and focuses on one of the weirdest films to ever come out of the Italian zombie movement. Head on over to Final Girl to check out all of the other great entries.

Some connoisseurs of Italian horror really find this film to have profound statements about the class struggle in Italy at the time. They claim that the zombies rising from the dirt and attacking the castle is an ideal metaphor for the bourgeois rising up and attacking the wealthy social class. Okay…not really, but Andrea Bianchi’s Burial Ground (AKA The Nights of Terror) is one of the most infamous so-bad-it’s-good type horror movies ever to come out of the Italian Zombie subgenre. It's hilarious and horrible, and sure to be one of the most surreal movie-going experiences you’ll ever have.

The story is about some rich swingers who meet up at an old castle/mansion to have a discussion with a professor friend of theirs. Only what they don't know is that the professor stumbled upon “a great secret” that “must be true”. He heads outside and into a crypt to chisel away at some stone when some zombies are like “what’s up? Why did you have to bring us back from the dead?” The viewer is left to think that the poor professor knew these zombies before they were donned with skeleton masks covered in oatmeal and rubber cement, because when the zombies approach him he utters one of the films many hilarious lines: “stand back! I’m your friend.” Best not to barter with the walking dead because his “friends” don’t listen to him and poor Professor (who looks a lot like Alan Moore) supplies his "friends" with some easy dinner, and I mean easy; he just stands there and lets them chomp away, and thus kicks off Andrea Bianchi's Burial Ground.

Bianchi was a hack who mostly worked in soft-core porn or the giallo, moving around like most Italian horror directors, to whatever idea made him the most money. Some of his films include: Maniac Killer, Cry of a Prostitute, Strip Nude for your Killer, and The Malicious Whore. So really his only attempt at a zombie movie was with Burial Ground and even then the entire first act of the film is nothing more than Cinemax quality porn.

Once the gettin' busy commences we cut outside to two people making love in the garden. They soon realize something is wrong when a zombie rises up from the ground just as they're getting hot and heavy (oh what a hilarious metaphor!) in scene that is directly taken from Zombi 2. Perhaps that is why in Europe Burial Ground was actually referred to as Zombi 3. The zombies don't even look great as I mentioned before and really it appears that they only took the time with a select few that they showcase throughout the film, all of the extras were just given oatmeal and rubber cement to put on their cheap Halloween masks.

The fight scenes with the zombies and the swingers are some of the most hilarious in an y zombie movie. Our mustache-clad swingers find anything they can use to stave off the zombies (some even look like Christopher Llyod…see above). During one horribly long scene we get a POV of one of the characters holding a pitchfork (Hey, it’s Italian Zombie Doom!) just starring at the zombies while the rip-off Goblin music plays in the background. After a horribly long and awkward fight scene the zombies are finished off by, get this, a planting pot...yeeeeeah. This leads to the ever popular head-as-paper mache-being-destroyed scene that shows maggots escaping from the "brain."

The zombies in Bianchi’s film are up to the task though as they are more than capable of throwing knives and wielding farming tools themselves. In one hilarious scene the chamber maid wisely looks out the window to see what’s going on…and of course as she does this a zombie (who must have had some knife throwing practice at one time in his life) hurls a knife at her hand. Now stuck, the maid has no other option but to sit there as the zombies get a scythe and slooooooowly chop off her head. Pretty awesome. The zombies are also more resourceful than most as in one scene they show signs of great team work as the work together to make a battering ram so that they can knock down the door to the estate.

One of the main reasons why this film is so infamous is because of the creepy little mutant kid Michael. Here is what looks like a middle-aged little person playing a ten year old boy who has a weird obsession with his mother. He's always walking in on her while she's getting her groove back with some slimy looking Italian dude (the best line is "you're getting a rise out of me" all the while zombies are rising from the grave – insert “boing” noise here), and none of his creepiness is helped out by the horrible dubbing job.

The most famous scene of the film – and the one scene that when you explain it to others they say “oh yeah, I’ve seen that movie, I had forgotten what that movie was called” – is when Michael's mother slaps him after he gets himself a handful of his mom's goodies "just like when he was a boy" he says...yuck...but that's not the worst of it: Michael runs away and is bitten by a zombie. We are supposed to forget about creepy little Michael but when two of the survivors and Michael's mom are the only people left and they retreat to a church (with flesh eating monks and all!) there's little Michael emerging from a door (how he got to the church I have no idea) and his mother full of guilt for slapping her boy, and so pleased to see her boy alive, does the most disgusting thing in any movie...she lets her "boy" get some milk just like when he was a baby. Gross. And stupid...because as the other two look disgusted (hey something did gross out Italian swingers, amazing!) it is clear that Michael is a zombie, and sure enough, mommy gets the worlds worst tittie twister as Michael takes a big 'ol bite out of his moms breast. Ouch!

There are some classic Italian horror moments in the film like the pacing of the action, the horrible dubbing, the synth soundtrack, and especially how the zombies die. When the zombies are trying to find their way to the second floor of the mansion one of the swinger dudes who looks like Buzz on "Baywatch" grabs a gun and proceeds to shoot all of the zombies in the head. This leads to the always popular Italian shot of the zombie head with a completely black backdrop, exploding, looking more like a watermelon being hit by a shotgun blast than a head. This "isolated" head shot was popular in a lot of Italian horror films as the directors wanted to get as close to the gruesomeness as possible. The only problem was it makes it even more obvious how stupid and cheap the effects and make-up are.

This is still somewhat of a forgotten zombie film even though it has a cult following (not as big as Zombi 2 of course). This film is a perfect example of how the Italian's began ripping off their own stuff, and showed just what kind of hacks these directors were. Whether it was the giallo film, the cannibal film, or the zombie film, it was guaranteed that you would see all three of those genres on an Italian horror directors resume. The film is good for a lot of laughs as it produces some of the cheapest looking zombies, and ends in ridiculous fashion with a quote from The Profecy (that’s how they spelled it) of the Black Spider. See if you can spot the spelling error in the quote – and somehow that seems entirely appropriate for this film.

The violence is mild and predictable after if you’re familiar with this subgenre, especially the more popular Zombi 2 and The Beyond, but with its campy and hilarious characters and surreal moments Burial Ground is one of the better Italian zombie films. It deserves to be in the canon of Italian zombie movies. In the words of Kenny Banya: "It's gold!"


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  2. "There are some classic Italian horror moments in the film like the pacing of the action, the horrible dubbing, the synth soundtrack, and especially how the zombies die."

    Your expertise with this genre (and your brother Troy's too) is remarkable, and truth be said I have a rather large Fulci and Argento collection. Mario bava of course is the true master of Italian genre, even if you concern here is with the zombie sub-culture. Your post here is most coincidental, as I watched the Norwegian Nazi Zombie film, DEAD SNOW (do you know of this film, Kevin?) all by myself Sunday night at Manhattan's Cinema Village, and the audience of people seemingly in thie 20's and early 30's were laughing their asses off throughout as zombie's were butched, chain-sawed, decapiated and splattered all over the place. Even I laughed in spots, remembering one of the zombie atatckers of the cabin in the snow who smashed one of the young one's head open, causing his male friend to tell his girlfriend: "See, i told you we should have gone to the beach today!"

    It's interesting, but although I have not seen BURIAL GROUND, your summary description matches the Norwegian film to a tee, even on the point of predictability you make here:

    "The violence is mild and predictable after if you’re familiar with this subgenre, especially the more popular Zombi 2 and The Beyond, but with its campy and hilarious characters and surreal moments Burial Ground is one of the better Italian zombie films."

  3. Sam:

    I know of your enthusiasm for Bava's work well, and you'll be happy to hear that on the Netflix queue is A TON of Italian horror -- mostly Bava -- that I tend to re-visit and write reviews for.

    This zombie film is perfect for a group of friends to get together and just have a good time ribbing the film. It's nothing special, but for enthusiasts for the sub-genre I highly recommend it for its bizarre moments that make the film stand out.

    I haven't heard of Dead Snow I'll have to keep an eye on it. Thanks for the heads up on that one.

  4. Crowley:

    Welcome to the blog! I will be sure to check out your site, too. Thanks for following along here.

  5. Okay -- I've got some time to discuss this great film now.

    "Some connoisseurs of Italian horror really find this film to have profound statements about the class struggle in Italy at the time."

    I saw that and figured it may be referring to "The Overlook Film Encyclopedia: Horror" book, since that's the only place I've read such silliness on other, similar hackwork.

    The best thing about the movie (assuming you enjoy bad movies) is the blatant obviousness of Bianchi trying to do one thing and one thing only -- make a quick buck. Everything about this film screams out quick, cheap, and untalented (and Bianchi's further oeuvre tends to back up this claim).

    The camerawork is plain and static, the makeup, which can save a bad zombie film, is, as you pointed out, horribly cheap. The dialogue is barely coherent, the story lacks any explanation or point, and the script reeks of being stretched out with tons of padding -- overlong shots of lumbering zombies, couples scenes, and pointless reaction shots.

    Oh, and that music...yeah, it wants to copy Goblin, that's for sure. But most of the time it sounds like they hired a 4-year old to pound on a synthesizer for 3 minutes and then play it on a loop. I did enjoy the swingin' jazz song played over the opening credits, though.

    The only "plus" for the film would I guess the gore scenes are adequately bloody, if that's your thing.

    Cripes, this is a poor, poor film. And yet, I've actually watched it 3 times now and would probably watch it again, if someone wanted to. It's good for a laugh and is obviously helped by being so-bad-it's-good. Add in that after you've watched Zombie Lake, you appreciate that at least Bianchi's film isn't bad AND boring.

    Lastly, great use of the Buzz from Baywatch reference. I'm off to YouTube to find a clip of him.

  6. Yes...I was thinking of that Encyclopedia of Horror book. Those guys were hilarious in trying to pull legit themes out of a film directed by such a hack. This film is so bad, but I always think of it when I think of Italian zombie movies I would gladly watch again. And I think you're right...I think that comes from the fact that when you've exhausted the genre like we have and sat through drek like Zombie Lake then you appreciate these enjoyable, yet terrible, additions to the genre.

    Let me know what you find on Buzz...