Thursday, October 27, 2011

Italian Horror Blogathon: Graveyard Disturbance (aka A Night in a Cemetery, Una notte al cimitero)

Lamberto Bava’s Graveyard Disturbance is an interesting film in the history of Italian horror. Oh, not because it’s any good, but because it marks the death of quality, theatrical Italian horror films.  1987’s Graveyard Disturbance marked the first of four films that Lamberto Bava made (with the help of veteran genre screenwriter Dardano Sacchetti) for the Italian television series “Brivido Giallo.” What’s significant about this really, quite honestly, has nothing to do with Bava. Oh, Bava was a decent talent – a filmmaker who could obviously never live up to his father’s name – who worked early in his career as an apprentice (alongside Michele Soavi) for Dario Argento. Bava’s best film was the 1980 giallo Macabre; his Demons is a lot of fun, too. But back to what I was talking about: Italian horror circa 1987. Graveyard Disturbance came out the same year as Michele Soavi’s Stagefright and Dario Aregento’s Opera; two films that are wonderful examples of just what good Italian horror can accomplish; however, they also weren’t big success financially, and with the increasing popularity of television, the floundering Italian film business (American horror movies were making a ton more than the homemade products), and how cheap one could produce a movie for television, there would only be a couple more movies like them before we started getting more and more movies like Graveyard Disturbance.

Since the film industry was only making money in Italy when they showed American films, Lamberto Bava kind of saw the writing on the wall and decided to jump from film to television. Now, it’s not like Bava carried the clout of an Argento or even an ounce of clout that comes from his last name, but he was one Argento’s protégés, and that meant something within the world of Italian horror. So, when Bava jumped to TV, it did indeed seem like some kind of deal…not a big deal, but a deal nevertheless. What followed 1987 was a trend of toothless Italian horror films. Yes, the very thing that made Italian horror notorious was now considered its detriments as the paradigm shifted towards smaller screens and smaller budgets. Some filmmakers like Michele Soavi used this as an excuse to get out of the genre (and he actually has made some good made-for-TV Italian crime movies), but more than anything else all this shift really gave us was a bunch of neutered filmmakers. Italian horror, once known for its visceral imagery and ethereal narratives, was now reduced to nothing more than “Scooby-Doo” scares and “Tales from the Darkside” aesthetic.

Despite this, Graveyard Disturbance was the first of the Bava TV movies, and even though one will likely forget it as soon as they’re done watching it, I couldn’t help but feel that the thing was a little charming in light of having just sat through a Joe D’Amato movie. Quickly, let’s talk about the movie: Graveyard Disturbance is nothing more than a cheesy, bloodless Bava offering that came off the heels of his disappointing Demons 2. The story is akin to that of a “Tales from the Darkside” episode where you have a group of aloof college students (who are nothing more than horrible clichés of the ‘80s American teenager) who take a detour into some off-the-map location where their van breaks down and they encounter all kinds of spooky goings-on. When the group arrives at an old inn that just spells trouble, they become aware of a buried treasure that is offered to guests if they can survive one night in the inn; however, nothing is as simple as it seems, so of course all kinds of bad things start to happen to the group when they decide to stay the night at the inn.

The film has some funny, haunted house moments, and the acting is gloriously terrible. One thing Bava knew how to do well in this movie was work the fog machine, that’s for sure. There’s a lot of wandering around searching for stuff and then weird looking people in makeup pop out and howl at the characters while they scream – again, very Haunted House type stuff here. There’s nothing remotely visceral, nothing even remotely scary about Graveyard Disturbance, but damn if I didn’t have some fun watching this. The reason for the tameness of the film is because Italian TV was the wave of the future at this time, and, sadly, this is what killed good Italian horror. Producers saw how cheaply they could make something for television and also attract a wider audience because they didn’t have to fill their film with gratuitous nudity and gore – staples of the Italian horror genre. The effect was forever damaging to the genre as it was just a handful of years later that the last true Italian horror film was made, Michele Soavi’s Cemetery Man. So yes, even though there is no gore, no extreme violence, and the film is widely considered Bava’s worst film (obviously those people haven’t seen Devil Fish), I have to say that it’s harmless fun that can definitely be enjoyed with a group of friends. It’s also an interesting curiosity within the context of the history of the Italian horror film. Oh, and it’s educational! For example, it’s nice to know – thanks to the end of this film – that if I ever encounter the Grim Reaper, and I’m not ready to die yet, all I have to do is gently stab it in the stomach with a small dagger and then run away. Seems easy enough. Thanks, Lamberto! See, there’s a lot of cheesy goodness in here to enjoy with your friends, just don’t think you’re getting any kind gory lark a la Demons.


  1. I don't know much about Italian Horror, but this blog-a-thon and your knowledge give me the opportunity to learn from this genre! I'll have so much to catch up sometime soon to really comment on the films you have reviewd so far, but I can say that it is pretty interesting and well written.

  2. Thanks, Michael. I appreciate that! I'm glad you're enjoying the blog-a-thon so far. I promise I have some GOOD Italian horror movies to talk about soon, hehe.

  3. I had never heard of this one, but it sounds like it would be pretty fun in that Devil Fish kind of way. I'll have to check it out for a laugh.