Jul 6, 2009
Film Club: Burial Ground: The Nights of Terror
Burial Ground: The Nights of Terror (1981) typifies that which we folks around here call a "Tiffany"- that is, this Italian zombiefest coulda been so beautiful, but you simply can't hold what coulda been, dig? The film tackles the standard spaghetti-n-eyeballs formula, at times throwing a few innovations into the genre; somehow, though, this movie that coulda and shoulda been a cult classic ends up just sort of...there.
An archaeologist who bears a striking resemblance to comic creator Alan Moore discovers "an incredible secret" whilst mucking about in a crypt beneath a mansion; one can only assume that it has something to do with the living dead, for soon reanimated, rotting corpses are biting his bearded ass.
Well, not literally. The zombies do make with the munch munch, though, despite the professor's pleas of "Stand back! I'm your friend!" NOTE TO SELF: Zombies care not for friends.
Soon thereafter, a bunch of people show up at the mansion because...umm...they're friends with the professor, I guess, and he wants to tell them all about his incredible secret. It's never fully or clearly explained, but no matter! What's important here is that we get plenty of scenes with a bunch of unappealing people almost having sex, classic lines of dialogue such as "You look just like a little whore- but I like it!", and we're introduced to Michael (Peter Bark), the 40-year-old 12-year-old who looks just like a mini-Dario Argento.
Yes, he's supposed to be a child...a child with some serious mommy issues- but we'll get to that later.
Don't worry, it won't take long to get to Michael. There's not much else to explain in Burial Ground, because there's no story. Zombies show up, people kind of run away or sometimes fight, and that's that. Mind you, I've never seen the walking dead walk slower (seriously, even the Romero Shufflers are all "Can you guys please hurry the eff up? We're hungry, here!"), nor have I ever seen a stupider ragtag group of survivors. They stand there and say things like "They're coming towards us!" as the zombies slooooowwwwly do just that.
By the way, this zombie (whom I nicknamed Marty Feldman) was my favorite:
As I stated earlier, writer Piero Regnoli and director Andrea "Strip Nude for Your Killer" Bianchi add a few welcome innovations to the mix. First, the zombies take to using tools to aid in the pursuit of their prey: from farm implements (!) to battering rams (!!) to a random power saw left plugged into the wall of a rural monastery (!!!), these dudes will do whatever it takes to get their munch munch on. The best sequence, perhaps, comes when the foolish housekeeper dangles herself out the window to check out the happenings, only to have her hand impaled when a zombie- surely some ninja zombie, or perhaps a zombie who was a circus knife-thrower at one time- chucks a spike through it. Then, as you'd expect, the rotters slowly cut her head off with a giant scythe.
Yeah, it's silly, but it's also a frightening twist; zombies are supposed to just stand there, or mill about, or- worst case scenario- run. They're not supposed to throw things, or poke at me with...pointy pokers. And for Charles Nelson Reilly's sake, they're certainly not supposed to climb up anything except maybe stairs! They're not allowed to scale buildings, dammit, but in Burial Ground they do, and it's sort of my worst nightmare come to life. Or unlife. Or whatever.
One element that seems to distinguish Italian zombies from their non-Italian counterparts is the fact that these bastards are fetid corpses, all oatmeal-faced and maggot-covered, who rise from the ground. Elsewhere in cinema, the walking dead are generally just sort of blue-faced and shambling about. I want hands busting through turf a la Creepshow, and I want to smell 'em coming before I see 'em. In this respect, Burial Ground totally delivers.
And now it's time: undoubtedly the most ridiculous and notorious element of the film is l'il pervy Michael. A scene of a mother comforting her son quickly devolves into the viewer crying "Why the fuck is there about to be incest happening on my screen?!" as Michael attempts to feel up mommy, wondering why she refuses to offer some boobage like she did when he was a baby. He's a determined 40-year-old 12-year-old, though, and when Michael is later bitten and transformed, he immediately takes advantage of the situation to get what he wants. It's an absolutely shocking sequence, the dubious highlight of Burial Ground upon which the movie's entire reputation is built.
There's plenty of gut-munching and maggots and zombies galore, but in the end Burial Ground never seems to gel completely into a satisfying whole. I didn't really care about much of anything going on, although it's an interesting piece of Italian zombie cinema, to be sure (if only for the sideshow that is Michael). If nothing else, the film proves one thing: sometimes movies need a plot! Oh, and that zombies care not for friends. So...two things.
Let's put it this way: the typo in the quote that marks the end of the movie somehow makes perfect sense.
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