Burial Ground: The Nights of Terror 1981
BURIAL GROUND THE NIGHTS OF TERROR: ITALO ZOMBIE WEIRDNESS
In 1968 George A. Romero gave us a black and white mushroom cloud of Horror devastation forming ground zero for a change in the acceptable level of intensity in Horror cinema with his film Night of the Living Dead. Hammer films paved the way along with people like Mario Bava (Black Sunday (1960)) and Herschell Gordon Lewis (Two Thousand Maniacs (1964)) creating the space for what Romero would unleash on our unsuspecting eyes and minds. Forget about how he presented a new kind of zombie that stripped away the voodoo connotations and just look at the bleak and unrelentingly hopeless of the apocalyptic tale that he presented where the dead rise to eat the living. We are presented with scenes where zombies fight over the entrails of a victims. The violence presented and the unrelenting hopelessness presented was different. It broke the ceiling on what was cinematically acceptable up to the point in time. The genie was out of the bottle. This was the lighting of the fuse that would ignite a special time in Horror cinema that would carry well into the late 1980′s. A golden time that would gives us Suspiria (1977), Dawn of the Dead (1978), Halloween (1978), Zombie (1979) and the amazing and iconic The Evil Dead (1981). It was the mainstreaming of violent and intense films that would normally be relegated to Drive Ins and Grindhouse theaters. Many saw an opportunity to cash in on this new found popularity of trashy Horror cinema and the Italian film industry was no exception. They cranked out cheap zombie films one after another. Bruno Mattei was offender number one. One of those zombie “cheapies” to be released during that period was Andrea Bianchi’s Burial Ground: The Nights of Terror written by Piero Regnoli who also receives a writing credit for Umberto Lenzi’s Nightmare City (1980), one of three writers. Burial Ground is an obvious Italian zombie film trying to cash in on the zombie craze of the period but it offers enough weirdness to make itself stand out from the likes of the Bruno Mattei drek. Let’s take a look.
A professor researching ruins within walking distance of his rural estate (convenient) disturbs an ancient tomb that wakes the rotting corpses that rest within. They quickly attack and begin munching on him.
Meanwhile, three horny couples and a creepy child, Michael (Peter Bark), arrive at the professor’s estate to fornicate in the garden and anywhere else they can find to drop their clothes and get busy. While the couples are groping each other all over the estate the undead begin pouring out of the ruins that was their tomb and rising from grassy areas and flower beds. Apparently these guys were buried all over the place. The zombies run into the horny couples and chase them back to the estate where they barricade themselves from the zombie horde outside. Oh yeah… Michael wants to have sex with his mother whom he spies on having sex with her boyfriend and get jealous. Chew on that Oedipal nugget.
Burial Ground: The Nights of Terror is basically a standard zombie siege film. Zombies come a knockin’ and the victims barricade themselves in a home and try to hold out against the attack. Nothing new to the basic setup but the film does manage to stand out due to some interesting choices. The zombies rise due to supernatural reasons (that are vague at best) rather than some plague or space contamination as in other films. The zombies are presumably evil and have intellectual intent. They use tools, make battering rams and are strategic as is evidenced when they retreat after being blasted in the head with a shotgun from a balcony. Their bites do turn others into zombies and the can be killed by destroying the head so the film uses some of the zombie conventions we are accustomed to seeing. Although very late 1970′ early 1980′s, the music is kind of odd and therefore creepy helping the film achieve its unique weirdness. The film presents some pretty graphic disembowlments that are fairly effective. Last but definitely not least there is the character of Michael. The weirdness gem of the film.
Much like like when you mention Roger Corman’s Galaxy of Terror (1981) and your brain immediately jumps to the Giant Space worm sequence, Burial Ground: The Nights of Terror immediately brings to mind Peter Bark’s character of Michael and the disturbing desires he holds for his mother. Peter Bark was a grown man playing the part of a child which is all the more strange. The sexual desires Michael keeps for his mother are merely the setup for the disturbing sequence that will be presented near the end of the film in a an Oedipal zombie brain stain. I will leave it at that in case you have never seen it.
The zombies in the film look kind of cheap at first but the more you watch the more they grow on you. They are dressed in what looks like dirty burlap gowns and have all manner of maggots and earth worms coming out of eye sockets and other facial orifices. When these crusty “old timey” night gown wearing freaks get a hold of a victim they quickly swarm and and begin disembowling and ripping apart said victim. It is very effective and it looks like real animal entrails were used for extra disgusting gut munching effect. Furthermore when the zombies are shot or stabbed they bleed a dark gunky disgusting fluid which just adds to the weirdness of the the zombies in the film.
Finally the film really works for me because of the very bleak ending where there is no escape for anyone. Much like many of the Italian films of the period that have a dream or nightmare like feel to them, Burial Ground’s ending achieves a fever pitch of disturbing imagery that takes us to the edge of nightmare and then cuts to a title card that reads, “The Earth shall tremble… graves shall open… they shall come among the living as messengers of death and there shall be the nights of terror…”. This leaves us with a bleak ending that implies an apocalyptic fate to the characters in the film and all of humanity. Awesome!
Burial Ground: The Nights of Terror is a solid Italian zombie film but more than that it is a trashy cinema gem with the inclusion of the Oedipal goings on with Peter Bark’s character. Some fun gut munching and zombie brain bashing plus a bleak apocalyptic ending makes for a memorable experience. Graves shall open and we will have some zombie fun. Check it out.