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Friday, May 6, 2016

Burial Ground




Burial Ground (aka Le Notti del terrore, Nights of Terror)
1981
Andrea Bianchi

An archeologist is studying an excavation in what is apparently his back yard, when he uncovers an ancient carving. He unwittingly releases a curse that brings with it a horde of shuffling zombies. A group arrive sometime later at the behest of the scientist, including the creepiest "child" ever put on film. Soon enough, the zombies shamble out of a cave and lay siege to the house. The people hold out the best they can, but they are clearly much dumber than the monsters outside, who have no problem enacting some unusually complicated and gruesome violence on the living.

The one with the sporty pink neckerchief is my favorite.
 Good Italian genre cinema is often a balancing act between bleak yet imaginative stretches of horror and a certain level of camp. Burial Ground is middling as a zombie movie, but manages to pull-off some brilliant campy scenes and deliver some really strange moments via a 25 year-old man playing a child. The actual plot is Zombie Movie 101: zombies show up, zombies trap people in a single location, people squabble, zombies eat people. One interesting twist here is that the zombies are happy to employ tools, and planning to capture their prey. The high water mark for this is the spectacular usage of a scythe in decapitating a poor woman who had the misfortune to stick her head out the window.

The real horror show in Burial Ground is Michael (Peter Bark). Ostensibly a child, Michael is fact played by a small adult in a bad wig. The reasons they couldn't use an actual child become evident as Michael has a massive Oedipus complex. It's in these transgressions where Burial Ground shows a little edge and makes itself more than just another Italian gut muncher. Burial Ground couldn't focus on these moments too much without becoming a different kind of film entirely, but it is the one moment the story manages to build-up and pay off well.

Happy Mother's Day!
Where does Burial Ground stand in the pantheon of Italian zombie movies? Wikipedia credits this film with starting the decline of the Italian zombie subgenre. I feel that is a little unfair. It’s definitely a step down from Zombi (1979) or City of the Living Dead (1980), but I would say it’s just as enjoyably ridiculous as Hell of the Living Dead (1980) of Nightmare City (1980). Truth be told, I hated this move upon my first viewing many years ago, but it has a quirky charm that has grown on me over time.

Despite some very questionable acting and the threadbare look to the production, it still mages to produce just enough unrelenting doom for our heroes to almost keep things from flying out of control. It even manages to attempt a pitch black finale that is only undone by an onscreen typo at the very last moment. In a way that a good a encapsulation of the movie as a whole, an attempt at gruesome mean spirited horror that is unintentionally undone by silly moments.

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