It is truly amazing how crowded the zombie market was in the early ‘80s, at least in Europe; after the success of George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead (1978) begat Lucio Fulci’s unofficial “sequel” Zombie (’79), the floodgates were opened and the undead made their (slow and shuffling) move at the box office. Amidst the barrage was one Burial Ground (1981), a film that boils down a zombie flick to its very essence: people get munched, and they get munched good. Forget social subtext; Burial Ground barely has text.
AKA The Night of Terrors, Burial Ground was released on its home turf of Italy in the summer, with the U.S. not receiving a release until late ’85 before dropping on video in early ’86. There’s really no need to mention reviews from the mainstream: what do you think they would say that would in any way add to the discourse beyond “cheapjack Romero rip off”? But Burial Ground even missed most of the diehard gore hounds when it originally came out; a real pity because this one is something special, even in such a crowded field.
We should talk about the plot, or lack thereof; a well-to-do professor (Raimondo Barbieri – The Third Solution) holed up in his sprawling manor comes across an underground cavern of the undead; apparently some secret cult that figured out how to beat death. After they snack on him his friends, acquaintances, and disposable eye candy roll up to the manor as the prof had news to share of his discovery with them all.
The zombies attack everyone in the mansion. So. What’s new with you?
That’s all you get with the story, I’m afraid; anyone who can make Fulci look like a Swiss-timed plotmeister deserves a shout-out – so director Andrea Bianchi (Strip Nude for Your Killer) and screenwriter Piero Regnoli (Nightmare City) please take a bow for creating a gutmuncher that has gutmunching and only that on the mind. The zombies are the only characters who get a story arc; they’re hungry at the start and full by the end.
Okay, you could say the humans are alive at the start and dead by the end, but you get the point. There is no reading of the scrolls to try and stop the outbreak, no mediums contacting the afterlife looking for an impasse, and no heroic stand by one individual clearly designed to be the hero (or heroine). With the exception of two people (who we’ll get to later on I promise), the characters are forgettable to the point of being amusing.
There’s blond girl, blond guy; two (or three) bearded guys; two brunettes. Did I mention a blond guy? Okay. I’m probably even off on this count, as the cast sort of floats by you on their way to the slaughterhouse, leaving nary an impression as they do.
I think this blanching of any personality traits is intentional however; I mean when you have two people such as Evelyn (Mariangela Giordano – The Sect) and her son Michael (Peter Bark – The Meaning of Hugo) in the mix, why bother fleshing out the rest. (They wouldn’t stand a chance anyway.) Because if you’re wondering where the perversity of Italian cinema is, look no further than these two.
Michael is a very clingy 12 year old; most of his screen time is spent clutching at his mother’s waist, his white belt and mom jeans setting him apart from the fashion of the day. Now, that’s a funny enough scenario as is, but in case you hadn’t noticed, Michael is an unusual looking boy; he’s about the height of an average 12 year old, but his facial features belie that fact, as he seems…mature. The fact that a man in his mid-20s was hired for the part has always been Burial Ground’s biggest selling point, especially to those who’ve never viewed it before; what’s really trippy is what Bark does with the role.
First of all, he’s dubbed by another grownup actor, which never seems to jive with the bug-eyed expression constantly plastered across Bark’s face, and secondly – well, actually that’s it; Bark’s befuddled visage is the only trick in his bag, and his reactions to the events unfolding are priceless in their inertness. And if you haven’t seen it yet, you’ll soon find out why they had to hire an adult for the part. Just watch it. Please, I incest.
I don’t blame him, really; the entire runtime of Burial Ground is filled with zombies marching, marching, marching and then munching, munching, munching. The repetitiveness becomes hypnotizing – as viewers we’re usually so attuned to the ebb and flow of plot turns and contrivances that we are transfixed by this film’s resistance to structure.
So if the film is nothing but a barf bag buffet, how are all the fixings, anyway? Well, in the hands of Gino De Rossi – City of the Living Dead) they’re pretty tasty; not his best work (painting a nose black to appear gone doesn’t really work if you still see the nose), but innards fly and heads do roll for the majority of the running time. Effects are plenty, and plenty outrageous. Bring an umbrella.
Burial Ground has no time for trivial concerns such as plot or circumstance; it plays like the first draft of a video game where all they have so far is a location, monsters, and victims. But as in video games, some movies are best enjoyed in “simple” mode – especially when the screen is littered with such perverse delights to see you won’t even miss the story. If you’re so hung up on cohesion, go watch a Fulci, will ya?
Burial Ground is available on Blu-ray from Severin Films.Next: Drive-In Dust Offs: NIGHT OF THE COBRA WOMAN (1972)