October Horrorshow: Burial Ground, aka The Nights of Terror

What a gloriously shitty movie. Burial Ground, also released under a number of different titles, is an Italian horror gore-fest from 1981. Director Andrea Bianchi crafted a flick that ticks off just about all the boxes when it comes to shitty Italian cinema. The film stock is cheap, the dubbing sucks, there are numerous overlong shots used to mask a distinct lack of plot, et cetera. It really is a wonderful example of bad cinema of the era, taking its place alongside anything from Shitty Movie Sundays favorite Enzo G. Castellari. But, it also has the added benefit of being somewhat watchable.

Somewhere in Italy near an old villa (the Villa Parisi just north of Rome was the filming location), an unnamed professor (Raimondo Barbieri) is excavating an old tomb. Unfortunately for him, his digging and poking invokes an ancient curse of protection, and all the dead from olden times in the area come to life as flesh eating zombies. They’re just about the slowest zombies that have ever been put to film, but they are unique. Rosario Prestopino is credited with the special effects makeup, and he and his team did a better job than could be expected from a flick like this.

For a number of the zombies, Prestopino chose to construct full facial masks rather than just apply color and texture. That makes these zombies have frozen faces, but they look more like rotting corpses than many other films have managed to accomplish. They’re dirty and grotesque, despite not being able to do much, including open their mouths. Get used to seeing them, as well, as Bianchi loved to linger on Prestopino and company’s creations.

Soon after the professor looses the zombies, and gets himself eaten in the process, a group of couples arrive at the villa at the behest of an invitation the professor had sent earlier. They’re quite the group, wasting no time getting down to sexual shenanigans. Blood and tits and zombies at an Italian villa. This flick has something for every horror fan, including a creepy kid, Michael, played by Pietro Barzocchini, who, at 25 years of age when the film was shot, was no kid. But his diminutive stature and slightly progeriatric looks, combined with some gag-inducing plot elements, make him the most memorable of the cast.

After the couples are done having sex, the zombies descend on the villa and start racking up some bodies. It’s amazing they’re able to do so, seeing as their walking speed can best be described as comatose. Perhaps Bianchi was afraid that quick or sudden movements would cause the effects masks to fall off. More likely, it’s just a way to stretch out the runtime.

That’s because the last viewers see of the plot is in the opening scene. Afterwards, there’s zombies chasing people (‘chasing’ being a relative term, here), and that’s it. The film is relentless in its simplicity, which is a good thing. So many other bad movies fill up their slow spots with poor exposition. Not Bianchi. He chooses to show zombie faces in such lingering shots that by the end of the film I was giving the zombies nicknames. They were certainly more dynamic characters than the humans.

The adult characters fell into one of three camps. There were the men, who were tasked with fighting the zombies. There were the women, who were tasked with screaming and being otherwise helpless. And then there was little Michael’s mother, who, of course, expended all effort to protect her strange little boy.

For a shitty horror flick, Burial Ground was a satisfying little romp. The overextended shots didn’t hurt the film’s pace all that much. That’s probably because Bianchi excised so much plot. Elsio Mancuso and Berto Pisano’s electronic score worked quite well, and the effects were nice and bloody. There’s no mistaking this for a good film. Alien: Resurrection is better, in fact. But Burial Ground still entertained me, and that’s what movies are supposed to do.