Wednesday, April 6, 2016


Produced in the wake of George A. Romero’s worldwide smash hit, DAWN OF THE DEAD (1978) and Lucio Fulci’s equally popular Italian cash-in ZOMBIE (1979) – which were promoted in Italy as ZOMBI and ZOMBI 2, respectively – Andrea Bianchi’s BURIAL GROUND (a.k.a. The NIGHTS OF TERROR, 1980) was just one of many zombie flicks trying to capitalize on the sudden surge of all things zombie.  Other films, such as Bruno Mattei’s HELL OF THE LIVING DEAD (1980) – which even had the audacity to pilfer Goblin’s memorable DAWN score – Umberto Lenzi’s NIGHTMARE CITY (1980) and Marino Girolami’s unforgettable cannibal/zombie mishmash ZOMBIE HOLOCAUST (a.k.a. DR. BUTCHER M.D., 1980) soon followed and, as enjoyable as they all are, nothing can match the sheer gusto and sleazy vibe of Bianchi’s low-budget zombie opus.

The set-up – such that it is – is pure porno trash:  A group of weekend vacationers gather together at a large villa, but unbeknownst to them, the resident Professor has discovered a secret about the ancient Etruscans (“It’s true!  It must be!  It must be!!!”), and for reasons unclear, they begin to emerge from their centuries-old graves to munch on the unsuspecting guests.
German lobbycard courtesy of The Ferguson Foundation.

Crass and undeniably silly, Bianchi’s film does not indulge in any sociopolitical messaging and simply exists for one purpose only: to show people getting slaughtered and eaten by crusty-faced zombies; and on that level, it succeeds very admirably.  Shot at the Villa Parisi, just north of Rome in Frascati, this was a popular location for many film crews, which producer Gabriele Crisanti utilized to full effect while helming a series of now infamous low-budget sleaze shockers, including Bianchi’s earlier MALABIMBA (1979), Mario Landi’s PATRICK VIVE ANCORA (1980) and Mario Bianchi’s SATAN’S BABY DOLL (1982).  Imposing and bleak, this once-prominent stately home looks about as decayed as the zombies are, which definitely adds to the rather foreboding atmosphere, and Bianchi doesn’t hesitate for a second to take full advantage of it either; the shuffling, maggot-infested zombies almost seem to be part of the villa’s crumbling façade.  As in Fulci’s ZOMBIE, the zombies themselves are also appropriately rotted and strewn with maggots, which also lends the film a particularly nasty charm as they delve into heaping piles of steaming viscera or, as during a couple of inventive moments, use a giant scythe and battering ram to get at their victims; they’re a resourceful bunch, which only adds to the grim, comic-book type approach to the entire proceedings.  Another aspect well worth mentioning is Berto Pisano’s pilfered score (it was originally used in Romain Gary’s KILL! [1971]), which perfectly encapsulates the delirious nature of this impoverished production as it alternates between breezy jazz cues and some truly bizarre, discursive, but energetic synth work; a CD release would be most welcome. 

Populated by an interesting cast of Italian B-movie veterans, which includes Karin Well, Gianluigi Chrizzi, Antonella Antinori, Roberto Caporali and the wonderful Maria Angela Giordano as Evelyn (dubbed by Carolyn De Fonseca), most of the cast isn’t given much to do except battle zombies and sputter an inordinate amount of preposterous dialogue, which most hardcore fans of the film can readily quote.  Scripted by the incredibly prolific Piero Regnoli, who is responsible for well over one-hundred writing credits (including Bianchi’s lovably sleazy MALABIMBA [1979]), his work here doesn’t bother even attempting to develop anything of any real substance, with one character simply exclaiming that “something terrible is going to happen!”  However, during a typically morbid set of circumstances interspersed among the zombie mayhem, Evelyn’s son Michael (the insanely creepy-looking Peter Bark) is part of an unexpected subplot, involving his rather questionable ‘feelings’ towards his mother, which culminates in one of the film’s more ridiculous, but utterly unforgettable moments.
Spanish pressbook courtesy of The Ferguson Foundation.

Long available on video since the days of VHS, BURIAL GROUND first appeared in the U.S. and Canada (beware of heavily-cut versions!) courtesy of Vestron Video in an overly dark transfer, which left much to the imagination in many of the film’s darker scenes.  Although available on European DVD during the format’s early days, BURIAL GROUND made its official debut on U.S. DVD in 2002 courtesy of Shriek Show, in what was for the time, an adequate 16x9 transfer (albeit interlaced) of the uncut version, which sported the film’s original export title The NIGHTS OF TERROR.  Extras included interviews with Maria Angela Giordano and the not-very enthusiastic Gabriele Crisanti, as well as the film’s trailer and a small 4-page booklet with liner notes from AV Maniacs’ Charles Avinger and European Trash Cinema editor Craig Ledbetter.  Then, in 2011, Shriek Show revisited the film on Blu-ray, which was definitely a step-up in quality, if certainly not what everyone was hoping for, but – in an even more frustrating turn of events – it appeared that this Blu-ray contained a slightly shorter version, trimming the ends of reels or certain shots altogether (excisions totaling some 1m45s), and even though the gore was all intact, it’s a fairly significant amount of footage, to be sure.  For a more detailed look at the genesis of this ‘new version’ and precisely what is missing, visit here.  Retaining all the extras from the DVD, the Blu-ray also contained a number of previously unseen deleted scenes (albeit presented with no sound), which were definitely a nice bonus, and sweetened the package just a little.  In 2013, German label Illusions Unlimited had their go at the film – complete with beautiful packaging housed in one of those slick mediabooks – but it turned out to be a port of the Shriek Show Blu-ray, containing the same extras, minus the deleted scenes.

As with some of their earlier Blu-ray releases in their ‘Italian Collection’, 88 Films have once again stepped up to the plate and delivered yet another solid Blu-ray package.  Remastered from the original 16mm camera negative, the film has never looked better, with natural grain and excellent detail, which will undoubtedly please every fan of the film; plus, it’s the longest version to be presented on video thus far, running 85m11s.  Extras include an audio commentary with Giallo Pages editor John Martin; a retrospective look at the career of director Andrea Bianchi from Mikel Coven, author of La Dolce Morte; the aforementioned deleted scenes, a trailer and a choice between watching the film in Italian with English subtitles or the customary English dub.  As an added bonus, 88 Films have also provided an alternate version sourced from a 35mm ‘Grindhouse’ U.S. print under the title BURIAL GROUND, which runs 84m21s; the shorter running time is due to the abbreviated credit sequence.  Reversible packaging, an insert card and a nicely-illustrated booklet with notes from Calum Waddell round-out the extras. 88 Films’ disc is Region B-locked, and can be ordered from Amazon UK here.  Order yours today before there shall be the nights of terror!  

Addendum – As expected, in October of 2016, Severin Films released their own separate Blu-ray (the first 3000 copies include a slipcover) and DVD releases for the North American market, and as good as the 88 Films disc is, Severin’s all region edition gets the uptick in quality, which looks a tad darker with richer colours and a more pronounced—but healthy—amount of film grain; considering the film’s scrappy, low-budget nature, Severin’s transfer looks just about perfect. As with 88’s disc, both English and Italian audio options are also included as are properly translated English subtitles for the Italian dub track. Of course, Severin includes a number of fascinating new extras, which makes this another must-own edition of the film. Beginning with Villa Parisi – Legacy of Terror (15m47s), film critic Fabio Melelli takes the viewer on a detailed tour of the famous location used in a number of classic (and some not-so classic) Italian films. In Peter Still Lives (7m35s), actor Peter Bark is part of a short, but delightful Q&A at a film festival whereas in the aptly titled Just for the Money (8m57s), actor Simone Mattioli doesn’t seem to recall a whole lot about the film, but he does remember having quite a bit of fun on set. In The Smell of Death (9m20s), interviews with Giordano and Crisanti from Shriek Show’s earlier DVD have been properly re-edited together for a much smoother and tighter viewing experience. Even though not listed on the packaging, the deleted scenes have also been included while the film’s now familiar export theatrical trailer finishes thing off. 

No comments:

Post a Comment