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Though I will argue the artistic legitimacy of Lucio Fulci's gothic zombie movies to the bone, I’m not blinded by nostalgia for the golden age of Italian horror enough to claim that any of the movies born out of Fulci’s success – specifically the success of Zombi 2 (aka: Zombie and Zombie Flesh Eaters, 1979) – were anything more than entertaining trash. At the top of the trash heap sits movies, like Marino Girolami’s  Zombi Holocaust (aka:  Doctor Butcher, M.D., 1980), Bruno Mattei’s  Hell of the Living Dead (aka:  Virus,  Night of the Zombies, and  Zombie Creeping Flesh, 1980), and Andrea Bianchi’s Burial Ground (Italian: Le notti del terrore; aka: The Nights of Terror, Zombie Horror, and Zombie 3). Both Zombi Holocaust and Hell of the Living Dead hedged their bets on aping Fulci’s island-bound Zombi 2 and mimicking the jungle adventures of Umberto Lenzi & Ruggero Deodato’s cannibal movies, while Bianchi and his cohorts opted to mash-up Fulci’s dirt-caked zombies with the gothic and occult concepts of Amando de Ossorio’s earlier, less violent Blind Dead movies ( Tombs of the Blind Dead, 1971; Return of the Evil Dead, 1973; The Ghost Galleon, 1974; and Night of the Seagulls, 1975). The results are less amusingly action-packed than Girolami and Mattei’s more popular movies, but Burial Ground has both movies beat in terms of its jaw-dropping weirdness.

 Burial Ground
The screenplay is credited to Piero Regnoli, who wrote and directed genre films ( gialli, horror movies, spaghetti westerns, and more) in Italy from 1952 through 1994. Given the modus operandi of most Italian exploitation films at the time, Regnoli’s probably supplied a mere outline and the rest was made-up on the fly. It certainly feels that way, even more than the already loosely-knit movies it was cashing-in on. If anything, these movies tended to be wound-up in unnecessary plotting, but the entirety of Burial Ground’s narrative can be summed up in a single statement, as Severin has done here: “A cursed country estate besieged by horny house guests, undead Etruscans, and the unusual relationship between a mother and her mega-creepy young son.” This means that all of the positive qualities, so to speak, tend to stem from illogical/stupid character reactions and asinine dialogue, rather than dramatic situations – though its wholly bleak ending is worth celebrating.

Regnoli’s by-the-numbers body-count story flips right off the rails thanks to Bianchi’s input. It’s not just his slapdash direction, but his blatant attempts at aping Fulci’s irrational gothic aesthetic, in which victims are too stunned by horror to fight back as they’re slowly devoured or otherwise maimed by the living dead. In Fulci’s world, it makes dramatic sense (at least I think it does), similar to an H.P. Lovecraft story, where the narrator is so utterly mortified that he can’t even describe the horror he is witnessing; yet, in Bianchi’s world, the characters appear only laughably inept at preserving their own lives. It may sound frustrating, but this is a big part of Burial Ground’s appeal. The idiocy of the characters matches the gob-smacking weirdness of the casting choices, including boxy middle-aged men in ‘beefcake’ roles and a shortish adult named Peter Bark in the role of a 12 year-old (he was 20-plus at the time of filming) with an unnatural attraction to his mother, played by middle-aged sexpot Mariangela Giordano, who appears in a number of Gabriele Crisanti productions. Crisanti claims Bark was hired so that they could shoot longer hours than they could’ve with a minor, but he was clearly cast to fulfill the Oedipus Complex plot point, which itself seems to exists for a punchline, wherein the boy reappears as a zombie after ‘dying.’ The mother is so happy, she offers him her breast for nursing, only to have it viciously bitten off. This isn’t only the most memorable sequence in the movie – it is an image that was so important to the filmmakers that they assembled a script and their cast around it. That’s the kind of movie that Burial Ground is.

 Burial Ground
It’s important to understand that, while he wasn’t quite a Bruno Mattei-level hack, Bianchi was never a good filmmaker. Instead, he was one of many working Italian filmmakers that did his job and collected a paycheck. His output was eclectic, but was generally unified by strong sexual content. He made erotic comedies, erotic melodramas, and softcore spoofs of popular horror releases, before giving up all pretense and making straight porn flicks. Along the way, he gained a measure of fame for Burial Ground and a carnally aggressive gialli called Strip Nude for Your Killer (Italian: Nude per l'assassino, 1975). It’s likely that Crisanti was the ‘mastermind’ that decided he needed some of that phat living dead cash and that Bianchi was just along for the ride. But he plays his part by putting the most effort into mimicking Zombi 2’s flashiest sequences, including a deluge of fire stunts, extended gut-munching sequences, and a scene where a victim has her eyeball pulled towards a broken shard of glass, instead of the giant splinter seen in Fulci’s opus. The production went as far as to hire Gino De Rossi, who acted as assistant to Zombi 2’s makeup effects supervisor Giannetto De Rossi (no relation), to recreate the ‘flower pot’ zombie makeup. Unfortunately for De Rossi, Burial Ground’s budget and materials were not up to Fulci standards and most of the undead monsters are just guys wearing fright masks and burlap sacks.

Quality aside, the gore is deliriously extreme, encompassing all manner of bodily damage – exposed intestines, severed limbs, beheadings, the aforementioned nipple biting, collapsed skulls, really collapsed skulls, utterly crushed skulls – but the subpar execution (a big disappointment, considering the calibre of De Rossi’s solo work on Fulci’s City of the Living Dead, 1980) helps keep things manageable for the squeamish viewers that are only watching for Mystery Science Theater 3000-style yuks. Cinematographer Gianfranco Maioletti makes the most of the Villa Parsi estate’s natural beauty, but his efforts are usually undone by nonsensical editing (there is no editor credited, so I assume Bianchi did it himself).

 Burial Ground

Video


Burial Ground culled a cult following on Vestron Video’s readily-available VHS. It was released on DVD throughout the world, including a R1, 1.85:1 anamorphic disc from Media Blasters under their now-defunct Shriek Show label. Media Blasters then released the first Blu-ray version in 2011, alongside Joe D'Amato’s Buio Omega (aka: Burial Ground and Beyond the Darkness, 1979) and Zombi Holocaust. It was pretty hideous and, at best, appeared to be a half-assed upconvert of the standard definition transfer, except that it was missing some footage that was present on the DVD. Finally, just this past March, 88 Films released a far superior, but still not nearly perfect Blu-ray in the UK (there was also a RB Austrian Blu-ray from Illusions Unlimited Films that recycled the Shriek Show transfer). This collection included something they called a ‘grindhouse’ transfer, which was a 2K scan of a 35mm projection print that looked, well, like a well-worn grindhouse print.

Severin Films’ new transfer was derived from the same 2K scan that 88 Films used for their release, (the two companies shared a source scan for their Zombi Holocaust discs, too). Each company implemented their own restoration and colour correction – though, this time, I don’t already own the 88 Films version for a direct comparison. That being the case, I’m mostly reviewing this transfer on its own merits (since there’s no reason to even bother comparing it to the horrible Shriek Show disc). The only other thing I’ll mention is that 88 Films claims the shared scan was taken from the ‘original 16mm negative’ (Severin doesn’t mention the film size on the press release/box art), which makes sense, given the amount of grain on the print and relative fuzziness of wide-angle details. I had been under the impression that Burial Ground was shot on 35mm. For the sake of argument, we’ll just assume that 88 Films is correct, because, even if there was a 35mm source, it clearly wasn’t what was used here. On top of this, there is plenty of evidence to support it being 16mm, such as the jumpy quality of the handheld footage and the 1.66:1 framing.

 Burial Ground
Severin’s 1.66:1, 1080p transfer doesn’t perform any miracles – Burial Ground is every bit as dingy and gritty as you remember it – but there are significant improvements in terms of clarity and overall detail. The colour palette skews orange, which gives the entire movie a sort of copper sheen, including skin tones. Burial Ground has always appeared muddy, so the warmer glow is preferable, given the mostly brown palette. Reds are punchy, blues are consistent, and the outdoor greens are lush. As the film goes on, it becomes significantly darker and this is difficult for clarity, not because the scan is bad, but because Bianchi and Maioletti just didn’t light the thing very well. First-time viewers need to understand how much clearer this transfer appears during dark sequences when compared to VHS, DVD, and Shriek Show’s hideous BR. For example, the sequence in which the maid is beheaded with a scythe is at least somewhat discernible, whereas, in the past, the action took place in utter blackness. Telecine scan noise is as much of an issue as it has always been for Italian exploitation releases, but Severin does a better job than most mitigating the problem. At times, it looks like standard 16mm grain and, even at its worst, it never sits still atop the image.

Audio


Burial Ground was, like most Italian genre movies from the era, shot without sound and post-dubbed into various languages for release worldwide. Severin has included the original English and Italian dubs, though only the English track is presented in uncompressed DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono – the Italian dub is compressed Dolby Digital 2.0 mono (88 Films included both tracks in LPCM). I personally prefer to watch the film with an English dub, because of the nostalgia of experiencing the movie the same way I did that first time – not to mention the fact that the subpar English performances are funnier than their Italian counterparts. Even though the Italian track is compressed, it is actually better mixed than the English dub, which puts too much emphasis on the dialogue and leaves the sound effects and Elsio Mancuso & Burt Rexon’s music somewhat muffled. This isn’t an uncommon issue and I assume it isn’t Severin’s fault, but the fault of whoever originally mixed the English track. Really, my only complaint is that the Italian dub is compressed, but the difference is pretty minimal. Do note that, even though the tonal qualities are different, both tracks feature the same effects and delightfully dopey music, which was mixed & matched between library sources, jazzy motifs, and almost overwhelmingly aggressive synthesizer cues.

 Burial Ground

Extras


  • Villa Parisi: Legacy of Terror (15:47, HD) – Movie historian Fabio Melelli tours the Villa Parsi mansion, the famous location used for Burial Ground that also appears in Mario Caiano’s Nightmare Castle (1965), Mino Guerrini’s The Third Eye (1966), Mario Bava’s Bay of Blood (1972), Paul Morrissey & Antonio Margheriti’s Blood for Dracula (aka: Andy Warhol’s Dracula, 1974), D’Amato’s Buio Omega, Mario Landi’s Patrick Still Lives (shot back-to-back with Burial Ground, 1980), among others. It includes comparison shots/footage between the current location and famous sequences from the movies mentioned.
  • Peter Still Lives (7:35, HD) – An Italian language post-screening Q&A with actor Peter Bark, who talks about his involvement in this very strange movie and his other films (including some short clips).
  • Just for the Money (8:57, HD) – Actor Simone Mattioli discusses Burial Ground with brutal honesty, claiming he only did it for the money. He vaguely recalls a few other minor details.
  • The Smell Of Death (9:20, HD) – These interviews with producer Gabriele Crisanti and actress Mariangela Giordano were taken from the Media Blasters release, where they were presented separately. Severin has cut them together with footage from the movie, making them easier to watch in the process.
  • Deleted/extended scenes/shots (10:24, HD) – These were reportedly deleted by the producers on the actual negative and do not feature any production/ADR sound (they are accompanied by music from the film). Apparently, not including them has become a controversial subject in some fan circles.
  • Trailer


 Burial Ground

Overall


Burial Ground ends with a still of one of the two survivors about to be devoured and the following quote:

“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…”


It is attributed to “Profecy [sic] of the Black Spider.” There is a Franciscan monk that went under the pseudonym Ragna Nero (or Black Spider) who dabbled in Nostradamus-like prophecies, so this very well may be something he wrote, but the quote is basically a meaningless attempt at eerie intellectualism. What makes it special is that Bianchi stole the whole meaningless intellectual quote thing from Fulci, then managed to mess it up by not spell-checking the final product. The entire film is a perfect storm of ineptitude, yet it is still endlessly entertaining. I think that makes it a work of art, right? Severin’s new Blu-ray is a substantial upgrade over the lumpy Media Blasters/Shriek Show release, though there’s still room for improvement if someone discovers a cleaner negative and rescans it at 4K or something. Until that day, this disc, including its new and re-done extras, is the way to go.

And speaking of guilty pleasures and so-bad-it’s-good filmmaking, Severin also recently released Erica Benedikty’s Phobe: The Xenophobic Experiments (1994) on DVD via their Intervision sub-label. Phobe is a wonderfully weird do-it-yourself sci-fi epic shot for $250 and shown on Canadian community cable. This month has been too busy for me to cover the title completely, but fans of such lovely nonsense might want to take notice.

 Burial Ground

 Burial Ground

* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.


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