• Gabe Powers

Burial Ground Blu-ray Review (originally published 2016)

While I am the type to argue the artistic legitimacy of Lucio Fulci's horror legacy, I’m not so blinded by nostalgia for the golden age of Italian horror that I’d 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. Sitting a top this particular heap are movies like Marino Girolami’s Zombi Holocaust (aka: Doctor Butcher, M.D., 1980), Bruno Mattei’s Hell of the Living Dead (Italian: Virus - l'inferno dei morti viventi; aka: 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, 1981). Whereas 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, Bianchi and his cohorts opted to mash-up Fulci’s dirt-caked zombies with the gothic and occult elements of earlier Italian horror films, as well as Spanish filmmaker Amando de Ossorio’s 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, but Bianchi has both Girolami and Mattei beat in terms of jaw-dropping weirdness.



The screenplay is credited to Piero Regnoli, who wrote and directed plenty of genre films (gialli, horror movies, spaghetti westerns, and more) in Italy from 1952 through 1994. Given the modus operandi of most Italian exploitation productions at the time, Regnoli probably supplied a mere outline and the rest was made-up on the fly. If anything, these types of movies tended to be too tied-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, stem from illogical/stupid character reactions and ridiculous dialogue, rather than dramatic situations. Though the 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 to ape 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 the otherwise illogical actions of an H.P. Lovecraft narrator who is so utterly mortified that he can’t even describe the horror he is witnessing. Bianchi’s characters instead appear laughably inept at performing the simplest of actions. It may sound frustrating, but it’s actually a big part of Burial Ground’s appeal. The characters’ idiocy matches the gob-smacking weirdness of the casting choices, which include boxy, middle-aged men in beefcake roles and a shortish adult named Peter Bark in the unlikely role of a 12 year-old (he was 20-plus at the time of filming) with an unnatural attraction to his mother, played by producer Gabriele Crisanti lucky charm and middle-aged sexpot, Mariangela Giordano. Crisanti claims Bark was hired so that they could shoot longer hours than they could’ve with a minor, but it seems more likely that he was cast so that the filmmakers could ethically fulfill an ongoing Oedipus Complex subplot, which itself seems to exists for a punchline, wherein the boy reappears as a zombie after being killed. His mother is so happy to see him, she offers him (her 20 year-old playing a 12 year-old) her breast for nursing, only to have it viciously bitten off. This isn’t merely Burial Ground’s most memorable sequence – it’s something that was of such vital importance to the filmmakers that they assembled a script and their cast around it. That’s the kind of movie that Burial Ground is.



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 a majority of working Italian filmmakers that did his job, collected a paycheck, and moved on to another project. His output was eclectic, unified only 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 up, hardcore porno flicks. Along the way, he gained a measure of fame for Burial Ground and a sexploitative gialli called Strip Nude for Your Killer (Italian: Nude per l'assassino, 1975). It’s probable that Crisanti was the mastermind who 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. 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 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.



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 color correction. It may be worth noting that 88 Films claims the shared scan was taken from the “original 16mm negative,” while Severin doesn’t mention the film size on the press release/box art, but this 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.


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 color 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 BD. 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.



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


The images on this page are taken from the BD and sized for the page. Larger versions can be viewed by clicking the images. Note that there will be some JPG compression.


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