Septicisle's good bad film club #2: Burial Ground.
(Previously: Nightmare City)
What a difference a year makes in rip-off terms. After the runaway success of Romero's Dawn of the Dead led to the Italian industry quickly knocking out Lucio Fulci's Zombi 2 in 1979, known to us here as Zombie Flesh Eaters and subsequently banned under the video nasty panic, 1980 brought the lower-rent but still great fun Nightmare City, helmed by Umberto Lenzi.
Another 12 months down the line, and rot on top of, well, rot was becoming the order of the day. Burial Ground is on the very cusp of being so bad it's just plain bad. With the best will in the world, director Andrea Bianchi is not a Fulci, or even a Lenzi. His finest work is without question Strip Nude for Your Killer, a particularly sleazy even by the standards of the giallo sub-genre picture. Starring the stunningly pulchritudinous Edwige Fenech as a fashion photographer and model while your usual black-gloved homicidal maniac kills the rest of the cast off one by one, it's by the numbers stuff finished off with a layer of gloss.
Burial Ground by contrast makes up what it lacks in glamour by upping the pure nastiness and it has to be said, downright cheapness. At this point in the cycle of Italian DotD homages/rip-offs the idea seems to have been that if Zombi 2 made a colossal amount of money despite costing practically nothing, if you spent even less then the reward would be even greater. All but needless to say, this logic was faulty. Almost everything about Burial Ground, also known as The Nights of Terror, as well as being released as Zombi 3 in some territories, which isn't that far of a leap, looks tacky. Not here do we so much as have an Ian McCulloch or the sister of Mia Farrow. Nor do we have a shark and a zombie in a fight for the ages.
No, instead the real star of the picture is the location: an Italian villa which if expense had allowed could have been dressed that little more attentively and truly looked the part. Rather than follow the ambitions of Lenzi in Nightmare City, Bianchi instead takes inspiration far more from Romero's first undead template, Night. Our less than bright sex mad revellers have been summoned to a mansion where Professor Ayres, a bald guy with a beard that puts our current day hirsute hipsters to shame, has made a discovery involving a crypt. He can't of course resist one last look before his guests arrive, and he naturally disturbs the slumber of the papier-mache anti-heroes we'll shortly be cheering on.
Bianchi's zombies are not on the level of Fulci's, nor Lenzi's. They've been dismissed as Halloween costume like, which is a bit unfair: sure, they're laughable, but if someone did turn up to a party with a mask like the above plastered on you'd be impressed. They seem if anything more inspired by the undead Templars seen in the Spanish Blind Dead series, which the alternate title itself seems to allude to. They are also like Lenzi's zombies smarter than your average shambler, retreating when attacked, climbing through upper floor windows, attracting the attention of maids and then decapitating them with scythes, etc.
Indeed, if it wasn't for the so-bad-it's-good make-up, the unabashed gobbling of offal and the presence of Peter Bark, then Nights of Terror would be on the level of the actual Zombi 3. Yes, that's Peter Bark, or Pietro Barzocchini as he was known on the school register. In his only credited film role, the then 27-year-old Bark plays a deeply creepy 10-year-old with a bowl cut, high-waisted jeans and ahem, mummy issues. According to the audio commentary, Bark unlike his Argentinian compatriot Lionel Messi didn't get the hormone treatment he needed, leaving him looking an adult while remaining a child's height. Quite why Bianchi thought it necessary to throw an incest sub-plot into an already more than exploitative enough picture only he can answer; nor does it naturally make the slightest sense as to why his mother, who has already seen Bark dead with one of her friends chewing on his severed leg, would take him to her breast when he reappears. Yes, the obvious happens. Yes, I am ashamed to still be recommending this film even as worth watching for a cheap laugh.
To add to the fun, the film simply... ends. Just as it seems we're about to be treated to a circular saw-stravaganza, the male lead's head being pulled towards the outsize blade, up flashes the "Profecy (sic) of the Black Spider". "The earth shall tremble... graves shall open... they shall come among the living as messengers of death and there shall be the nigths (sic) of terror...." Roll the credits.
(Burial Ground has just been released on Blu-ray by 88 Films, looking far better than it truly warrants. Also included are a "grindhouse" transfer of the film, and a featurette on Bianchi's films titled, brilliantly, What The Fuck. Quite. Worth £8.99 of anyone's money, anyway. Get it from HMV rather than Amazon, mind.)