REVIEW: Le notti del terrore [Burial Ground] [1981]

Rating: 3 out of 10.
  • Rating: NR | Runtime: 85 minutes
    Release Date: July 9th, 1981 (Italy)
    Studio: Stefano Film / Film Concept Group
    Director(s): Andrea Bianchi
    Writer(s): Piero Regnoli

It’s a walking corpse!

The earth trembles and graves open just like Ragno Nero (Black Spider) foretold when talking about a non-descript “they” joining the living as messengers of death. A professor (Raimondo Barbieri) catalyzes this event when an underground discovery releases a horde of zombies onto him and the three couples he had already invited to share his findings. They don’t know where he’s gone upon arriving so they capitalize on his absence with a night of sex to supply director Andrea Bianchi‘s audience with some nudity and half-hearted grinding before the morning sees their attempts at an outdoor encore interrupted by monsters lumbering towards George’s (Roberto Caporali) palatial estate. And if Piero Regnoli‘s script had somewhere to take us afterwards, it might have all been worth our time.

I’m not talking about personally disliking where he goes either—Le notti del terrore [Burial Ground] literally goes nowhere. It’s a bottle episode of a scenario laid out in the first ten minutes that stretches out its runtime with close-ups of the maggot-covered faces of the undead. Sometimes these creatures are slow and stupid, other times they’re smart enough to wield weapons and use them. With no rhyme or reason as far as why this inconsistency occurs, it feels more like the filmmakers realized they had nothing to do and became forced into improvising. So the human characters either succumb to five zombies towering over them for dramatic embellishment without the speed to pounce or they fall victim to a coordinated attack from a distance with gruesome consequences.

The question you must then ask yourself is whether or not that’s enough since we have nine people—rounded out by George’s wife Evelyn (Mariangela Giordano) and son Michael (a diminutive twenty-five year old named Pietro Barzocchini, cast because what he’s asked to do couldn’t be done by an actual eight-year old actor), Mark (Gianluigi Chirizzi) and Janet (Karin Well), James (Simone Mattioli) and Leslie (Antonella Antinori), and the professor’s waitstaff (Claudio Zucchet‘s Nicholas and Anna Valente‘s Kathryn)—who lock themselves inside the large mansion as a means of defense. Bianchi and Regnoli therefore have two options: tell a story about these people and the inevitable conflicts that will divide them or let the zombies in to pick them off one at a time. They chose the latter.

So it’s camera on monster, then on screaming face, then on monster again. Maybe the screaming face will use his/her hands to fight back or maybe the monster will inexplicably use its hands to murder them with way too much dexterity to then get away with more lumbering later on. I applaud the inventiveness as far as depicting deaths with rocks crushing eggshell-like zombie heads or shotguns blowing them to smithereens, but we don’t have to watch the same effect five times in a row before finally closing that fight to continue onto another. There’s a great murder-by-sickle sequence and a hilarious battle where Mark pushes his assailant with a pointy rake instead of stabbing him only to have it grabbed right out of his hands.

At one point James declares that you must kill them with a headshot only to then have the climactic confrontation include an extended scene where Mark purposefully hits his foe on the shoulder again and again with no desire to try anything different. The film is chock full of these types of moments where it provides an epiphany and never expands upon it or puts it to use. Add the eye-roll-inducing foreplay of a man telling his wife she looks like a whore (“but that’s okay because I like it”) and the hired help blindly following orders that put them in dire situations all alone despite knowing the apocalypse is reigning down upon their heads and you’d be correct to wonder how this script got made.

The only thing Burial Ground has going for it is a creep factor that’s criminally underutilized. With two-thirds of the duration spent on glamour shots of the zombies (the make-up job is quite effective) and the other third on screams, there’s little room to allow the wildly distracting casting of a mature man as a sniveling momma’s boy to be worthwhile. Between random reaction shots with Barzocchini’s eyes opened wide and his Michael’s fear response causing him to crave a suckle at his mother’s breast, the weird quotient was ripe for amplification. Because Bianchi and company merely sprinkle it in to be the exception rather than the rule, it becomes more funny than off-putting. Scary doesn’t apply to anything let alone a bratty kid rounding second with his mom.

Any social or political commentary that birthed the zombie genre is thus gone. Any purpose whatsoever has been stripped away in what appears to be a deliberate desire to position style way ahead of substance. The American poster warns of “shocking scenes” that necessitate no one under seventeen being allowed entrance, but I’m not certain I know which it means since nothing here is that crazy for the early to mid 1980s. It’s all a marketing ploy to drum up excitement and feign a censorship angle that doesn’t actually exist. The sole reason I see to watch is the potential for mocking that you and some friends provide. External pleasure projected upon it proves crucial to surviving its ploddingly dull machinations devoid of even one second of suspense.

Watched in conjunction with Season Six of Buffalo, NY-based horror series Thursday Night Terrors, curated by Peter Vullo. Logo by Josh Flanigan.

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