Thursday, October 14, 2010

BURIAL GROUND: THE NIGHTS OF TERROR

(1981; d- Andrea Bianchi)
There are bad dreams, intimating the unsettling, digging well into the shadowed recesses of guilt, denial and secret fears long suppressed. And then there are nightmares… the blackest regions of the subconscious mind, the only place where we race not only for our lives, but for our sanity - and generally the only place where our instincts to survive are given to regular practice. We do not choose our nightmares, they choose us -- and take us to the only places capable of really, truly horrifying us.
I dream of the dead… of hollowed eyes and hungry, grasping hands, willful only that I succumb to death’s ultimate mystery. They’ve occupied my nightmares for many years and in various guises, though one recurring element seems determined to haunt me until the very end. I find myself, alone, near a cabin in the remotest woods at dusk, following something like a path, cognitive only of the encroaching dead -- and my own private hell. When I’d first seen BURIAL GROUND, I was quite young and susceptible and one component in particular took up somnolent refuge in my mind‘s eye -- the half-mummified, maggot and worm infested walking corpses. They’ve since become the permanent residents of that dark, lonely place in the woods.
Filmed near Rome on a shoestring by Andrea Bianchi (STRIP NUDE FOR YOUR KILLER, WHAT THE PEEPER SAW), BURIAL GROUND was a shoddy, depraved attempt to both outdo in voracity and cash in on the success of Lucio Fulci’s ZOMBIE (1979). Though it shamelessly attempts to replicate one of the most infamous gore scenes from ZOMBIE, it has become a much beloved cult hit on it’s own rather uncanny set of terms. It is at once cheap and lurid and unintentionally hilarious, yet it’s also a cryptic, ghastly shocker that strikes more and more like a nightmare with each viewing. Laying an atmosphere full of crudely surreal psychological rudiments - from it’s wobbly, drunken hand-held photography to the grim, warbling cacophony of it’s interminably strange electronic score (counterbalanced by sleazy Euro-jazz early on) - a very peculiar table is set.
Beginning at the secluded country estate of a professor who has somehow resurrected the dead (“I’m the only one who knows the secret…”), we witness his descent into a crypt where he is the first to meet and succumb to their inscrutable hunger. “No, stand back! I‘m your friend!” This first scene should serve as fair warning to anyone adverse to gut-munching disembowelments (of which there are several). So with little in the way of explanations, we’re just to understand (before the credits even roll) that the dead walk and they won’t halt to eat you, even if you otherwise claim to be an old chum.
When the professor’s weekend guests arrive, they’re joyous for their lush accommodations and immediately seeking quarters for which to bed down. Though many European horror films maintain a healthier than necessary libido, BURIAL GROUND just seethes with preternatural longings of the flesh. Three couples arrive, with one (um…) child, and we’re to bear witness to every blessed one of them grope and paw one another into frenzied delirium. In the absence of their austere, forbidding host, this is now a place for lovers.
Or so it would seem, if you’d already forgotten the professor’s rather grisly demise. As little to nothing is afforded to character development, the lustful commingle-lers might otherwise be arbitrarily designated a, b, c, d, e and f… I’ll attempt to provide names when necessary. And then there’s the young boy, Michael (Peter Bark, the adult “person of short stature” who portrays the rather unusual lad)… His odd fascination, disgust and jealousy with the lascivious attention provided his mother, Evelyn (Mariangela Giordano), by her wholly unappealing boyfriend, George (Roberto Caporali), instructs much of the narrative’s focal point early on, a bewildering plot device that becomes much, much stranger as the story progresses.
Seconds after their afternoon arrival, they’re ushered in by a couple of servants and presto -- it’s night and they’re all in their respective bedrooms, readying themselves for lovemaking. As these things often go, there is a healthy dose of playful banter preceding the act… James (Simone Mattioli), the squinty playboy with the X-rated mustache, exudes rare Machiavellian √©lan as he tells his mistress, Leslie (Antonella Antinori), “You look just like a little whore. But I like that in a girl.” To say these scenes feel sleazy might be a bit of an understatement. I mean, I like having my heartstrings tugged as much as the next guy, but, you know, wash your hands before you start fondling them in that manner.
Just as things approach their, um... culmination, the creaky door to Evelyn’s room flings open, a slowly creeping shadow revealing itself to be Michael, who is indignant as his nude mother springs off her jilted lover. Michael’s lingering captivation with his mother’s breathtaking form will give pause to most, begging the question, “What is this crap? What the hell did we get ourselves into?!”
The following morning, we find the group gathered briefly at breakfast, then pairing off to explore the grounds - and each other - with Mark (Gianluigi Chirizzi) and Janet (the lovely, vibrant Karin Well) opting for an impromptu modeling session in the gardens. “You’re turning into a great little model.” “Then I deserve a raise in pay.” “You’re getting a raise from me, alright, but it has nothing to do with money.”
Inside the house, the light bulbs begin flickering, then inexplicably explode one by one, repeatedly startling the maid and butler - another in a long line of chuckle-worthy moments. Outside, Mark and Janet’s fiery, torrid embrace is broken by a particularly nasty looking corpse, scaring Mark back into his corduroys.
Meanwhile, George and Evelyn are perusing some ancient relics in a storage building nearby when young Michael makes a rather strange observation... “Mama… this cloth. It smells of death.” “It’s nothing but an old rag, Michael. You get the silliest ideas in that nutty head of yours.” Seconds later, the dead shamble into the room, breaking for George and his appallingly ill-fitting red shirt like bulls to a matador. The extremely gruesome nature of the ensuing carnage is liable to have you either scrambling for the remote or cheering for more.
Off in the gardens somewhere, James and his meticulous porn-stache chew on Leslie’s lower lip until they are set upon by several over-ripe ghouls. Leslie- “Oh! What are they?!” James- “Monsters… Monsters!”
While also given to chase, Janet and Mark’s plight is exacerbated when she unwittingly hops into a massive, gaping bear trap. Though one can’t be too sure it was intended so, her dubbed-over cries of agony sound conspicuously orgasmic, further embellished by Mark’s feeble, prolonged attempts to free her ankle as the ravening dead close in.
After several futile bids to open the trap, Mark grabs a pitchfork to fend them off, then essentially hands it over to the first ghoul he confronts. As heroes go, Mark, like the rest of the men in BURIAL GROUND, proves woefully inadequate.
With the help of James and Leslie, Janet’s leg is freed and the group make their way back to the house. Now comes the obvious question. Why don’t they just hop in their cars and hightail it the hell out of there? Well, duh… because the dead have stationed several guards near the cars, that’s why.
As darkness falls, the living dead prove themselves particularly cunning adversaries, especially when one of them hides behind a potted plant as the maid peeks out from a window upstairs. With pinpoint accuracy, the eyeless ghoul tosses a crude dart into her hand, lodging it into the wooden window frame as another raises a scythe over her head to complete the awful deed.
The situation grows ever more dire when the dead begin collecting tools for which to break down the heavy doors of the sprawling villa. When that initially fails, one of them takes to scaling the walls… As Leslie heads off to find bandages for Janet’s badly bruised ankle, she’s ambushed by the cat-like fiend, setting up a far lesser imitation of Lucio Fulci’s infamous eye-gore scene from ZOMBIE.
After several of them break in, wreaking all manner of havoc, the weary guests begin to come apart at the seams. Perhaps feeling the need to amp up the strange, BURIAL GROUND takes a wild left turn as Michael and his mother comfort one another on a couch. “Mama, I can’t stand it anymore. Please let me stay close to you, Mama.” “Yes, dear… please forgive me for ever taking you to this horrible place.” “Of course, Mama.” After kissing her on both cheeks, then several times on the mouth, confusion settles in. What is he doing to his mother?
Whoa… wait a second. Where is that hand going?
Are they moaning? And why is she stroking his hair, clearly encouraging him?
“Oh, Mama. I love you so much.” “I used to feel near you. I used to touch you. When I was a baby, you always used to hold me to your breast.” Too late, she begins to realize what’s happening…
And his fiendish little hand digs deeper yet, earning him a vicious slap.
“What’s wrong? I’m your son!”  Uh… just pinch yourself, check your bearings and keep repeating, “It’s only a movie, It’s only a movie”.
If you’re confused or the least bit traumatized reading this, imagine my reaction when I first saw this at the age of twelve… with my mother, brother and step-family (two brothers, a sister and their father). The next time it was my turn to pick at the video store, my step-father had taken a good, long look at my choice. I think he wanted to be sure I hadn’t wound up with another one of those “eye-talian jobs”, as he so thoughtfully put it.
BURIAL GROUND had bombarded and corrupted my adolescent psyche with thoughts undreamed of, with fears unworldly… and desires unfathomable. Um, just kidding.  I hope you can take some comfort in the knowledge that I only like my mom "as a friend". (shudders)
Though I wish I could promise that director Andrea Bianchi had halted this inexplicable Freudian entanglement right then and there, I cannot. Poor pretty Evelyn, whose only crime was lookin’ good, is not out of the woods yet. And neither are the rest of them, for the dead in BURIAL GROUND march to their own drummer -- weaving a nightmare so dreadful, so apocalyptic, it becomes almost biblically cryptic in it’s hopelessness.

12 comments:

  1. thanks. i remember hearing about this when it played memphis.

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  2. i bet that was one more uncomfortable family viewing area (and i ain't talkin' 'bout the seating arrangements either!) that night while this movie played for all to behold. the event itself should find it's way to a movie. it would surpass the discomfort henry spencer felt when he met mary's family for dinner in eraserhead!

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  3. Yet another movie you have convinced me to try to find and watch..great review! Quick question, is it me, or does Michael somewhat resemble a cross between Kids in the Hall's Kevin McDonald, and Twin Peaks'/Carnivale's Michael J. Anderson?? Just a thought ;)
    Are you looking forward to AMC's Walking Dead come Halloween? I know I am!! Counting down the days!

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  4. Thank you, Eva. Yes, I do see the resemblance. Very good eye! And I am very much looking forward to The Walking Dead as well... Gosh, I love Halloween!

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  5. Thank you for putting the virtues of this lost gem to keystroke! I am ashamed that I have not seen more of Andrea Bianchi's works, but no doubt it is safe to say that "Burial Ground" is the brightest star in his corner of the universe. As much as I personally enjoyed the classic "Zombie", I still prefer this film for its overwhelming creepiness, ergo the atmosphere of insatiable lust against a backdrop of the maw of Death. And then there's Michael... How you saw this, er, HIM in a family setting must have scarred you for life, holmes! Of all forgotten horror films (e.g. "City of the Walking Dead", "Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things", et al), "Burial Ground" still walks tall like the Joe Don Baker of the zombie scene. They can't run or projectile-vomit on queue or otherwise know other contrived, lame-assed shit like Matrix-fu, but man can they adapt to the situation at hand and fuck up your Italian ass in a Florentine minute. All this and (attempted) sex with someone's mom = AWESOME! If I ever make it to Italy, the first person I am going to look up is Peter Bark, and buy him an endless stream of Patronis on tap until he spills the beans on if he ever made it with Mariangela Giordano. And I don't care if he lies - all little people do.

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  6. No, thank you Pariah.file. I'm still laughing from your comment over half a week later. And Burial Ground does indeed walk tall (or at least staggers)! Oh, and if you get anything out of Peter Bark, be sure to get back to me. ;)

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  7. Whoa! That 'kid' has just scared the crap out of me. That haircut alone is enough to give me nightmares. Great post!

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  8. Thanks Erich! Your piece on DAWN OF THE DEAD was nothing short of monumental. That was a marvelous tribute to one of my all-time favorites and a thrill to read!

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  9. GREAT blog---one of the funnest zheese-gore flicks ever---despite the endless, boring opening sequence!

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  10. Thanks alot, Nick! I hold Burial Ground in very high esteem for reasons that are beyond explanation. It is one of a kind!

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  11. Reading your review of Burial Ground: The Nights of Terror, much like Simone Mattioli X-rated mustache, was a well-groomed treat. I don't think I need to tell you this, but Karin Well's sprained leg, Antonella Antinori's killer knees and Mariangela Giordano's grope-worthy thighs would be proud of you.

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  12. Thanks Yum! I've just recently been thinking of resurrecting this blog and your kind words couldn't be timelier.

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