FINAL GIRL explores the slasher flicks of the '70s and '80s...and all the other horror movies I feel like talking about, too. This is life on the EDGE, so beware yon spoilers!

Jul 6, 2009

Film Club: Burial Ground: The Nights of Terror

Burial Ground: The Nights of Terror (1981) typifies that which we folks around here call a "Tiffany"- that is, this Italian zombiefest coulda been so beautiful, but you simply can't hold what coulda been, dig? The film tackles the standard spaghetti-n-eyeballs formula, at times throwing a few innovations into the genre; somehow, though, this movie that coulda and shoulda been a cult classic ends up just sort of...there.

An archaeologist who bears a striking resemblance to comic creator Alan Moore discovers "an incredible secret" whilst mucking about in a crypt beneath a mansion; one can only assume that it has something to do with the living dead, for soon reanimated, rotting corpses are biting his bearded ass.

Well, not literally. The zombies do make with the munch munch, though, despite the professor's pleas of "Stand back! I'm your friend!" NOTE TO SELF: Zombies care not for friends.

Soon thereafter, a bunch of people show up at the mansion because...umm...they're friends with the professor, I guess, and he wants to tell them all about his incredible secret. It's never fully or clearly explained, but no matter! What's important here is that we get plenty of scenes with a bunch of unappealing people almost having sex, classic lines of dialogue such as "You look just like a little whore- but I like it!", and we're introduced to Michael (Peter Bark), the 40-year-old 12-year-old who looks just like a mini-Dario Argento.

Yes, he's supposed to be a child...a child with some serious mommy issues- but we'll get to that later.

Don't worry, it won't take long to get to Michael. There's not much else to explain in Burial Ground, because there's no story. Zombies show up, people kind of run away or sometimes fight, and that's that. Mind you, I've never seen the walking dead walk slower (seriously, even the Romero Shufflers are all "Can you guys please hurry the eff up? We're hungry, here!"), nor have I ever seen a stupider ragtag group of survivors. They stand there and say things like "They're coming towards us!" as the zombies slooooowwwwly do just that.

By the way, this zombie (whom I nicknamed Marty Feldman) was my favorite:

As I stated earlier, writer Piero Regnoli and director Andrea "Strip Nude for Your Killer" Bianchi add a few welcome innovations to the mix. First, the zombies take to using tools to aid in the pursuit of their prey: from farm implements (!) to battering rams (!!) to a random power saw left plugged into the wall of a rural monastery (!!!), these dudes will do whatever it takes to get their munch munch on. The best sequence, perhaps, comes when the foolish housekeeper dangles herself out the window to check out the happenings, only to have her hand impaled when a zombie- surely some ninja zombie, or perhaps a zombie who was a circus knife-thrower at one time- chucks a spike through it. Then, as you'd expect, the rotters slowly cut her head off with a giant scythe.

Yeah, it's silly, but it's also a frightening twist; zombies are supposed to just stand there, or mill about, or- worst case scenario- run. They're not supposed to throw things, or poke at me with...pointy pokers. And for Charles Nelson Reilly's sake, they're certainly not supposed to climb up anything except maybe stairs! They're not allowed to scale buildings, dammit, but in Burial Ground they do, and it's sort of my worst nightmare come to life. Or unlife. Or whatever.

One element that seems to distinguish Italian zombies from their non-Italian counterparts is the fact that these bastards are fetid corpses, all oatmeal-faced and maggot-covered, who rise from the ground. Elsewhere in cinema, the walking dead are generally just sort of blue-faced and shambling about. I want hands busting through turf a la Creepshow, and I want to smell 'em coming before I see 'em. In this respect, Burial Ground totally delivers.

And now it's time: undoubtedly the most ridiculous and notorious element of the film is l'il pervy Michael. A scene of a mother comforting her son quickly devolves into the viewer crying "Why the fuck is there about to be incest happening on my screen?!" as Michael attempts to feel up mommy, wondering why she refuses to offer some boobage like she did when he was a baby. He's a determined 40-year-old 12-year-old, though, and when Michael is later bitten and transformed, he immediately takes advantage of the situation to get what he wants. It's an absolutely shocking sequence, the dubious highlight of Burial Ground upon which the movie's entire reputation is built.

There's plenty of gut-munching and maggots and zombies galore, but in the end Burial Ground never seems to gel completely into a satisfying whole. I didn't really care about much of anything going on, although it's an interesting piece of Italian zombie cinema, to be sure (if only for the sideshow that is Michael). If nothing else, the film proves one thing: sometimes movies need a plot! Oh, and that zombies care not for friends. So...two things.

Let's put it this way: the typo in the quote that marks the end of the movie somehow makes perfect sense.

Film Club Coolies, y'all!
The Hougly Film and Beer Journal
Dave's Blog About Movies and Such
Brutal As Hell
The Film Reel
Banned in Queensland
Full Moon Reviews
Zombie Cupcake
The Verdant Dude
The Deadly Doll's House of Horror Nonsense
Askewed Views
The Horror Section
The Inevitable Zombie Apocalypse
Rogue Dave
Sam Hawken
Invasion of the B Movies
Hugo Stiglitz Makes Movies


Jay Clarke said...

There really aren't enough zombie ninjas in film these days.

Joe said...

Haha a buddy of mine and I talk about this film all the time, mostly because of the creepy boob biting but I could never remember the name.

Fred [The Wolf] said...

Great review. As I'm sure you already know, we both feel the same way about this one. Some memorable moments but other than that, not much on the surface. Still, I would recommend this just for the incest angle alone. And the cool zombies, like Peter Parker-zombie and Ninja Gaiden-zombie. But yeah, I was kind of let down by this one for the most part.

By the way, love the Tiffany reference in the beginning. What "Could've Been" indeed...

Anonymous said...

Great review. A lot of folks I watch this movie with just end up hating it. Some people just can't understand the magic you get from Italian zombie cheese featuring midget children boob-munchers. A shame, eh?

Stacie Ponder said...

"...creepy boob biting..."

"...Still, I would recommend this just for the incest angle alone..."

Man, how often do you get to write stuff like this? :D

Jason Soto said...

Here ya go!

Anonymous said...

Now that I know you hadn't seen this film before making it the monthly selection, I have to further qualify my review, in which I essentially said, "Why does Stacie Ponder hate us? What did we do?!?" I mean, you didn't know and all.

Man this movie is some kind of bad. My wife and I were both kind of transfixed by its badness, which may count as some kind of success but... wow.

Anyway, here's hoping the next selection doesn't hurt me like this one did.

Christian A. Dumais said...

I LOVE this movie. It's time to watch it again! Thanks for reminding me.

rob! said...

I was lucky(?) enough to see this in a packed theater a few years ago, and the roar of shock/laughter/disgust that came from the audience during "the scene" was a thing to behold.

Verdant Earl said...

Seems as if I am one of the few coolies who had fun with the film. Then again, I wasn't expecting a coherent plot (or any plot at all), decent effects or passable acting.

Nope. I knew it was gonna be bad. And man oh man, did it deliver! The creepy dwarf incest sub-plot was purely a bonus.

(I'm still trying to figure out how the slowest moving zombies in film history could move their arms fast enough to throw a spike thru someone's hand and into a window sill. That's gonna haunt me.)

deadlydolls said...

You don't watch this movie for Romero-esque commentary or Danny Boyle jump scares. This is cheese from a country that makes some of the world's best. I get that people may not respect it, but how can you not have fun watching these nigths of terror?

FatalPierce said...

Oh man I completely forgot about the scene with the scythe. That scene did kind of rock!

spazmo said...

One of my favorites. Thank god for DVD though, because the only VHS version knocking around during the 80's was so murky I couldn't see a damned thing. Ninja zombie? Where? Battering ram? Oh, is THAT what all the thumping on the soundtrack was about...

Favorite part (besides Evelyn's machete-skillz and Michael's filial expressions of "affection")? The one dude's genius idea to just "let them (the zombies)in... maybe it's something in the house they want!" Yeah, Einstein, if by "something" you mean "YOUR FACES in THEIR TUMMIES".

Great review, Stacie, and a great Film Club pick.

Anonymous said...

This movie was sooo bad that it had me in stitches.

I watched it a couple of months ago on a zombie movie binge and laughed the entire way through except when man!boy wanted his mommy. That was creepy.

Robert H. said...

It's a BAD movie, but it just hovers on the edge of Bad-Greatness... the boob-munching scene is perhaps the highlight, but it probably would've been a sleaze classic had, after the maid gets her head cut off, the guy who discovers her bent over at the window, had knelt down behind her and, er, DONE her, not knowing that her head was gone.

THAT, plus the creepy incest vibe would have distinguished this.

Kevin J. Olson said...


Here's my submission:

What a wonderful selection from my favorite subgenre. Your line about the freaky little "kid" looking like Argento was wonderful. Also...the scene with the scythe is one of my favorites, too. I also love the delivery of the line "you're getting a rise out of me" while sleezy, generic Italian guy #1 tries hitting on someone while zombies are rising from the dead outside -- brilliant!

Michael Neel said...

Ugh. Sometimes there is only so much plotless Italian gore film I can handle (and usually I can handle a lot). Some great scenes but it still felt more like a chore than a joy.

Gotta love the Alan Moore guy though.

Bill Walsh said...

Which typo? : )

Great to see FG back and Finaling!

Bonnie said...

Oh, thank God you reviewed this movie. I love it, in a very broad sense of the word. I purchased my own VHS copy for $2 when the local video store was going out of business. The creepy "child" is one of my favorite things ever in the history of all things weird and uncomfortable.

Anonymous said...

You is a bit sad though...I mean, zombies who stalk, plot traps and use tools is a freaky concept...but it seems like no one has done this well. I think random zombie movies have had a zombie usie a tool...but truthfully, it always seems stupid and out of place, because the other zombies are not doing it.

Pokemon Postmon said...

Nobody has mentioned this but I've always wondered...who left that goddamned bear-trap lying around for some unsuspecting female to stumble into?!!! I'm sure there's some Health and Safety legislation about such things.

Anonymous said...

Jeez!!! I've tried so hard to forget I saw this flick (LOL) - always thought Michael the "man-child" was scarier BEFORE he got zombified...

Anonymous said...

More mockery of the creepy 40-year old 12 year old:

dementia13 said...

That's not funny. That really was Marty Feldman's corpse.

Terrible movie, BTW, just one of the worst. That whole incest thing is the only interesting thing about it. When flesh-munching zombies feel routine, then something's very wrong.