Monday, November 7, 2016

Retro Review: BURIAL GROUND (1980)

(Italy - 1980; US release 1985)

Directed by Andrea Bianchi. Written by Piero Regnoli. Cast: Karin Well, Gian Luigi Chirizzi, Maria Angela Giordan (Mariangela Giordano), Simone Mattioli, Antoinetta Antinori, Roberto Caporali, Peter Bark (Pietro Barzocchini), Claudio Zuchett, Anna Valente, Renato Barbieri. (Unrated, 85 mins)

The success of George Romero's 1979 masterpiece DAWN OF THE DEAD led to an explosion of zombie knockoffs from Italy, where it was released as ZOMBI. This flood of the undead essentially helped establish the iconic status of Lucio Fulci, whose ZOMBI 2, aka ZOMBIE (1979), CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD (1980), and THE BEYOND (1981) are arguably the greatest of all post-DAWN Italian zombie movies. Almost every journeyman Italian genre vet got a chance to crank out a cannibal zombie gutmuncher: Umberto Lenzi's NIGHTMARE CITY, aka CITY OF THE WALKING DEAD (1980); Marino Girolami's ZOMBI HOLOCAUST (1980), and its retooled 1982 American variant DOCTOR BUTCHER M.D.; and Bruno Mattei's HELL OF THE LIVING DEAD, aka NIGHT OF THE ZOMBIES (1980) are just a few examples. BURIAL GROUND, one of the most memorable films from the early '80s Italian zombie craze, came from veteran sleaze merchant Andrea Bianchi, whose credits include the trashy 1975 giallo STRIP NUDE FOR YOUR KILLER, the grim western-themed 1976 polizia CRY OF A PROSTITUTE, and the softcore (or hardcore, depending which version you see) 1979 possession sexploitationer MALABIMBA, aka THE MALICIOUS WHORE. Anyone even remotely familiar with Bianchi's work knows to expect trash, but BURIAL GROUND is in another dimension altogether, hitting the ground running, introducing one nonsensical element after another. It settles into more familiar zombie territory in the middle, but then the third act comes along and just takes everything into total jawdropper territory, collapsing into all-out insanity by the climax, where you see exactly why a diminutive man in his 20s had to be cast as a little boy. There's no shortage of reasons BURIAL GROUND has become a cult classic, but young Michael is at the top of the list. Ask anyone who's seen BURIAL GROUND and they'll know exactly who and what you're talking about.

Filmed in 1979 but belatedly released in the US in the fall of 1985 by the short-lived Film Concept Group, a company co-owned by mobster-turned-Christian motivational speaker Michael Franzese, BURIAL GROUND has group of mostly unlikable assholes converging on a remote villa in the country. They're the guests of Professor Ayres (Renato Barbieri), a madman-bearded idiot who ventures into a crypt on the property and is promptly killed by some really decrepit-looking zombies. This happens despite his pleading with them "I'm your friend!" Even by walking dead standards, these zombies are a pretty sorry lot, looking like Blind Dead cosplayers and shambling about in subpar makeup and tattered clothing. But they're nevertheless resourceful, proving adept with makeshift weapons and having the wherewithal to find other entrances into the villa when the hapless heroes barricade themselves inside. Ayres' guests are a rather interchangeable lot, largely unconcerned with Ayres' mysterious absence and opting to get busy between the sheets. That's especially the case for MILF-y Evelyn (Mariangela Giordano) and her new husband George (Roberto Caporali), who are interrupted as soon as they're alone by Angela's son Michael, a creepy kid with his pants pulled up entirely too high and played by one Pietro Barzocchini, who will forever be immortalized under his Anglicized pseudonym "Peter Bark." Michael doesn't like George. In fact, he doesn't like any man around his mother. So in the midst of the undead carnage, Bianchi and screenwriter Piero Regnoli give us a skincrawling Oedipal nightmare scenario where impending doom at the hands of flesh-eating zombies means Michael may only have a short window to seduce his sultry mom. Bianchi's handling of the zombie mayhem has some intermittently effective moments, but it's mostly pretty standard and eventually repetitious, until the last five minutes which, once seen, can never be unseen. Frankly, as much as I love BURIAL GROUND, there's a much more interesting film that could've been made had the focus been on Evelyn and Michael. That's a backstory that needs telling.

BURIAL GROUND opening at a first-run theater
during a slow weekend in Toledo, OH on September 6, 1985

Bianchi gets some mileage out of his effective use of the ornate Villa Parisi, a frequently seen house in Italian genre fare, most notably 1974's BLOOD FOR DRACULA. He also has a game heroine in 42-year-old Giordano, a veteran C-lister with a career going back to the mid-1950s before she found a niche in post-HERCULES peplum of the early 1960s. Giordano was romantically involved with BURIAL GROUND producer Gabriele Crisanti at the time, and starred in several of his productions during their relationship. These included numerous sexually explicit horror outings like the aforementioned MALABIMBA (in which Giordano plays a nun who decides the best way to exorcise the demon possessing her niece to have some hot lesbian sex with her), 1979's GIALLO A VENEZIA, 1980's PATRICK STILL LIVES (where she was on the receiving end of a vile death-by-fireplace-poker), and 1982's SATAN'S BABY DOLL. Giordano and Crisanti would part ways soon after, and her most prominent post-BURIAL GROUND roles were in Michele Soavi's THE SECT, aka THE DEVIL'S DAUGHTER (1991) and as a resurrected Bathory-like countess after the titular Spanish punk rock group in Jess Franco's KILLER BARBYS (1996). Bark's film career went nowhere and he fell into obscurity not long after BURIAL GROUND (there's a great YouTube clip of Bark as a backup dancer for singer Gena Gas on Italian TV in 1979), though he has been making some European festival appearances in recent years thanks to his Michael infamy. There's footage from one on Severin's new deluxe Blu-ray release of BURIAL GROUND, which is easily the best this shoddy film has ever looked. One of the greatest bad movies of all time, BURIAL GROUND is must-see Eurotrash of the highest order, with Michael and his ludicrous transgressions, the over-the-top gore, the gratuitous T&A, the careless continuity errors, the blipping and blooping synth score, the bad dubbing, the awkward dialogue ("Mother! This cloth...smells of death!"), and the misspelled on-screen text at the conclusion, a "profecy" warning of the "nigths" of terror.

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