Thursday, 7 November 2013

The Zombie Dead (Burial Ground: The Nights of Terror) - review

1981 (Italy)

Contains spoilers.

The Zombie Dead aka Burial Ground: The Nights of Terror is truly awful video nasty film making at it's repugnant best and of all the 80s European grindhouse horror I've now watched director Andrea Bianchi's daft and obscene genuflection to what Fulci, Romero and Amando de Ossorio had released the years previous probably best epitomises this particular zombie niche. There's no real narrative, no character depth or development, the actors were obviously chosen because they came cheap or they had long legs, big breasts and a pretty smile but none of that matters. What's important is the carnage, the shocks and watching a seemingly endless stream of Gino De Rossi's Fulci-esque maggot and worm encrusted risen dead kill and feast on fresh arms, brains and intestines as if they were at an all you can eat cannibal buffet.

A crusty old professor (Raimondo Barbieri) unleashes an army of the undead from an excavation site, who then proceed to siege the nearby mansion picking off it's owner, his family, guests and servants in increasingly elaborate and sadistic ways. And that's your lot really. I'll say one thing about Andrea Bianchi; he certainly doesn't let a good story get in the way of an over abundance of exploitative flesh ripping and gore munching. 

There's something about ancient Etruscan secrets of immortality which the professor proclaims he alone now understands, but what he exactly did to wake the dead from the tombs is never really explained, though I don't think we're supposed to think too hard about it. We're also not to question too much the whys or wherefores of the professor's benefactor George (Roberto Caporali), his new wife Evelyn (Mariangela Giordano), her bizarre little man child Michael (a 12 year old played by 26 year old Peter Bark), and the three privileged whiny couples tagging along for a weekend of hanky-panky away from the hoi-polloi. Suffice it to say the couples have all arrived at the isolated rural retreat, the girls have pretty much on mass stripped to their underwear, we've been explicitly told that the cars have been moved and there's no telephone and we know the zombies are on their way. Fifteen odd minutes in, there's only one direction this can go and boy does it.

I genuinely lost track of how many stomachs I saw ripped open and how many sets of intestines I saw feasted upon. Normally in a Fulci, Romero rip off I'd expect one gratuitous over extended cannibal-esque help yourselves group feast, but Bianchi obviously doesn't hold with less is more. It's not just intestines either with anything that could be ripped at and eaten done so including the now quite infamous nipple scene. I've mentioned the characters and actors are mostly shallow and forgettable; this is of course ignoring Michael. Some would call it audacious and brave others would be baffled with the sheer insanity of it all; I'm kind of both. But for some reason in all that The Zombie Dead is derivative, simple and trite, Bianchi decided to include a bizarre odious high-belted man child with a disturbing Oedipus complex indulged by his over protective mother and chose an obviously adult midget to play him. It's odd, it's jarring, all a bit forced and uncomfortable and has a bit of an extra sinister Twin Peak vibe, but it certainly adds to the twisted rambling incoherent charm.

The zombies arrival is very Tombs of the Blind Dead; sarcophagus lids slide and ancient wispy chinned old cadavers stumble out like tipsy old men. Once on their way to pay the nearby villa and its grounds a visit the style is turns very much Fulci with maggots, rotten putrid flesh and a mishmash of stages of decomposition from clearly old, old to maybe taken as a quick snack on the way. They're Romero, perhaps even Amando de Ossorio slow and even one of the guests comments on how on their own they're not necessarily a threat, which is a shame for them really, as there always seems to be a near endless supply. I think we're supposed to deduce that the professor actually caused all the dead to rise (at least in this vicinity but who's to say not across the whole world) leading to an abundance of old bodies pulling themselves Fulci-esque from the ground as if one was watching Zombie Flesh Eaters again, as a way to explain how each freshly dispatched batch is so easily replaced by another. 

Talking of dispatching. It's headshots, fire (though it looked like paint) and brain smashing which there's a lot of, that stops them for good. The story is the derivative kill a few zombies, they kill a survivor, kill a few more, rinse and repeat with each death or series of deaths increasingly extreme and elaborately staged. Bianchi's zombies don't really follow prescribed convention; they may start shambling, brainless and happy to kill by sinking their teeth in but they soon start exhibiting some rather more advanced and adaptable behaviour as they seek additional fresh meat. They climb, retreat, start using weapons to bash down doors and even fashion and use in uni-some a battering ram. Then perhaps demonstrating just how little he gives a toss about zombie canon or narrative coherence as long as it enables him to move the action forward to another highly staged and scripted piece of cinema debauchery, they even contrive an elaborate murder of the house maid involving pinning her hand to the outside latched window with a pinpoint-accurate eight or so inch nail thrown from across the grounds to enable two others to work in tandem to severe her head with an elongated scythe. It's stupid, it doesn't make any sense yet it's somehow, like everything else, uncomfortably pleasing to watch.

The Zombie Dead is a riot. It's pure style over substance, except the style is putrid, gory, amateurish and ludicrous. It's a bad, bad film that epitomises everything wrong about all the Italian exploitative zombie low budget films that were made in the early eighties yet it's hard not to admire for exactly the same reason. There's nothing original on show with scenes directly ripped from Fulci and Romero but they're well filmed and well executed and one has to admire the audacity to make a film that takes all the gore, turns the dial up to ten and omits everything else. Sure if we cut into it, it's hard to work out how so little actual content was dragged out for ninety minutes and really the whole thing is quite a shallow, vacuous affair but it's not about story or depth it's about murdering and eating people; just because. A squalid and debauched ninety minutes of thirty year old Italian zombie madness, which if you think sounds fun, can be, 7/10.

The uncut DVD release I reviewed from apparent new label Beyond Terror is really just a re-badged vipco disc and transfer with a sleeve that looked worse than I could have printed. It wasn't the best picture and sound quality, but it was cheap and watch-able.