Once Lucio Fulci proved that Italian filmmakers could successfully cash in on the European success of Dawn Of The Dead with Zombi 2, the floodgates opened and a gaggle of derivative, gut-busting zombie quickies was unleashed. Many of these are completely daft – and that’s the charm for fans, be they grindhouse devotees, Eurohorror addicts or just connoisseurs of gonzo celluloid insanity. The more unhinged these films get, the more their mix of taboo-trashing and gleeful indifference to standard cinematic niceties is likely to scorch your frontal lobe.
Burial Ground is a member of that rogue’s gallery of flesh-chomping zombie cheapies – and it’s particularly wild and woolly. The script by old genre hand Piero Regnoli dispenses with plotting and characterizations. It simply begins with a goofball professor opening a vault on a mansion’s property and getting devoured by zombies for his troubles. A trio of couples plus one couple’s weird kid arrive the next day. Within minutes, the zombies show up to attack and the hapless visitors spend their evening dodging zombies and trying to escape.
The result is an unabashed cash-in that shamelessly cribs from the zombie flick playbook, stealing setpieces and plot elements from Zombi 2 and Night Of The Living Dead as it lurches from one setpiece to the next. As stated before, it couldn’t have less interest in character arcs or plot surprises and instead favors a Sadean minimalism: it simply pushes its cannon fodder through a gauntlet of flesh-eaters that slowly and mercilessly pick them apart. The FX are cheap, the music library score is an odd patchwork of light jazz and pseudo-Vangelis synths and Andrea Bianchi’s direction shows little interest in stylistic flourishes or building tension.
What distinguishes Burial Ground is its delivery of these familiar goods. For example, it has a unique element of kink. Bianchi was a specialist in sexually perverse fare like Strip Nude For Your Killer and Malabimba and he adds a dash of that horned-up freakiness here with the film’s one stab at character development: creepy kid Michael (Peter Bark) has completely unsubtle incestuous longings for his protective mom Evelyn (Mariangela Giordano). He interrupts her having sex to give her a baleful look and even paws at her during a break between zombie attacks.
The fact that this Oedipal wreck is played by Peter Bark, a man with stunted growth and an abnormally youthful appearance adds to the weirdness. Add in English dubbing by another man unconvincingly emulating a child’s voice and this character will have your skin crawling. It’s also worth noting that the climactic flourish of the subplot is one of the film’s keys to notoriety, capping its climactic moments with one of the great perverted/gross-out punchlines in Italian genre film history.
And that’s not all there is to this film’s warped sensibility. The masks on the zombies often look more like Pablo Picasso-derived interpretations of corpse faces rather than dead people. The zombies are crafty, making use of observation and tools to get at our would-be heroes (Regnoli also wrote Nightmare City, which had similarly resourceful zombies). The warbling synths lull you into complacency, dragging your ability to process what’s going on down to the film’s lumbering yet relentless pace.
Finally and most importantly, Bianchi replaces style and inspiration with sheer doggedness. The film he made is like a zombie itself: brainless and single-minded but also determined and merciless. It just keeps coming at you, battering down your reservations and common sense until it finally eats your brain. If you’re possessed of the proper trash loving sensibility, Burial Ground delivers the kind of cheap, sleazy insanity that no modern film can deliver.