Review Date: December 16, 2007
Released by: Shriek Show
Release date: 06/11/2002
Region 1, NTSC
Widescreen 1.85:1 | 16x9: Yes
America had the slasher, Italy had the giallo. America had the Western, Italy had the Spaghetti Western. America had the zombie film, and Italy had the…erm, zombie film. While distinctions between similar genres have famously been made between most of the corresponding film genres of American and Italian cinema, the zombie film remains oddly aggregated. Perhaps it’s because Argento had a hand in arguably the most notorious zombi(e) film, Dawn of the Dead
. Despite the lack of distinction, each country’s respective take on the genre remains notably different. America’s zombies were inanimate, clean metaphors for whatever hot button headline dominant at the time. Italian zombies borrowed from Amando de Ossorio’s Knights Templar in that they were rotting mounts of dirt, clay and any creature small enough to fit into an eye socket. They weren’t metaphors in so much as they were actual history itself coming back to haunt the wrongs of the present. And of all the euro-zombie flicks out there, none demonstrates this with more intrigue than Andrea Bianchi’s infamous, scandalous and Peter Barkilous, Burial Ground
You know when you come into Italian cinema that the story is going to be thin – a backdrop for tones of atmosphere, but in Burial Ground
even that tiny thread seems to have rot away. Basically, there’s a professor researching in some old catacombs that exist in and around an old castle. He’s researching the possibilities of reviving the dead, but he doesn’t have to do much to wake the rotting corpses from their slumber. No, a mere clang of his chisel seems all the zombies need to invoke their titular Night of Terror. The professor is pulverized, but lucky for the zombies, there’s a whole band of sex crazed bourgeois about to fill the vacancy.
In through the old gates come three couples all ready to get away. They’re in the gate not more than a few minutes when all three decide to branch off and start having sex. Italian horror would not be complete without some Argentonian voyeurism, so one couple photographs each other as foreplay, but the next interest is certainly more memorable. Young Michael (Peter Bark) arises from his bed and opens his mother’s door, his slight stature embellished into an expressionistic shadow. The shadow may very well be a manifestation of his mind, for what he sees is his mother having raunchy sex with her new husband. She shoos him off, but that’s not the last he’ll see of his mother’s bare flesh.
Before any of them have time to finish doing the dirty, the zombies stage their attack on the castle. One by one they devour the rich, but the most heinous crimes come from within the victims themselves. Michael, afraid, clenches onto her mother. She consoles the boy by offering him her breast. He takes it, and what he does gives a whole new meaning to the term “teething”. So here we have a bevy of maggot-infested monsters in tattered clothes and dirt-filled bone matter, and the biggest threat is the libido of a small child. Ahh, to be bourgeois.
is what subversive cinema is all about. It’s non-existent plot, excessive gore and laughable dialogue (highlighted by Peter Bark’s iconic mantra, “Mother, this cloth smells of death.”), make it easy to dismiss the film as nothing more than poorly made popular cinema. Indeed, that’s how the producer describes it in his interview included in this disc. Yet, as with Bianchi’s other quickly dismissed Strip Nude For Your Killer
, the complex themes of Burial Ground
run six feet under. A thematic deconstruction wouldn’t be complete without first addressing the Oedipal complexities inherent in Peter Bark’s incestuous relationship with his mother.
Like no other film before or after it, Burial Ground
updates both Oedipus Rex and Freud’s notions of oral fixation in as scandalous form as can be imagined. Her son is constantly at odds with his father, wishing forever to return to the breast of co-dependence. That this has been spun into a bourgeois concern, since all the castle dwellers are upper class, looking only for perversion to fill their spare time, is critique of the most pointed kind. The debauchery of the rich is cause for the son’s malaise of the mind, demonstrated most poetically with the contortions of his aforementioned shadow outside his mother’s bed. His lust for his mother certainly pegs him as Oedipus, but he need not puncture his own eyes – the zombies have done it themselves.
Bianchi’s zombies here are also of particular importance in trying to digest the film’s subversive storytelling. American zombies can see, but the zombies here are importantly without vision – the sight of such decadence and moral disregard by the upper class too much for even the undead to bear. If Italian zombies are never metaphors, but only history returned, then there’s no doubt here that the proletariat has come to seize the night. These zombies are unique in that they brandish the tools of the field – axes, pitchforks and scythes. It’s as if the workers have rebelled, coming from their slumber to sever the moral depravity of the bourgeois right at the tit, laying to rest centuries of oppression.
In making the protagonists a self-centered bunch of helpless bourgeois adults, Burial Ground
is able to rationalize one of the zombie genre’s most glaring problems – the inability to escape a creature so slow and so unintelligible. It makes perfect sense here that the protagonists never get the idea to simply get in their high class cars and drive on out – their rich ignorance clouds even the most rudimentary intuition. Nearly as implicitly funny a scenario as the rich unable to exit a dinner party in Luis Bunuel’s The Angel Exterminator
, the rich simply run back and forth, never taking pause to think. In ways they are less mindful than the zombies themselves, their years of dependence on servants or of constructing castles to be their self-contained wombs making them childlike in thought. So in Burial Ground
, the protagonists don’t get devoured by zombies because the plot requires it, but instead because they haven’t a clue to do anything else.
Short on story, dialogue and runtime, Burial Ground
is a nearly non-stop parade of grotesque dwellers of the dirt lumbering oh so slow towards their revenge. Never has the return of the repressed been so easy to take. It’s the class dramas of Bertolucci and Pasolini reduced to their essence – a history of dirty, rotten struggle unable to stay buried. It delivers the goods for zombie fans with wall to wall action and truly grotesque make-up creations, but hidden behind all the decay is one of the most perverse attacks upon the upper class the cinema has ever seen. Mamma!
For a transfer that’s now over 5 years old, it holds up quite well. Shriek Show presents the film in its original 1.85:1 widescreen ratio complete with anamorphic enhancement. The film is filled with murky browns, greens and greys, but the transfer stays true to Bianchi’s vision, keeping the visual palette as dead as the souls of all those selfish protagonists. Despite being interlaced, the transfer is quite clear, with even the closest of zombie shots coming through in gory detail. When the bodies are being torn apart, you can bet the reds will come through vibrant – maybe even a bit too much. Still, a great job.
It’s in English mono only, and the horrible dubbing is certainly one of the film’s resounding charms. It’s all nice and clear and there isn’t much hiss or distortion to be heard at all, save for a few small spots.
Although no special edition, Shriek Show managed to put together a nice array of extras for this little release. Included is over 20 minutes of interview footage between Michael’s mother (cult favorite Mariangela Giordano) and the film’s producer, Gabriele Crisanti. Giordano’s recounting of the film is pretty painful, seemingly remembering nothing about the film at all, not even the most obvious of details, like who the director of the film was. She just sort of answers in single word responses to the interviews inquisitions about Peter Bark, the zombies, the castle or anything else of note in the film before going on a rant about current Italian cinema. Better is Crisanti, who remembers aspects of the film better, recounting his relationship with Bianchi, the history behind Peter Bark, and the popularity of the film today. His best bit is his talk on how the effects done then had the magic of personal creativity that are lost today amidst computer generated effects.
The disc is rounded off with a bunch of promotional material, with the theatrical trailer as well as bonus trailers for other Shriek Show films. There’s a still and poster gallery, as well as a few talent bios. The menus have a nice look to them too, rounding off a nice little package for fans of the film.
It’s easy to dismiss Burial Ground
as yet another in the assembly line of Italian zombie knockoffs, but like Tombs of the Blind Dead
, this film shows how the European take on Romero’s genre can be equal parts perverse and subversive. Its near lack of plot made it easy to get by censors, but with its layered attack on the bourgeoisie (complete with cinema’s most outrageous breast feeding) it still stands up as an unkempt nasty that needs to be seen. The video transfer here is solid, the sound presentable, and the included interviews with cast and crew a nice touch on an essential Euro-horror release. It may not be as notorious as Suspiria
or Bay of Blood
, but I guarantee you that this will be one shocker you will never forget. It may be tough to find, but a trip over to Xploited Cinema
will do you good.
Movie - A-
Image Quality - B+
Sound - B
Supplements - B-
- Running time - 1 hour 25 minutes
- 1 Disc
- Chapter Stops
- English mono
- Interviews with Mariangela Giordano and Gabriele Crisanti
- Theatrical trailer
- Shriek Show previews
- Still galleries
- Talent bios