The Nights of Terror (1981)
Director: Andrea Bianchi
Let me be perfectly clear. Burial Ground: Nights of Terror (aka Le Notti del terrore) is a pure B-movie, yet it is an unforgettable B-movie.
An archaeologist / professor with a ZZ Top beard uncovers some vague and unexplained secret Etruscan funeral rights when digging at the ruins on a socialite's neglected property. As a result, for an equally unexplained reason, slow-moving zombies with faces like mummified oatmeal rise up out of their tombs and attack a group of fornicating couples staying at the on-site villa . Ho-hum, right? Sure, but here's the clincher: a significant subplot to the film concerns Michael, one couple's 10 year-old son, and his incestuous lust for his own mother. Oh, not satisfied, yet? You've seen a lot of weird stuff before, I take it. Then try this on for size: Michael is played by a 26-year-old little person in a bad wig.
How's that for weird?
Burial Ground: The Nights of Terror is one hell of a bizarre movie that, despite its failings, offers some unique, low-budget zombies and one of the weirdest subplots I've ever seen. Of all the gut-wrenchingly bad Italian zombie films I've seen, Burial Ground: The Nights of Terror is a keeper simply for its bizarre novelty and the obscure cult-status it bestowed on Peter Bark in the role of Michael.
How unique are the zombies? How does the incest subplot unfold? Read on for more (spoilers abound)!
Burial Ground was turned out quickly on a low budget to make a quick buck off the profitability of zombie movies and horror-sex films. In an interview on the Shriek Show DVD edition of the film, director Andrea Bianchi is asked about why he thinks the film has obtained its current cult status. All Bianchi can talk about, however, is how the film was crafted to be a completely commercial film and a profit in the trash cinema genre without a pretense to story or art. Predictably, the film's effects are low-grade, its story is threadbare, and its title is nonsensical. For a film titled The Nights of Terror in Italian, the the majority of the film is neither at night nor terrifying. Yet, for all its mediocrity, the film endures in large part due to its comically unique zombies.
Coz' every zombie's crazy 'bout a sharp-dressed man.
The film doesn't waste time getting to the zombies. In the opening sequence, they suddenly appear to attack the professor. All the zombies wear musty green tunics, and most of their faces are nothing more than full-faced static masks sculpted with crooked and skeletal teeth, deep eye sockets, and bald heads. Their puckered and bashed-in faces, as well as their arms, are covered in dried, flaky clay. Their hands are knobby and elongated. Yes, on the one hand they look like they're wearing Halloween masks. On the other hand, compared to the lack of effort that is put into most low-budget zombie movies ("Here, put on some grey face paint, never mind about covering your neck or ears or hands"), these zombies have a very distinct, unique, and thematic look. Because the masks are static, the zombies can't emote, but that kind of adds to their charm. They are almost statue-like, which is fitting since when their heads are bashed-in with rocks they kind of crumble like statues (or bad FX props). The zombies are never scary, however. Whatever little tension is created in the scene where they first attack the professor is undercut by a sudden transition to a saxy credit sequence. In fact, the movie has no tension at all. The zombies are just there and create no mood or atmosphere.This unintentional matter-of-fact approach to the zombies makes them seem less like monsters and more like just another group of disinterested visitors to the villa. Unlike the living couples, however, the zombies eschew fornicating and sight-seeing for gut-munching and silent stalking.
Oh HAI! I caN has GutZ?
The zombies are also very practical. Although slow and shambolic like Romero zombies, and equally prone to death by head trauma, they use tools and teamwork to accomplish their goals. In the film's only memorable kill, a zombie use his ninja skills (I thought ninjas hated zombies?) to throw a stake into the hand of a maid who has leaned out a second or third-story window to close the shutters. With her hand impaled to the shutters, the zombies below help maneuver a scythe up the side of the building to lop off her head and send the sweet brainy goodness down to the zombies below -- like knocking a coconut from a tree. The scene is ridiculous but lovely all at the same time. In addition to teamwork and tools, these zombies are also capable of climbing walls, pillars, and impersonating Italian monks. What precocious little scamps!
The way to get ahead and
cut down the competition
cut down the competition
So, despite myself, I love the zombies in this movie, even when they pop up occasionally from shrubbery like whack-a-moles. As the couples are slowly slaughtered by the zombies, the zombie "story" dovetails nicely into the previously mentioned incest subplot. During a break in the violence, Michael seeks comfort in his mother's breasts -- by squeezing them and begging to be with her. When rebuked by his mother, Michael seems to have no concept of personal boundaries: "What's wrong? I'm your son!" Need I remind you this is a 26-year-old little person playing a 10 year old kid groping his momma's tit? Well hold on to your hat when I tell you that poor Michael has an unfortunate run-in with a zombie who is a little too bitey at the end of the movie. Yes, Michael is made into zombie lunch, but like many zombie leftovers, he soon rises from the grave to partake in the buffet as one of the undead. Zombie Michael is also drawn to his mother who, in her distraught hysterics, pulls Michael to her chest. Michael's incestuous yearnings have carried over into his undeath: Michael clamps down, pulls back, and takes a big chunk of his momma's tit away in his mouth.
Let's recap: We just saw a 26-year-old Italian little person playing an incestuous zombie boy eat a woman's breast.
Is your mind not totally blown?
It is for the zombies and this bizarre incest subplot that I am compelled to give Burial Ground: The Nights of Terror the strongest possible marginal recommendation. For sure, most of the effects suck and are shot at incredibly tight angles to hide their shortcoming; there is no story to speak of; and a man almost died by fire to create an incredibly lame stunt. Yet, putting all this aside, the movie is one hell of an enjoyable curiosity.
Rent this sucker and you'll never think of zombie movies the same way again, for better or worse.
Here's a fun game to play: Drink every time Burial Ground: The Nights of Terror shamelessly rips off a prior and more successful zombie movie. To get you started, keep your eyes peeled for a blatantly pilfered iconic moment from Fulci's Zombi 2 .
"Which way to the MISFITS mascot auditions?"