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Burial Ground: Nights of Terror (1980)

[Le Notti del Terrore]

When The Moon Turns Red, The Dead Shall Rise!

Burial Ground on DVD
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Something's definitely missing. After watching Burial Ground: Nights of Terror, I can't help but feel that there's just something missing, and I can't put my finger on it. It's not the zombies, there's certainly no shortage of those. It had the blood and gore, so that's not it. They managed a few attractive female leads (and even made a point to throw in a little bit of nudity). So what's missing?

Ahh, I know. They forgot to add the plot! As well as everything else that they needed to create a coherent and engaging storyline. Under Andrea Bianchi's direction, the film flies off into the zombie mayhem with very little warning. If you get up to get the popcorn out of the microwave during the first ten minutes, just go ahead and hit reverse because you've most likely missed what small amount of back story and explanation that the viewers are given. My advice is to forget taking the time to go back, because it won't make much sense anyways. I'll explain it for you.

After watching a bearded guy examine a cave wall, return home to look through some dusty books, then return to the cave to bang on the wall a few times...he meets with an untimely end. I've watched it a few times and I still don't know exactly why he was banging on the wall and why it awakened a bunch of corpses.

After that thought-provoking opening, we return to the old man's home, which is actually a real castle. Not one of those huge castles though, more like a mini-castle. Three couples (one bringing along their young son) arrive and are greeted by the maid and butler. If you're not paying close attention, you'll miss the fact that the home is that of the dead bearded guy, Professor Ayres (Raimondo Barbieri), and after inquiring his whereabouts, his absence is explained away by the fact that he often leaves for the entire day. He's definitely left for the day all right.

As the couples unpack, each proceeds to take a quick game of "hide the salami" before lunch. It's at this point that the freakish kid, Michael (Peter Bark), is introduced, walking in on one of the couples. The couple seems surprised, even though it takes at least 10 seconds for him to ominously appear in the doorway...his shadow growing taller as he approaches. Bianchi thinks he's clever here and that you'll think it's a zombie. Nobody's fooled...and it's not clever. I'm not sure how old Michael is supposed to be, but he acts about 10 but he looks about 30. Due to Italian laws at the time, they were prevented from hiring an actual kid for this type of film. You'll understand why when he starts feeling up his mother and following that age-old motto of "incest is best".

After finding the salamis, the couples gather to get their grub on. Again, if you're not paying attention, you'll miss it when they ever so briefly mention that the Professor is studying the magical practices used by the ancient Etruscans. What's an Etruscan? Since the movie doesn't bother to explain it, I will. According to the dictionary, an Etruscan is an inhabitant of Etruria. What's Etruria? It's an ancient country of west-central Italy in present-day Tuscany and parts of Umbria. It was the center of the Etruscan civilization, which spread throughout much of Italy before being supplanted by Rome in the third century B.C. There's a huge missed opportunity here to make the story at least a little interesting.

That's all the info you get, the couples leave the castle to enjoy the great outdoors. The rest of the movie consists of screaming and running from lots of zombies until each person is knocked off with some gruesome demise. One of the film's redeeming aspects is that they've come up with a few creative and interesting death scenes. You've got a decapitation by scythe, a Fulci-like eye puncture, and the now infamous scene of a bare breast being bitten off. That's not all of the fun though; you'll also get several exploding zombie heads.

A lot is left unexplained and too many things seem too convenient. For example, when the zombies are approaching the castle they cause some kind of wacky energy surge to knock out the electricity, including the lights. It's never explained, but what a convenient way to make a darker, spookier atmosphere. Why is there a random animal trap in the courtyard? And what are the odds of stepping in it? You'll be asking yourself those questions...and many more.

Since the entire movie is about the couples trying to escape the zombie onslaught, it would help to actually care about them. When they decided to threw the plot out of the window, any character development was attached to it. Every character is paper-thin and devoid of empathy; so don't be surprised when you find yourself rooting for the zombies. This is especially true when you see them refusing to stay together, falling down, and putting themselves in the worst possible situations. If you're like me, you'll be hoping that the freak of a little boy, Michael, is the next to bite the big one. With his weird looks, short stature, and highwater pants, he's by far the creepiest thing in the whole movie.

While the zombies are your average slowpoke meanderers, they're not devoid of some intelligence. They take up axes and other tools to break into the castle, climb walls, and interestingly enough, they work together to break down the front door. For such a low-budget film, they’re actually done fairly well. The masks and make-up allow for some cool-looking dead people. You'll find some scattered zombies that are less realistic than others, and to be "ancient" Etruscans, a few are barely decomposed. Overall a thumbs up, though. The gore flows freely and a lot of care was taken with all the blood and guts. I imagine they had a lot more time to work on effects since they totally dismissed the notion of intelligent dialogue.

Burial Ground won’t scare you, as it lacks any real tension, and even the cheap generic horror film scares are avoided for some reason. It's a film of missed opportunities. The location looked great and lends itself well to a horror film. The crypt set had potential, but it was sorely underused. They just didn't capitalize on creating the mood that I think could have been. Add that to the almost complete lack of a plot, lame music, and the severely neglected script, and you don't have much of a film. That being said, it's not a total loss. Many movies attempt a deep story and fail, so it's probably better that they didn't even try. It's all about the zombies and all about the gore, and they do that better than most films of its ilk. That's the reason that Burial Ground avoids the bottom of the barrel. There are a lot of flaws, but lucky for them I’ve seen too many movies that are much worse.


(Out of 5)
June 11 2002
August 10 2003

Go for it. It's worth a look. Just leave your brain at the door and don't have too high of expectations.
1. When battling zombies, everyday green paint burns just as well as gasoline or kerosene.
2. If you decide to baricade yourself in somewhere, make sure it's a zombie-free zone beforehand.
-"I've always been terrified of the dead. I hope we're going to leave them in peace."
-"You're getting a raise from me, but it has nothing to do with money."
-"Momma! This cloth smells of death."

Andrea Bianchi
Piero Regnoli
Gabriele Crisanti
Karin Well Janet
Gianluigi Chirizzi Mark (as Gian Luigi Chirizzi)
Simone Mattioli James
Antonella Antinori Leslie
Roberto Caporali George
Claudio Zucchet Nicholas
Peter Bark Michael
Anna Valente Kathleen
Raimondo Barbieri Professor Ayres (as Renato Barbieri)
Mariangela Giordano Evelyn (as Maria Angela Giordano)
Esteban Cinematografica
Media Blasters, Inc (DVD)
85 mins Unrated

The castle used in the film is located 12 miles from Rome, in Franscati. It was empty and available becuase it was part of a disputed inheritance. In the past, it had been used as the summer home of a Cardinal.
The minimal budget allowed for no more than four weeks of filming.
During filming, a zombie actually caught fire prompting the stuntman to cry out that he was burning. The director finished getting the shot before extenguishing the fire because he believed that a "real" fire was too important to miss.
Originally entitled Le Notti del Terrore. AKA: Burial Ground (1980), Night of Terror (1980 UK), Nights of Terror (1980 UK: cut version), Zombie 3: Le Notti del Terrore (1980 Italy: video title), The Zombie Dead (1980 UK), Zombie Horror (1980)

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