1981, Italy, Directed by Andrea Bianchi
Colour, Running Time: 85 minutes
Review Source: Blu-ray, Region A, Shriek Show; Video: 1.66:1 1080p 24fps, Audio: DTS Stereo
(Note, updated review also over at the new Grim Cellar) The movie you’re either going to have a great time with or loathe - Burial Ground (or Nights of Terror, or Zombie 3, etc) exists in its own microcosm and creates its own rules, despite being triggered by the whole zombie craze that was given birth by Dawn of the Dead towards the end of the seventies. A group of weirdos head out to a mansion for weekend activities, a place where the owner has been toying with supernatural forces resulting in the rather large number of rotting corpses buried on the grounds returning to life before the opening credits have even got under way. Before any of the females even have chance to become impregnated (seeing as most of them get down to making out at the first opportunity upon arrival) the onslaught begins and these ugly mothers (the corpses that is) are tearing just about anybody to shreds who lingers in their path for more than a minute or so (which the denizens of this world frequently do). Thus the rest of the film is a desperate bid to cling on to dear life and escape for the gradually decreasing number of survivors. What makes this film quite amazing is the sheer insanity of some of the goings-on - lightbulbs explode for no reason, bear traps seem to have been laid on the grounds without any apparent motivation, the dialogue is priceless (child to mother: “mamma, this cloth smells of death”), and there’s the boy, Michael, who looks like a forty year old man, and sounds like a forty year old man trying to be a boy - this chap has to be seen to be believed, particularly with his jealousy towards anyone offering his mother attention (i.e. new and unwanted step dad). This jealousy leads to a rather bizarre incenstuous encounter that ends with his mom slapping Michael and him running off upset whilst crying, “but mamma, I’m your son!”… It’s hilarious like few American comedies can match. The monsters are UGLY, and these things have real maggots crawling over their heads. They’re burned, shot, stabbed, but there is no end to their destruction of human life. They even don tools to break into the house for their victims - smart creatures despite probably owning half rotted brains. The music really boosts the appeal too - it’s in turns zany and melancholic. This world may be funny at first, but it only leads along a path of gore and hell to utter doom. Love it!
Having seen this a few times on VHS tape and a few more times on DVD, I was interested to witness how its Blu-ray incarnation turned out. I ordered with some trepidation having read a few less than enthusiastic reviews online, so the first thing I did was flip out the Shriek Show DVD to compare shot-to-shot with the new Blu-ray from the same company. At first glance the Blu-ray does look a little messy to be honest but comparison with the DVD reveals a better composition first and foremost - previously closer to 1.78:1 it is now framed at 1.66:1. This is likely to be the accurate ratio as many Euro films were shot in this manner around the period and before. The DVD is interlaced whereas the Blu-ray is progressive (at 24fps), reducing jagged edges. Detail and contrast is improved by a small amount in the Blu-ray though grain is consequently also increased, quite a bit. Also of note is the fact that the audio (DTS-HD stereo) is a little fuller on the Blu-ray disc, the DVD sounding a tad tinny after going back. So whilst it doesn’t look great at first, direct checks between this and the DVD do reveal improvements, modest though they may be. By around the half hour mark I was sold and glad I bought the hi-def option. A/V-wise it will never hold up to anything with a decent budget that’s been scrubbed up for HD, or transfers of today’s often digitally shot movies, so don’t even think about that, but it is the best home cinema presentation of the movie to date (and possibly ever, depending on how closely it represents what’s on the original elements), and the DVD is rendered unwatchable after sitting through the HD version.
The other point to note is that Media Blasters (i.e. Shriek Show) have exhumed from somewhere a number of outtakes that I’m surprised even exist! For someone who’s seen the movie around fifteen times this is quite fascinating material, depicting various further interactions between the characters and even a bit more undead mayhem. This piece runs nearly ten minutes albeit without looped dialogue or sound effects - instead it simply plays against the movie’s music track. Given that it’s in good condition (here in HD too) it’s a shame the footage is missing its intended audio because some of this would have slotted nicely back into the main feature for an ‘extended’ version. My favourite segment is with Michael sitting in the back seat of the car that his mother is driving to the mansion, and clearly pi**ed that she and his new stepdad are having a nice time chatting. There’s also an 11 minute interview section with actress Mariangela Giordano and producer Gabriele Cristani - pity nothing with director Andrea Bianchi could be found (the same man who bestowed ‘Strip Nude For Your Killer’ upon the world), but nice to have anyway. A trailer and gallery pad out the disc further. These and the interviews were present on the old US DVD but the outtakes have never been seen before. Priceless stuff.
It may have taken some flak for a grainy presentation - this is not entirely unwarranted, but a direct look at the same footage on the DVD shows that this Blu-ray is a small-to-medium step up in every respect. My suggestion - if you have the Vipco disc and like the film, upgrade; if you have the Shriek Show disc and love the movie, upgrade; or if you’ve never seen this before and have an interest in classic Italian zombie/horror cinema then buy the Blu-ray (the price is really fair anyway, and in some places cheaper than the old SS DVD). The likes of this film will never be made again and for some of us who have ‘acquired’ the taste (and a very strange taste it is, admittedly), Burial Ground is an awesome experience.