Color, 1981, 85 mins. 13 secs.
Directed by Andrea Bianchi
Starring Karin Well, Mariangelo Giordano, Peter Bark, Gianluigi Chirizzi, Simone Mattioli, Roberto Caporali, Claudio Zucchett, Anna Valente
Severin Films (UHD, Blu-ray & DVD) (US R0 4K/HD/NTSC), 88 Films (UHD, Blu-ray) (UK 4K/RB HD), Media Blasters (Blu-ray & DVD) (US R0 HD/NTSC) / WS (1.66:1) (16:9)

Without a Burial Grounddoubt the most influential, shocking, and essential Italian zombie film from the golden age of European horror... Burial Groundis Lucio Fulci's Zombie. However, the prize for the most outrageous and lovably cracked Italian zombie film should go to Burial Ground, known in Europe as The Nights of Terror, which throws a dollop of sex into the mix and has become the most beloved film by exploitation director Andrea Bianchi (Strip Nude for Your Killer, Malabimba).

Unholy evil is rising up in the Italian countryside when a professor discovers through ancient texts that a hidden crypt houses the secret to immortality. Upon entering the tombs he unfortunately discovers that the key Etruscan ritual unleashes a horde of zombies, who start to climb above ground when some aristocratic sex fiends arrive at an adjoining villa for a weekend getaway. Among them are Janet (Weil), Mark (Chirizzi), James (Mattioli), Leslie (Antinori), and George (Caporali). However, the most memorable new arrivals are easily voluptuous Evelyn (Giordano, Satan's Baby Doll) and her son, Michael, who's played by wide-eyed, twentysomething actor Peter Bark -- a casting move that catapults the film from the level of fun trash to sheer genius. While Michael stumbles around watching everyone copulate and remarking about the death-like scent of ancient fabrics, the zombies close in for a night of bloody slaughter.

A perfect film in its own lunatic, technically slipshod fashion, Burial Ground delivers virtually every exploitation Burial Groundelement Burial Groundyou could possibly want from a 1981 Italian film. Nudity, creepy electronic music (with some disorienting jazz thrown in for good measure), borderline incest, a wide variety of crafty zombies, the world's slowest scythe beheading, maggots, worms, and a nihilistic ending (with a great typo to boot) have made this one lodge in viewers' memories ever since its unrated theatrical run in the U.S. from FCG. '80s horror fanzines boosted the film's reputation through the roof with young gorehounds scrambling to find the Vestron VHS release, which was notoriously murky (several night shots turned into complete mud) but still earned many fans. A sought-after Japanese laserdisc was quite a bit brighter and more watchable, but few could actually get their hands on it.

Media Blasters brought the film to DVD in 2002 with a pretty drab, chunky, overly bright, heavily compressed, and cropped transfer in 2002, though it was still a revelation of sorts after the VHS release. The label was also responsible for the film's first Blu-ray release in 2011, which had a solid HD transfer at its core destroyed by a heavy, distracting layer of chroma noise swimming over the entire film. Extras on both formats (the DVD was included with the later Blu-ray) include the European trailer (as The Nights of Terror), an image gallery, almost 10 minutes of silent outtake footage (most of it from the film's first half), and a raw 20-minute reel of video interviews with producer Gabriele Crisanti and the very charming Giordano looks back a making this "winning formula" of horror and sex, with Bark being cast because of legal regulations about child actors, and other topics, with questions asked in halting Italian.

In early 2016, 88 Films brought the film to UK Blu-ray and DVD in separate editions with a new remastered transfer that mercifully removes that swarming color distortion entirely and looks quite impressive in motion. In addition to the usual English dub (LPCM mono) you also get the Italian track with English subtitles (translated from the Italian, Burial Groundnot dubtitles), Burial Groundwhich is a bit classier and not even remotely as amusing; it's a very different viewing experience. (Unlike some other 88 Films titles, you can switch audio and subtitle options on the fly during playback.) An audio commentary with John Martin and Calum Waddell covers the wave of Italian zombie films from the late '70s through the '80s and goes into detail about the film's history with the BBFC and the ins and outs of VHS horror at the time. There isn't a ton of production detail here but they're certainly appreciative of Bianchi's directorial flourishes. One nice video bonus here is a "35mm grindhouse version" option, an HD transfer of one of the few circulating theatrical prints complete with heavy grain, flickering, and scratches, not to mention the American opening and closing titles. It's not pretty, of course, but it actually makes the film feel a lot more dirty and creepy throughout and admirably recaptures the feeling of seeing this in a theater if you've ever caught one of the film's (surprisingly frequent) repertory screenings. Also included are the trailer, the outtakes reel, a bonus trailer for Zombie Holocaust, and a 26m40s interview with author Mikel Coven, who puts Bianchi's career and particularly his zombie opus in context with the demands of Italian commercial cinema at the time. It's probably the most academic dissection of his work you'll ever hear.

Shortly before Halloween in 2016, Severin Films issued separate Blu-ray and DVD editions of Burial Ground in an edition that easily eclipsed the prior American one. The transfer appears to be sourced from the same film element as the 88 Films release, but it's been given a more proficient encoding that results in detail and film grain that are more defined; it's also darker and richer in appearance. English and Italian audio are included with optional English (translated) subtitles, with both sounding very solid. The trailer and outtakes reel are ported over here, but there's a nice helping of new goodies as well. The Freak-o-Rama featurette "Villa Parisi: Legacy of Terror" (15m47s) takes an in-depth tour with film historian Fabio Melelli of the venerable Italian location seen in this film and others like Nightmare Castle, The Third Eye, Bay of Blood, Blood for Dracula, and Beyond the Darkness. Burial GroundIn "Peter Still Lives" (7m56s), Bark appears for a 2007 Italian screening and chats about the film, greeting Burial Groundhis fans and talking about tasting prosthetic breasts, doing screwball comedies, and disco dancing on Italian TV (which we also see far too briefly). In "Just for the Money" (8m59s), actor Simone Mattioli recalls having fun with Bark, enjoying the locations, dealing with "offal and worms" everywhere, being embarrassed by his sex scene, and having no personal investment in the project beyond a paycheck. "The Smell of Death" (9m22s) edits the Giordano and Crisanti interviews from the Media Blasters release into a more linear piece without all the dead air and protracted questions.

In the summer of 2023, 88 Films gave the film its first upgrade to UHD as a dual-format edition in the U.K. with a remastered Blu-ray as well. The 4K scan from the best surviving element (cited as a 35mm blow-up interpositive) is, it's safe to say, as good as this film could look with the HDR10-compatible Dolby Vision grading on the UHD really bringing out flesh tones and bloody shades of red far more than earlier releases. Detail is satisfying throughout, given how the film was shot, and the DTS-HD MA 2.0 English and Italian tracks still sound very good with the usual translated and SDH English subtitle options. The Waddell and Martin commentary is ported over on both formats, plus a new commentary by Eugenio Ercolani, Troy Howarth, and this writer that can't be evaluated here, obviously. The Blu-ray ports over the deleted scenes, trailer, grindhouse version, Italian credits, and the Coven interview, but you get some new goodies as well starting with the astounding "Return to the Burial Ground" (13m51s) with Bark paying a visit to Villa Parisi for a discussion about how he got cast in the film and what it was like kicking off his career with this singular cult classic by the "reserved" but very helpful Bianchi. Burial GroundIn "The Borders of the Extreme" (22m44s), Ercolani puts the film in context within the broader history of Italian cinema which had been changing Burial Grounddrastically over the years since free broadcasting started taking hold in '72 and led to a major collapse by the end of the '80s. Then "Zombies and Melodies" (27m58s) with Pierpaolo De Sanctis examines credited composer Berto Pisano and his links to other major composers like Armando Trovajoli as well as the fusing of styles in Pisano's work including jazz, pop, and experimental atmospherics.

In 2024, Severin Films gave Burial Ground its inevitable upgrade to UHD / Blu-ray in the U.S., taken from the same excellent 4K master and looking the same throughout (which is good news, Dolby Vision and all). Again it has the usual English/Italian audio options and dual subtitles, plus both of the audio commentaries (Ercolani/Howarth/Thompson and Waddell/Martin) and the trailer on both the UHD and Blu-ray. The latter features the "Villa Parisi," "Peter Still Lives," "The Smell of Death" and "Just for the Money" featurettes from the earlier Severin Blu-ray and the deleted scenes, plus the premiere U.S. appearance of the "Return to the Burial Ground" featurette. Die-hard fans can also load up on a sticker you'll never use around the rest of the family, a t-shirt, or for true believers, a "Death Smells Bundle" featuring the world's greatest pillowcase.


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Updated review on March 25, 2024