Year: 1981 Company: Esteban Cinematografica Runtime: 84′
Director: Andrea Bianci Writers: Piero Regnoli Cinematography: Gianfranco Maioletti
Music: Elsio Mancuso, Berto Pisano Cast: Karin Well, Gianluigi Chrizzi, Simone Mattioli, Antonella Antinori,
Roberto Caporeli, Peter Bark, Claudio Zucchet, Anna Valente, Raimondo Barbieri, Mariangela Girodano
Disc company: Media Blasters / Shriek Show Video: 1080p 1.66:1 Audio: DTS-HD MA 2.0 English
Subtitles: None Disc: BD50 (Region A) Release Date: 08/23/2011
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An assortment of upper class nincompoops head to a majestic, isolated villa for a bit of rest and recreation, unaware that the resident mad archaeologist has uncovered the terrible secret of awakening the ancient Etruscan dead. Not long after the guests arrive the dead begin to rise, stalking our witless heroes with slow, sloooow determination and devouring them one by one.
Director Andrea Bianchi heads up this dreadful zombie shocker from 1981, a derivative cross between Fulci’s Zombi 2 and Ossorio’s The Blind Dead series (substitute dead Etruscans for dead Templars) with a perverse dollop of sexploitation thrown in for good measure. Bianchi appears to have been working with even less resources than normal for this feature, but he’s in rare sleazy form all the same. Mostly known for erotic thrillers (Malabimba, Strip Nude for your Killer) and outright porn, the director loads Burial Ground to tipping point with crude sex and bottom dollar gore, not to mention a bit of his signature strangeness.
Penned by frequent Bianchi collaborator Piero Regnoli, Burial Ground‘s narrative encompasses about a cocktail napkin worth of dramatic material. Yuppies descend upon a villa, screw around, and are eaten one-by-one by an unstoppable horde of the undead. There’s plenty of running back and forth (especially in the latter third of the film) and even the pretense of backstory (a mad archaeologist, a deadly secret, a “profecy” of dubious relation to anything), but not much that could honestly be called plot. This is exploitation in the purest sense of the word, with a handful of obnoxious but innocent idiots meeting a series of gruesome and undeserved demises strictly so that the producers can turn a buck. It’s commercial trash in the poorest of possible taste, but whatever it lacks in altruistic motivations is more than made up for by an abundance of weirdness, camp, and cheap bloody thrills.
As for the latter, they’re mostly appropriated from past successes. Fulci’s Zombi 2 is copied outright, right down to effects man Gino De Rossi’s (City of the Living Dead) designs for the maggot-and-worm ridden Etruscans. The effect here is achieved with masks that appear to have been made of everything from rubber to clay to papier-mâché, and is pretty dreadful. In an effort to create a skeletal appearance some performers’ features – noses, eyes, lips – are coated in black paint, an ineffectual method that’s obvious even in the poorest of copies of the film. The actions of the zombies are likewise recycled for the most part, from hands popping out of the ground to harass a pair of young lovers to an adaptation of Zombi 2‘s infamous splinter sequence, here with shattered glass substituted.
There is still some originality in Burial Ground‘s dusty bones, however, and some of the kill scenes are quite novel. My personal favorite has a man intruding upon the meditations of a table-full of monks, only to discover (too late of course) that he’s wandered into a monastery of the living dead. After gorging themselves on our leading man the monks toddle off in a heads-bowed single-file procession – all that’s missing is a Gregorian chant! Earlier in the film a maid is stalked, ninja style, by an especially clever zombie, who lunges from behind a planter and traps her on an upper-floor shutter with a well placed hand-thrown nail! The poor maid is then beset by a gaggle of hungry dead, who gruesomely decapitate her with a scythe and take to munching on her disembodied head.
Burial Ground‘s gore isn’t as imaginative or well-produced as that in contemporary Fulci and Argento efforts, but if you’re one who prefers quantity over quality then there is a lot of it here for you to enjoy. The usual tricks are employed – rubbery prosthetics, blood pumps and sacs full of slaughterhouse garbage. Bianchi and photographer Gianfranco Maioletti (Cosmos: War of the Planets) ogle over their bottom barrel handiwork in lingering and unfocused close-ups, ensuring that the viewers are treated to heaping eyefuls of sloshing viscera and vivid red stage blood as often as can be afforded. There is even a bit of style to be had here, with many of the gore scenes accentuated with inserts of Peckinpah-inspired slow motion violence (gunshots, skull crushing, even a zombie lit on fire).
Though undeniably gross, none of it could be called scary – Bianchi doesn’t have the patience (or perhaps the talent) to evoke any fear, suspense, or dread. There is some notable creep factor, however, all to do with an off-the-wall narrative diversion about a doting mother and the incestuous intentions of her son Michael. For reasons that likely have more to do with the legality of involving children in such situations than any foresight on the part of the producers, Michael is played not by a child but by middle-aged dwarf Peter Bark. The results are far more unsettling than any of the more obvious horrors, as a man who’s supposed to be a boy cuddles up to and attempts to molest the beautiful Mariangela Giordano (Malabimba, Satan’s Baby Doll). The subplot comes full circle in Burial Ground‘s most infamous scene – one that has been described at length elsewhere, but that I’ll not spoil here.
Burial Ground clocks in at a reasonable 85 minutes and gets to the gory bits early and often, with a some nudity and a lot of awful dubbed dialogue (far below the norm for these things, but featuring plenty of familiar Italian splatter voice actors) to amuse audiences in between. Technically this is pretty wretched stuff, unattractively lit and awkwardly photographed with lots of handheld work, but it certainly has camp appeal and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t love it. Those looking for a pointless and sleazy diversion could certainly do worse.
There’s actually quite a lot to discuss with regards to this Media Blasters / Shriek Show blu-ray edition of Burial Ground, and despite the obvious issues of transfer quality that discussion isn’t to be all bad. As such I’ll not bore you with the typical disc introductions.
Firstly, rumors have abounded that past DVD editions of Burial Ground, be they from Japan Shock, AWE or Media Blasters, have all been cut by approximately four seconds – four seconds that have been reputed to contain additional gore. As reported by Cinezilla and proven by this Youtube video of the missing footage, culled from a long-OOP and uncut Japanese VHS edition, all of the violent material is present and accounted for in the DVD editions. What is missing from them is roughly half of a shot in which the mustachioed Simone Mattioli turns his head in horror after shuttering a window. I’m pleased to report that this new Blu-ray edition does not appear to be sourced from the same elements as the DVD editions, and that the additional 4 seconds of Mattioli face-time are present and accounted for. Yay.
As expected, there is a disparity in running time between the two Media Blasters presentations, but counter to expectations it does not run in the direction one might think. The DVD edition runs for 1 hour 25 minutes and 8 seconds, while the HD edition runs a brisker 1 hour 23 minutes and 24 seconds – a difference of 1 minute and 44 seconds. The immediate assumption is that the HD edition is missing footage. Well it is, but there appears to be more to it than that. At second glance the new Blu-ray edition of Burial Ground appears to be transferred from a different cut of the film than the DVD. Let’s have a look at some of the missing footage first:
At 00:25:50 in the Blu-ray edition the scene cuts from the first image below to the next during the scene in which a zombie emerges from a planter:
What’s missing between these two points are roughly 10 seconds of footage, here sourced from the Media Blasters DVD – a connecting shot of the planter moving and two shots of the two actors getting hot with one another, as well as the first portion of the second shot listed above:
But here’s the weird bit: The Blu-ray edition also features 27 seconds of footage at the beginning of this scene that is not present on the DVD.
In this case the DVD cuts between these two shots:
Whereas the Blu-ray adds this between them, an additional 27 second shot in which the two lovers arrive at the fountain and start kissing:
So, make of this what you will. To my eyes this doesn’t so much look like a cut film, as a differently cut film. The audio for the two sequences is cut from the same dub track, with each cut featuring the same dialogue and sound effects playing over the very different footage. Why? I don’t know.
Even earlier in the film, during the exploding chandelier sequence, the Blu-ray also adds the following two brief shots in addition to those already present on the DVD:
Though similar shots as above do appear in the DVD, the two above are unique to the Blu-ray. Harder to take for those gorehounds among you may be the exclusion of the following two lightning-quick cuts from the Blu-ray edition of the film:
The two cuts, missing from the scene in which Peter Bark’s stepfather fires upon and is devoured by zombies, amount to approximately 1 second of running time, but by the strictest of measures it certainly suggests that gore that is present on the DVD is not present on the Blu-ray. (Note: I have since run through each and every gore scene shot for shot, comparing the Blu-ray and DVD, and have found no other missing footage. Whatever makes up the rest of the 1 minute and 44 second difference here, it’s not gore.) After discovering these anomalies I am if anything more confused as two what’s going on with the source here than I was after I noted the disparity in running times.
It’ll take a shot for shot comparison between the two editions to tell just what all the differences are between them, and I’ve got no time for that at the moment. The above at least proves that the Blu-ray edition of Burial Ground features a different cut, and is missing some footage even though it adds other, so keep that in mind if you’re thinking about purchasing.
Addendum 08/30/2011: After some discussion with kentaifilms, we seem to have discovered the root cause of the 1:44 of missing footage on this Blu-ray. I’ve given him the glory of writing an article on the matter, as I’m sick of talking about this one, but the problem amounts to this: At seemingly every opportunity, either MB or the post house that transferred the film originally have removed anywhere from a single to a handful of frames from just before or just after the physical cuts that hold the footage of this film together. With a minute and 44 seconds missing that means that roughly 2500 previously available frames of footage are now gone, for reasons I’ll not even guess at (Kentai suggests a pitiful attempt to cover bad splices, and that makes as much sense as anything I can come up with). Bottom line: This release is CUT, and in as bizarre a fashion as I’ve ever seen. Keep that in mind if you’re debating purchasing.
And now, what everyone has been waiting for – how does the image compare to that of the older Media Blasters DVD edition? Note that DVD snapshots appear before their Blu-ray counterparts, and have been upscaled to 1920×1080 for ease of comparison.
Presumably the work of the much-maligned LVR Post in Rome (there is no on-disc credit given for the transfer this go around) (according to LVR they are NOT responsible for this transfer) the new 1080p transfer of Burial Ground is presented at an aspect ratio of 1.66:1, opening the image considerably at the top and slightly to the right while losing slight amounts of information at the left and bottom. Overall the framing appears quite comfortable, and allows more headroom than the 1.85:1 DVD image. Colors appear relatively consistent across the two releases for the most part, with the HD transfer boosting saturation and losing the overly green tinge of the DVD in some sequences. Contrast is notably boosted in comparison to the DVD, to excess in many cases, and shadow detail is practically non-existent in the inky blacks. Subjectively I find the color palette and contrast of the HD transfer preferable to that of the DVD, but neither aspect is in any way indicative of what the format is capable of.
Detail tightens up noticeably, but definitely not to the extent that it should. Burial Ground has issues with focus throughout, limiting the degree of detail available at the source level, but there’s no doubt in my mind that the image could have been better resolved than it is here. There are hints of finer detail lurking beneath the surface in comparison sets four and five, but the clarity of the image is constantly compromised by an ever present and at times downright tumultuous layer of ugly digital noise. Most HD transfers of Italian exploitation efforts, from City of the Living Dead to Zombi Holocaust, have all presented with noise issues to one degree or other, but this is by far the worst I’ve seen from them. As evidenced by the sixth and seventh set of comparison captures, if the noise were much thicker there’d be serious trouble with discerning that there was any image beneath it at all! It’s impossible to identify any natural film texture here, though it’s surely lurking in the image somewhere, and that’s a damned shame. In purely technical terms the AVC encode is strong, averaging in at a sky-high 37.5 Mbps, but it’s a pity all that that bitrate potential had to be wasted on this. The only artifacts appear embedded in the HD master itself, and are limited to frame-specific blips in which the noise becomes smeary and fails to resolve.
The opening and closing credits make for an interesting aside. Sourced form different film elements and evidently telecined separately from the rest of the film, they lose the overbearing noisiness showcased elsewhere in the transfer and possess a more naturally film-like quality. Sure the image is soft and the colors less than ideal, but I’d argue that this footage still looks better than the rest of the transfer. Pity.
Much more so than the problematic video, the audio for Burial Ground receives a substantial boost courtesy of a DTS-HD MA 2.0 English track at around 1.5 Mbps. The older DVD sounds quite muffled and flat throughout, but the track cleans up very nicely here. The meandering synth score that permeates so much of the film is granted newfound depth, and made much more of an impression on me in this viewing than on any prior. Dialogue sounds typical of the post-dub recording of the time, but is much clearer and more dynamic than before. I didn’t note much in the way of background noise, and the track sounds remarkably clean for a bottom dollar mix of its vintage. I must admit to being pleasantly surprised in this regard, and the heightened audio fidelity helped take at least a bit of the edge off the disappointing visuals.
Supplements for the most part duplicate those previously presented on the Media Blasters DVD, and include interviews with producer Gabriele Crisanti and actress Mariangela Giordano (SD, 20 minutes), an original trailer in SD and an gallery of advertising and video art (SD, 6 minutes). The most exciting thing about the disc is a new supplement, a 9-minute collection of outtakes from the film in 1080p HD. Presented at an aspect ratio of 1.66:1 with only appropriated soundtrack cues as accompaniment (the unused footage was never post-dubbed), the visual quality of the outtakes is consistent with that of the film – saturated, noisy, and lacking in fine detail. In this case I won’t complain. The additional minutes comprise a handful of dialogue bits excised from the beginning of the film, a bit of unused sex footage featuring Karin Well (!), more creepy Peter Bark, several shots of zombies wandering about and a snippet of unused gore.
I’m not of the opinion that Burial Ground‘s high definition debut is a total disaster, but after seeing what Media Blasters / Shriek Show are really capable of courtesy of Devil Dog – The Hound of Hell it’s a shame this didn’t turn out better. The upgrade in video quality is too problematic to be substantial, but the improvements to the audio presentation and the inclusion of previously unseen outtake material make the package much more attractive than it would otherwise have ben. Plenty of retailers are selling this one on the cheap, and those keen on the film may want to give it a shot.
Film: Awful trashy fun Video: Fair + Audio: Very Good + Supplements: Good +
Harrumphs: No subtitles, and the video transfer is positively riddled with noise
Packaging: Standard Blu-ray case.
Recommendation: Cheap and unoriginal to its rotten little core, but fun all the same for those in the mood for a garrishly violent slice of Euro-cult mayhem. The visuals only receive a minor (and problematic) boost here, and the film appears to be some kind of alternate cut as well. But the excellent audio and inclusion of interesting outtake material may well make this Blu-ray worth the price of upgrading.