Burial Ground: The Nights of Terror

a.k.a. Le Notti del Terrore / The Nights of Terror / Zombie III / Burial Ground
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
Order this disc now from Amazon.com

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 (MalabimbaStrip 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.

in conclusion
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.

Zombi Holocaust

a.k.a.: Zombie Holocaust, Dr. Butcher M.D.
Year: 1980  Company: Flora Film, Fulvia Film, Gico Cinematografica   Runtime: 84′
Director: Marino Girolami   Writers: Fabrizio De Angelis, Romano Scandariato, Marino Girolami
Cinematography: Fausto Zuccoli   Music: Nico Fidenco  Cast: Ian McCulloch, Alexandra Delli Colli,
Sherry Buchanan, Peter O’Neal, Donald O’Brien, Dakar, Walter Patriarca, Linda Furnis, Roberto Resta
Disc company: Media Blasters / Shriek Show   Video: 1080p 1.78:1    Audio: DTS-HD MA 2.0 English
Subtitles: None   Disc: BD50 (Region A)   Release Date: 06/28/2011   Product link: Amazon.com

Let me put this as simply and directly as I know how – Zombi Holocaust is a stupid, stupid film.  This is not opinion, but incontrovertible truth.  It may also be the quintessential example of the cannibalistic tendencies of the Italian genre film movement of the ’70s and ’80s, in which past successes were imitated and emulated as early and as often as possible.  Zombi Holocaust is one of the more shamelessly commercial of the lot, a transparent re-working of Fulci’s 1979 opus Zombi 2 and Deodato’s grotesque masterpiece Cannibal Holocaust, which saw release less than two months before this film in 1980.

Though its chief inspirations are two of the undisputed classics of Euro-shock cinema, it should come as no surprise that Zombi Holocaust is rarely anything more than cheap and silly.  The story, credited to director Marino Girolami (father of Italian cult cinema icon Enzo G. Castellari), producer Fabrizio De Angelis and assistant director Romano Scandariato, concerns a New York City Department of Public Health investigation (led by Brit Ian McCulloch, star of Zombi 2, and sexpot Alexandra Delli Colli, The New York Ripper) into random acts of cannibalism within the city.  The investigation leads McCulloch, Delli Colli and company to a remote South Seas island where primitive cannibals roam free and a mad doctor (Donald O’Brien) works to create an army of undead slaves.

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Beyond the Darkness

a.k.a.: Buio Omega / Blue Holocaust / Buried Alive / In quella casa Buio Omega
Year: 1979   Company: D. R. Communications   Runtime: 94′
Director: Joe D’Amato   Writers: Ottavio Fabbri, Giacomo Guerrini   Cinematography: Joe D’Amato
Music: Goblin   Cast: Kieran Canter, Cinzia Monreale, Franca Stoppi, Sam Modesto, Anna Cardini,
Lucia D’Elia, Mario Pezzin, Walter Tribus, Klaus Rainer, Edmondo Vallini, Simonetta Allodi
Disc company: Media Blasters / Shriek Show   Video: 1080p 1.78:1    Audio: DTS-HD MA 2.0 English
Subtitles: None   Disc: BD50 (Region A)   Release Date: 04/19/2011   Product link: Amazon.com

Media Blasters first announced that it intended to release Joe D’Amato’s magnum opus on Blu-ray more than a year ago, in early spring of 2010.  The news was met with an uneasy mix of joy and trepidation, the former of which slowly whittled away as release date after release date came and went with nary a sign of the disc itself.  The company has blamed the delays on the time it took to get their hands on quality materials for the film, a process that took far longer than anticipated, but whatever the case may be the damage was already done.  Many fans were expecting a mess of epic proportions should the release ever materialize at all.

But materialize it did earlier this month, when retailers and third party sellers were suddenly found to have the title in stock.  Initial press has been far from positive, bemoaning lost footage and audio deficiencies with an unexpected venom, assuring, with anger to spare, that the mess so many expected had at long last arrived.  I have to admit that I completely lost interest in this release as the delays started piling up, but the vitriol with which Beyond the Darkness‘ high definition debut has been received has piqued my curiosity once more.  And so, I put in an order for the title myself, wondering all the while what digital horrors might await me.

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The Black Cat

a.k.a.: il gatto nero / Demons 6: de Profundis / Demons 6: Armageddon / Dead Eyes
Year:
1989    Runtime: 89′   Director: Luigi Cozzi
Writer: Luigi Cozzi  Cinematography: Pasquale Rachini  Music: Vince Tempera
Cast: Florence Guerin, Urbano Barberini, Caroline Munro, Brett Halsey, Luisa Maneri

Not to be confused with all those other films about black cats, which comes especially easy in this case, because the black cat isn’t important here at all.

Plot? Oh right, there was something kinda-sorta plot-like hidden away in here somewhere. Ah, there it is: Director Marc Ravenna (Urbano Barberini) is trying to re-ignite his faltering career by making a semi-sequel to Argento’s Suspiria (wouldn’t that actually be a semi-sequel toInferno at this point in time?), based on a witch named Levana from an essay in De Quincey’s Suspiria De Profundis. If you just ignore that Levana isn’t actually a witch but a goddess and wasn’t invented by De Quincey, you’ll be as surprised as I was by the realization that someone working on the script for this one might have read the book the film’s talking about (and, going by the inclusion of an actual quote from Poe, even more than just a single book; Italy sure ain’t Hollywood). You can also be sure someone had seen Suspiria, what with parts of that movie’s theme playing on the soundtrack whenever someone mentions it or De Quincey’s book.

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Flesheater

a.k.a.: Flesh Eater: Return of the Living Dead / Return of the Living Zombies / Zombie Nosh
Year: 1988   Company: H & G Films Ltd., Hinzman   Runtime: 88′
Director: Bill Hinzman   Writers: Bill Hinzman, Bill Randolph   Cinematography: Simon Manses
Music: Erica Portnoy   Cast: Bill Hinzman, John Mowod, Leslie Ann Wick, Kevin Kindlin,
Charis Kirkpatrick Acuff, James J. Rutan, Lisa Smith, Denise Morrone, Mark Strycula
Disc company: Media Blasters / Shriek Show   Video: 1080p 1.78:1    Audio: DTS-HD MA 2.0 English
Subtitles: None   Disc: BD25 (Region A)   Release Date: 08/31/2010   Product link: Amazon.com

A bunch of drunk college jerks, hillbillies and innocent bystanders become embroiled in a zombie epidemic when a farmer unwittingly releases the eponymous Flesh Eater (guess who?) from his woodland tomb.  A local posse loosely organized by the police heads out to stop the crisis before the entire state of Pennsylvania is infested with walking un-dead.

Sometime in the ’80s Bill Hinzman, the cemetery ghoul from Romero’s 1968 opus Night of the Living Dead, walked into a horror convention and realized that, for whatever reason, he and his zombie alter-ego had developed a cult following.  Looking to capitalize on his middling fame and give his fans more of what they admired him for, Hinzman (who had made a comfortable living for himself in industrial films) set about developing a zombie vanity project in which he would take credit as producer, writer, director, editor, and star.  The result is 1988’s Flesh Eater (released straight-to-video by Magnum Entertainment as Revenge of the Living Zombies), a shoestring horror steeped to the gills in gore, sleaze, and unimaginable stupidity.

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Alien 2: On Earth

a.k.a.: Alien 2: Sulla Terra / Alien Terror
Year: 1980   Company: GPS   Runtime: 84′
Director: Ciro Ippolito   Writer: Ciro Ippolito   Cinematography: Silvio Fraschetti
Music: Guido and Maurizio De Angelis (as Oliver Onions)   Cast: Belinda Mayne, Mark Bodin, Roberto Barrese,
Benny Aldrich, Michele Soavi, Judy Perrin, Don Parkinson, Claudio Falanga, Vincenzo Falanga, Ciro Ippolito
Disc company: Midnight Legacy   Video: 1080p 1.85:1    Audio: DTS-HD MA 2.0 English
Subtitles: None   Disc: BD50 (All Region)   Release Date: 03/22/2011   Product link: Amazon.com
Alien 2: On Earth is the first release in the Midnight Legacy Collection, and is reviewed here from a screener provided by the company.

When a manned NASA space mission returns from orbit sans crew the world is stunned, but telepathic speleologist Thelma (BelindaMayne) senses that something far worse is on the horizon – something to do with strange blue rocks that have begun showing up all over.  Thelma puts her fears aside to lead a spelunking expedition in the American southwest, but is forced to confront them head-on when the rocks begin sprouting meaty alien monsters with a penchant for human destruction…

Those of you convinced that Luigi Cozzi’s Contamination, in which throbbing alien eggs that make people explode are sent around the world by the possessed owner of a coffee plantation, is the strangest of the gory Italian knock-offs of Ridley Scott’s Alien should think again, as Ciro Ippolito’s obscure 1980 effort Alien 2: On Earth definitely holds its own in the oddball department.  I apologize for my unabashed adoration of this one in advance – it’s just hard for this reviewer to hate any film that tries so hard to tie a failed space mission, ominous rocks, telepathy, caving, apocalyptic doom-and-gloom and bowling together, even if the end results are a little suspect.

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The Beyond

a.k.a.: E tu vivrai nel terrore: L’aldia (And You Will Live in Terror: The Beyond), 7 Doors of Death
Year: 1981   Company: Fulvia Film   Runtime: 87′
Director: Lucio Fulci   Writers: Dardano Sacchetti, Giorgio Mariuzzo, Lucio Fulci
Cinematography: Sergio Salvati   Music: Fabio Frizzi  Cast: David Warbeck, Catriona MacColl,
Cinzia Monreale, Antoine Saint-John, Veronica Lazar, Anthony Flees, Giovanni De Nava, Al Cliver
Disc company: Arrow Video   Video: 1080p 2.34:1    Audio: DTS-HD Master 5.1 English,
DTS 2.0 English, DTS 2.0 Italian   Subtitles: English   Discs: BD25 (All Region) + DVD (PAL Region 0)
Release Date: 03/14/2011   Product link: Amazon.co.uk
The Beyond is reviewed here from a screener provided by Arrow Films.

In 1920’s Louisiana a man suspected of witchcraft is brutally lynched and buried in the basement of the Seven Doors Hotel.  More than half a century later the hotel is inherited by washed-up New Yorker Liza (MacColl), whose efforts to restore the property to working order are undermined by bizarre and violent happenings and the strange cryptic warnings of blind associate Emily (Monreale).  Liza sets about investigating the history of her hotel with the help of local doctor John (Warbeck), only to discover the shocking truth – that her property is situated on one of the seven gateways to Hell…

An experience like few others, The Beyond is the culmination of themes explored in Zombi 2 and City of the Living Dead and, by my estimation, the best horror film director Lucio Fulci ever made.  Originally conceived as a ghostly mystery in New Orleans The Beyond was caught in the burgeoning European zombie craze (for which Fulci, himself, had served as a prime instigator) before production began, ensuring a place in the production for Fulci’s mystical variety of the undead.  The result is a gruesome exercise in horror both visceral and existential, and a fantastical and hallucinatory vision of a literal Hell on Earth.

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Burial Ground

a.k.a. Le Notti del Terrore / The Nights of Terror / Zombie III
Year: 1981   Company: Esteban Cinematografica   Runtime: 85′
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
Available on DVD from Media Blasters / Shriek Show. Product link: Amazon.com
Also available as part of Shriek Show’s Zombie Pack II, with Flesh Eater and Zombie Holocaust.

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 (MalabimbaStrip 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.

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Swamp of the Ravens

a.k.a. El pantano de los cuervos
Year: 1974   Runtime: 83′   Director: Manuel Caño
Writer: Santiago Moncada   Cinematography: Manuel Merino    Music: Joaquín Torres
Cast: Ramiro Oliveros, Marcia Bichette, Fernando Sancho, Toni Mas

By day, scientist Dr. Frosta (Ramiro Oliveros) works a boring, mechanical research job under a boss who seems to hate him. In the evenings, Frosta visits a woman named Simone (Marcia Bichette) with whom he has an unhealthy, borderline abusive relationship ever since he stole her away from her American lounge singer boyfriend Richard by staring at her very hard. At night, he works in his hidden lab hut in the swamps on experiments meant to explore the boundaries between life and death – sometimes even successfully, going by the abused biological robot working as his assistant. For his work, Frosta needs bodies that have been dead for less than eight minutes, so the only reasonable way for an upstanding mad scientist to get his research material is to decimate the local population of pan-flute playing homeless lepers. The scientist also steals drugs he needs for the experiments from his day job.

Alas, many of the good doctor’s experiments tend to fail, and now the swamp in front of his house is full of dead people who pop their heads out of the water from time to time. Despite nature’s useful garbage can, the Doctor’s dead assistant still manages to lose body parts where others can find them from time to time, so that the police is slowly getting wise to the fact that something’s not right in their beautiful city.

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City of the Living Dead

Year: 1980   Company: Dania Film – Medusa Distribuzione – National Cinematografica   Runtime: 93′
Director: Lucio Fulci   Writer: Dardano Sacchetti, Lucio Fulci   Cinematography: Sergio Salvati
Music: Fabio Frizzi  Cast: Christopher George, Catriona MacColl, Carlo De Mejo, Giovanni Lombardo
Radice, Antonella Interlenghi, Daniela Doria, Fabrizio Jovine, Venantino Venantini, Michele Soavi
Disc company: Arrow Video   Video: 1080p 1.85:1    Audio: DTS-HD Master 7.1 English, DTS-HD Master 5.1 English, Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo English, Dolby Digital 2.0 Monophonic English
Subtitles: None   Disc: Dual Layer BD50   Release Date: 05/24/2010   Product link: Amazon.co.uk
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Though it was the genre with which he would find the most acclaim, with his gruesome chillers earning both critical praise and substantial profit in international markets, Lucio Fulci’s personal relationship with horror was uneasy and bittersweet. With the success of his 1979 effort Zombi 2 came hope that he would gain stature within the Italian industry and more freedom in his work, but neither came.  By the middle of the ’80s Fulci had become typecast within the genre, and dwindling budgets, advantageous producers and a marked decline in his physical well being would lead his later work to become increasingly dreadful.  A proposed collaboration with Dario Argento may well have put the ailing director back on top, ending his career on a much-needed high note, but he died before production began.

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