Burial Ground encapsulates everything good and bad about zombie movies.

by C. Rachel Katz

Recently at The Black Museum, a horror lecture series in Toronto, a small group of horror fans and nerds gathered to watch a screening of a 35mm print of Burial Ground. This particular Italian zombie romp is rarely screened, and to see it in glorious (read: pretty good condition) 35mm was special indeed. Introduced by Tall Zimmerman (Why Horror?) and Steve Kostanski (Astron-6), the film was described thusly: people go to a place and zombies happen. That’s it. That’s the whole movie. For a girl who claims to dislike zombie movies, I watch an awful lot of them. I can’t honestly say whether I liked Burial Ground; it was an experience, to be sure.

Burial Ground: The Nights of Terror
Directed by
Andrea Bianchi
Karin Well, Gianluigi Chirizzi, Simone Mattioli
US Release Date
10 December 1985
Rachel’s Grade: C+

Take, for instance the total lack of plot. There’s no real story here, just an archeologist who pries a cursed tablet out of a cave, and the rest is zombies. That archaeologist? He dies shortly after raising the dead (if indeed he is the agent of resurrection), and the rest of the cast arrive on the scene with no notion as to what’s going on. There’s no attempt to break the curse or even understand it because no one in the movie knows about it. Reading up on Burial Ground, I wasn’t surprised to learn that opinions are split about its quality and merit.

While some critics praise the movie’s relentless pace, others find it boring. All fans delight in the vivid gore and violent deaths, but the film’s low, low budget shines through some of the zombie makeup. On no less than two occasions I noticed what appeared to be a Frankenstein mask painted grey and covered in maggots and worms. Some of the zombies don’t even get a mask, and all look like screen-test rejects from Zombi 2.

Whenever anyone talks about Burial Ground, actor Peter Bark never fails to enter the conversation. It’s unclear whether he’s a point for or against the movie. Cutting a diminutive figure, Bark, at age 26, was cast as Michael, a child of about ten. If that weren’t strange enough, Michael is fixated on his mother which results in not one, but two awful scenes that would make Freud himself blush. When the film let out, my friends and I gathered under the marquee to try to figure how it is that Italians could be so good with zombie gore and so bad with zombie everything else.Burial Ground, as Danny Shipka wrote, was so terrible that it helped kill the zombie movie fad.
Burial Ground The Nights of Terror
I have to wonder if time and space have anything to do with the film’s “popularity.” Sitting in the theatre, some thirty years after the film’s release, it’s easy for us to laugh at the movie. There is a distance that separates us from the film, and that space is filled with knowledge of and experience in the genre. Burial Ground‘s notoriety for being rather terrible at the time of its release has transitioned into a kind of nostalgia for a bygone age of exploitation zombie trash. Tal and Steve reminisced about their first encounters with Burial Ground, and their stories echoed my friends’ own.

Listening to their stories, it’s clear that Burial Ground holds more sway over a younger audience than it does a room full of grownups, but that doesn’t mean an adult audience can’t enjoy the movie. Where kids might be disgusted and fascinated, adults are amused. So I guess that’s it really: Burial Ground is amusing. It’s wonderfully terrible, and terribly bad. And it’s gross, and awful, and weird, and relentless, and boring, and a hundred other things besides. The product of a waning genre, Burial Ground encapsulates everything good and bad about zombie movies. The story doesn’t waste any time on unnecessary drama and conflict, but watching people run away from and defend against zombies in the most mindless manner possible gets a little tiresome. I’m not sure if I’ll ever see this movie again, but I’m glad I had the chance to see it at least the one time. High praise from a girl who says she doesn’t like zombie movies.