Film Club Special: Burial Ground: The Nights of Terror

Posted by Cory Casciato On July - 6 - 2009

BurialGround-filmclubWhen I heard that the Final Girl Film Club was doing Burial Ground: The Nights of Terror my heart filled with joy. I reviewed this movie as one of the first half-dozen posts on the site, then just last month, added thoughts in a reaction piece when I watched it as part of my second annual Zombie Movie Marathon Month. So for Final Girl, I had to do something different, something more — so you get this, a few of my favorite things about the utterly insane Burial Ground: The Nights of Terror.

  1. Plot? What plot? – There is essentially no plot in this movie. I guess technically it has a plot: Three couples and one fucked-up kid (see item 10) go visit an old coot for unspecified reasons, right after the old coot has unleashed some zombies, also for unspecified reasons. Mayhem ensues. That’s it. This is a good thing. Plot would only distract from the insanity.
  2. Gratuitous nudity – What’s an Italian zombie movie without gratuitous nudity? In this movie, the women all get naked within the first ten minutes. That helps clear up what kind of movie we’re watching, right away, in case there was any question.
  3. Bizarre soundtrack – The soundtrack is part lite-jazz stock music and part drug-fueled mindfuck on the dark side of the moon. I’d be willing to bet money the composer just got as high as he possibly could, fired up a borrowed synthesizer, hit “record” on the tape deck and started twisting knobs and hitting keys more or less at random. Clearly he was going for something like the Goblin score of Dawn of the Dead; just as clearly, he was far too incompetent to even approach such a thing. The results are strangely fitting to the rest of the movie, however.
  4. Random bear trap – In one scene, a couple is running from zombies. The woman steps into a bear trap that seems to just be set out for no damn reason. Are there a lot of wild bears in the Italian countryside? No one seems perturbed by the fact that a bear trap was just casually placed on the path of this country estate, right where you might step in it while running from zombies.
  5. Smart zombies – The zombies are smart enough to use weapons (pitchforks, scythes, other farming-implement type stuff mostly) and work together to use a battering ram to get at the tasty meats (i.e. our protagonists) barricaded inside the country estate. Later, they dress up as monks to lure the survivors into a trap. Oh, you wily zombies! Overall, they show themselves to be significantly smarter than anyone else in the movie.
  6. Stupid, yet incredibly dedicated staff – On the contrary, the staff seem quite stupid and preternaturally dedicated. Even once the hardcore dying begins, they still follow orders promptly, even when those orders put them directly in harm’s way. Why can’t you find help like that any more? Oh yeah, they all died off in situations like these, or they were so stupid they set themselves on fire cooking.
  7. The maid’s death scene – Speaking of those staff, the maid’s death scene is an all-time favorite. While she is trying to close the shutters, a zombie throws a spike at her and pins her wrist to the wall with it. While she struggles against this cruel fate, another zombie reaches up with a scythe and beheads her. Ah, cruel fate.
  8. Leslie’s death scene – My second favorite death is Leslie, who suffers the unfortunate fate of serving as the Fulci “eye-gouge” knock-off of the film. Okay, technically it’s a glass shard that goes into her temple, not a wood splinter in her eye, but I am pretty certain this had to do with the effects budget, not any attempt at originality, because every other element of this scene seems directly lifted from the splinter-in-the-eye setpiece in Fulci’s Zombie.
  9. Toasty Stuntman – They set a guy on fire by accident during the filming, but the director insisted they keep filming while the guy screamed for help because it was too good of an opportunity to miss. You only learn this by watching the special features, but if there were any doubt that this movie is insane from top to bottom, that should clear it up.
  10. Peter Bark as Michael, the creepiest “kid” ever – Hollywood and Japan love the creepy kids, but they don’t know creepy like the Italians know creepy. You want a creepy kid? Cast a 26-year-old dwarf in a bad hairpiece as the kid, dub his lines in a weird, affected voice, then give him an incest subplot where he lusts after his mother. And gets to third base with her, before he becomes a zombie and kills her by biting off her nipple. That’s fucking creepy. Why didn’t this guy appear in more movies? Or why I haven’t I seen them, anyway?

That’s it, my ten favorite things about Burial Ground. If you can read that list and not need to see this movie immediately, you are a far, far better person than I — or at least a far more balanced person.

You can access the Final Girl film club entries on this fine movie here.

ZMMM Dailies: 6/19/2009 – Zombie 3

Posted by Cory Casciato On June - 20 - 2009

zombie3The idiocy of Zombie 3 left me almost speechless. In all honesty, this was probably the worst movie of Italy week, and probably the worst movie of the festival so far — only Hell of the Living Dead is close, which is, not surprisingly, another Bruno Mattei movie. Yes, Mattei did this, even though it claims to be a Lucio Fulci film, it’s pretty well established he had to leave this for health reasons and Mattei took over. Based on what made it in the movie, Fulci’s involvement was minimal, at best.

Zombie 3 is the story of Death-1, a compound that mutates into a virus (what?) and turns a whole city into zombies. Really stupid-looking zombies that look like a cross between Nightmare City‘s crap-encrusted, radiation-burnt creatures and more traditional grey-face undead. Some of the pulsating, oozing pustules on the zombies were impressive — the rest of the makeup and effects were ridiculous. Also ridiculous were the numerous, extended fight scenes between the zombies and commandos; the near-constant use of dry-ice fog; the severed head in a refrigerator that leaps out and bites a dude (okay, that was awesome and ridiculous);  and the elements blatantly ripped off from Return of the Living Dead and Day of the Dead: Mattei, you are a fucking thief! And an incompetent.

So Italy week was fun. We got to see some of the best and worst of Italian cinema, and at least one that was both (Burial Ground: Nights of Terror). Up next is the mockumentary American Zombie. Monday we start five days of Japanese zombie cinema — we’ll see how they compare with the Italians.

ZMMM Dailies: 6/18/2009 – Zombie

Posted by Cory Casciato On June - 19 - 2009

zombiefulciDay four of Italy week was Lucio Fulci’s hallucinogenic masterpiece Zombie. It did not let me down. On the other hand, it did not win my girlfriend over — her complaints included bad acting, terrible dialog, terrible dubbing and way too much cheap gore. I’d personally call the acting functional, but I yield that the dialog is highly suspect and the dubbing is ludicrous. I love the gore though, and think it looks great — maybe not exactly realistic, but totally believable. And obviously, I love the movie and have loved it each and every time I watch it.

It comes down to looking for different things — she likes very linear, dialog and character driven movies (usually ones with no zombies in them) whereas I look for a movie experience that may or may not contain those things, but weighs all sorts of things like mood, camera work, stylistic flourishes, etc. that she doesn’t really register as terribly important. Zombie is a movie experience and Fulci was a master of using the camera,  using sound design, setting a surreal mood and creating great set pieces. This is the most linear, plot-driven movie of his I’ve seen — I think it’s a good thing I didn’t try to have her watch The Beyond.

We watched it in a little theater under a bar. It was a digital projection off DVD, but still freaking cool. This is definitely a movie to watch that way (in a theater, on a screen, with other people there) if you have the opportunity. It’s a different experience than watching it at home on your TV. The turnout was pretty small (I am a terrible promoter, and couldn’t dedicate a lot of time to it since it was a not-for-profit enterprise) but everyone that came, with the exception of my girlfriend, really dug the movie — even the people that came in two-thirds of the way through.

Also, thanks to the people that voted in my poll, especially those that are watching along with us this month. Don’t forget that if you write about the films I watched and wrote about and link back to my writings on the same films, I will return the link/favor and we’ll have a cool little zombie film club. Fun! I closed the poll, since it is over halfway through the month, but I will have something else up there shortly.

Next up is Zombie 3, a movie that Lucio Fulci started (cool!) and Bruno Mattei finished (uh oh…). That will end our five day excursion into Italian zombie cinema.

ZMMM Dailies: 6/17/2009 – Nightmare City

Posted by Cory Casciato On June - 18 - 2009

NightmareCityAh, Nightmare City, you have restored my faith in Italy. Actually, it’s an Italian/Spanish co-production, but whatever. This movie had its faults — a pretty bad script, craptacular zombie makeup, ridiculous ending — but wow, was it ever fun to watch. A plane comes down full of zombies, who run out, start shooting (yes, shooting — these are smart zombies!) and stabbing the living shit out of everyone in sight and head out to take over the city. Along the way, they eat (well, drink the blood of, technically) an aerobics/disco show, tear off a lot of chicks’ clothing (gratuitous nudity is a staple of these spaghetti dead flicks), crack open an elevator like a nut to get the tasty treats (i.e. people) inside, kill and get killed in some very entertaining and graphic ways. This is also one of the first movies (if not the first) with fast zombies, and one of the few with smart zombies — apart from being burnt-looking and lacking the ability to speak, they have pretty much the normal capabilities of their non-zombie victims. The last third drags a little bit and the ending is definitely lame, but this is still a really fun, if really stupid, zombie flick.

Next up, Lucio Fulci’s hallucinatory opus Zombie. Free public showing in Denver! Hopefully lots of people show up.

ZMMM Dailies: 6/16/2009 – Hell of the Living Dead

Posted by Cory Casciato On June - 17 - 2009

helldeadThere seems to be an inverse square law of sorts when it comes to movies released under multiple names — the more aliases a movie is released under, the worse it is. This 1980 Spanish/Italian co-production was released under at least ten titles in various countries and languages and it is god awful. Director Bruno Mattei is bad — this fucking guy could give Uwe Boll a run for his money. The story is ridiculous (a plot to reduce population goes wrong — or right? hard to say — and creates a fuckload of flesh-hungry zombies) and contains more holes than actual development. Acting: terrible. Effects and makeup: inconsistent, but generally bad. Use of stock footage: excessive, bordering on slapstick. Gratuitous nudity: appealing, but brief. Score: stolen! Yeah, this is a mess all right.

There are a few cool moments. The zombie rat that kicks off the madness is worth a laugh. There’s a zombie kid that is seriously awesome. And toward the end, a cat jumps out of a woman’s stomach cavity. A highlight reel of those would be great — sitting through the rest of this to get there? Not so much. The other moments of levity and amusement are slight and few; the padding and endless, pointless scenes are many. Cut down to about 75 minutes, this could be fun, if ultimately pointless. At its actual run time of just over a hundred minutes, it’s more like a punishing test of endurance.

Next up is Nightmare City, a contemporary of this work of art. God help us all.

ZMMM Dailies: 6/15/2009 – Burial Ground: Nights of Terror

Posted by Cory Casciato On June - 16 - 2009

burialground-leslieI’ve already reviewed Burial Ground: Nights of Terror and I stand by that review. By most standard, it is a terrible movie. Terrible acting, terrible effects and makeup, terrible writing, dubbing, you name it. Yet somehow, it totally works. Probably because of the rule of Spinal Tap: everything works better when turned up to eleven. And this film is constantly turned up to eleven. Or maybe eleven and a half — everything is just a little but louder, or, in this case, just a little bit crazier.

Every crazy thing that could happen does, not to mention a bunch of shit that has no business happening (the incest “subplot” is just unbelievably off the wall, in particular). If you were to look up “exploitation film” in the dictionary, you should see a picture of this movie. Sleazy sex, sleazy gore, a dwarf (Peter Bark) playing an adolescent, random bear trap accident, five disembowelments (four shown in loving, graphic closeup), which I believe is some kind of record — that’s just the start.

The makeup is utterly crap, with little consistency from zombie to zombie, and all of it borrowed from better movies (Fulci’s Zombie mixed with the Blind Dead films). The effects aren’t any better, and are similarly ripped off, mostly from Fulci. A soundtrack that is equal arts cheesy lite jazz stock music and some dude high as a kite dicking around with a synthesizer and organ, horrible dubbing, shaky handheld camera work, poor continuity and weird editing … it’s a frigging mess, top to bottom. But somehow, totally hypnotic and irresistible, with a strange dreamlike quality in parts. It wasn’t quite as riveting the second time through (I watched it maybe four or five months ago) but I still had no issue getting through it. Recommended!

Oh, and Final Girl is doing a Film Club on it this month, so look for a link to that shortly!

Next up, Hell of the Living Dead takes us deeper into the heart of Italy.

Preliminary movie list for Zombie Movie Marathon Month

Posted by Cory Casciato On May - 22 - 2009

zombiefulciJune is almost upon us and that means it is time for me to get serious about finishing the list of movies for the June Zombie Movie Marathon Month festival. I had hoped to have the entire list done by now but for a variety of reasons — scheduling conflicts, inability to confirm that movies will be available, indecision — I haven’t been able to do so. I have come up with a preliminary list of definite movies to watch (although not the when, for the most part), a couple of themes to explore and a handful of “maybes.” Now I am taking commentary from you fine readers. Help me decide!

My two themes are five days each of Italy and Japan. Italy has proven to be the easier of these, and comprises most of my “definite” list. Japan is a little trickier and I may put it to a vote next week (about time I used that poll for something, anyway). Apart from that there are a few seminal films that I have managed to not see yet and a few my daughter has managed to not see yet and those comprise the rest of what is definite.

Here’s what I have nailed down, some with commentary:

  • Zombie (30th anniversary! I’m doing a free showing of this)
  • Nightmare City
  • Hell of the Living Dead
  • Zombie 3 (Because Lucio Fulci worked on it briefly)
  • Burial Grounds: Nights of Terror
  • Versus
  • Tokyo Zombie
  • Plan 9 from Outer Space
  • Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things
  • Return of the Living Dead (daughter has never seen it!)

Here’s the stuff I am considering, but haven’t settled on:

  • Dead Set (okay, it’s a TV miniseries, but still a moving picture show)
  • American Zombie
  • Mutant
  • I Walked with a Zombie
  • Messiah of Evil
  • Night of the Living Dead (1990) (Haven’t seen this in years, like since it was fairly new)
  • Pet Sematary (ditto)
  • Onechanbara
  • Grapes of Death
  • Zombie Honeymoon

Okay, that’s where things stand at the moment. I’ve got ten nailed down, ten strong possibilities and a whole, long list of other stuff that I haven’t decided on. Comments and suggestions are welcome and encouraged.

Monster mash: Zombie Holocaust

Posted by Cory Casciato On May - 18 - 2009

zombieholocaustWhat do you get when you cross an Italian zombie movie with an Italian cannibal movie? You get Zombie Holocaust (aka Dr. Butcher M.D.). And it literally borrows from at least one other movie — footage, actors, characters and plot elements are all lifted. I recognized footage and actors (reprising basically the same characters) from Lucio Fulci’s Zombie (aka Zombi 2, aka Zombie Flesh Eaters) and I’ve heard some of the cannibal stuff and padding footage is lifted, too, although I can’t confirm it first hand. Besides stealing from at least one really great movie, it offers plenty of gratuitous gore and nudity. There’s one great kill scene with an outboard motor that basically justifies the entire movie’s existence. Also, lots of boobs and a bit of full-frontal nudity from a passably attractive actress.

The plot gives us some cannibals in New York City, who come from an island full of cannibals and zombies. Some people go to the island to investigate. Cannibals chase them. Zombies show up. Its tidy plot “twist” is a mad scientist who’s creating the zombies and converting the natives to cannibalism simultaneously; that’s right, he’s responsible for the whole thing!

For reasons I don’t really understand, I find all Italian zombie movies far more watchable than they have any right to be judged strictly on their quantifiable merits. It’s not of much interest for casual fans of the genre, but of moderate interest for the more dedicated student.

Zombie Holocaust/Italy/1980

The Beyond

Posted by Cory Casciato On March - 30 - 2009

beyondIs The Beyond a zombie movie? It certainly has plenty of zombies, but at its core it’s more of a haunted/cursed house movie with zombies instead of ghosts. Our story introduces us to unlucky Liza, who’s inherited a hotel from her rich, bachelor uncle. It seems as if her luck has turned, but alas the hotel is built over one of the seven gateways to hell (way, way worse than being built over an ancient Indian burial ground, as it turns out). Plagued by a series of accidents and unusual (not to mention unusually awesome) deaths, poor Liza’s plan to reopen the hotel and solve her money woes is quickly derailed. Soon, she’s met a mysterious blind girl who seems to know a lot about what’s going on, a skeptical doctor who refuses to believe any of it and a whole slew of zombies. Things process haphazardly to a slow climax that sees her entering the gateway to hell for a long and likely unpleasant stay.

This is a hard movie to judge. It’s the third of Lucio Fulci’s forays into the wild world of the walking dead and while it’s beautifully shot and nicely paced, it doesn’t really make a whole lot of sense. In some ways, it’s a precursor to the slasher film, concentrating most of its energy on a series of creative and outlandish death scenes. A man’s face gets eaten by tarantulas; a woman gets melted by acid into a frothy, bloody mess while her daughter looks on; a woman gets her neck torn out by a dog; a doctor gets a face full of glass; a woman gets her head impaled by a nail (complete with Fulci’s trademark eye-gouging action!). These are really the highlight of the film, and presumably the reason for its existence.

The zombies appear only intermittently until the last fifteen or twenty minutes, and then just kind of sway drunkenly while posing a vague, unconvincing threat. They look good, and there’s a definite air of menace to them when they are filling the halls of the hospital en masse, but the movie doesn’t do much with them. And the bits of movie between the death scenes and vague zombie menace are just bewildering and inexplicable. In a generous estimation, you could call it a surreal atmosphere reminiscent of a dream or drug trip. Less generously, you might call it an incoherent mess. And the characters? They exist solely to give the director some people to kill. They are not unlikable so much as unknown and unknowable.

Despite its shortcomings, it’s worth a watch. The gore is well done, if a little cheap looking in a few isolated instances. For all of its lack of a coherent storyline or decent characters, it’s remarkably entertaining. For the trainspotters out there, it’s sure to provide fodder for many a conversation about the films it’s influenced: Hellraiser in tone and, to some degree, story; every slasher flick ever in the pacing and buffet of clever death; probably others that didn’t occur to me. And hey, it’s Lucio Fulci and it’s got zombies.

This review was part of the Final Girl Film Club challenge for March. For more info and her takes on many other fine horror offerings, visit her invariably awesome blog early and often.

Let Sleeping Corpses Lie

Posted by Cory Casciato On March - 27 - 2009

letsleepingcorpseslie

Apart from one of the best titles ever, Let Sleeping Corpses Lie has plenty going for it. It’s the story of a luckless, macho antiques dealer who gets sucked into a zombie murder-mystery. When a clumsy woman crashes into his parked motorcycle, he’s left the choice of being stranded or catching a ride with her. All things considered, he should have chosen to stay stranded. Before long, he’s being detained as a witness to a murder by an incredibly surly and spiteful police sergeant who seems more concerned with framing him for being a long hair than actually solving the crime. In the course of investigating the murder alongside with his ride/cause of all his troubles, he discovers not only the walking dead but what’s causing them to rise. Of course, no one believes him about either the zombies or what’s reanimating them, giving the dead a chance to wreak some serious havoc before the satisfying and unhappy ending.

The zombies are fairly original. They’re capable of working together and using tools, and while they don’t quite run, they can definitely shuffle at a good pace. Headshots do nothing but annoy them, but they do turn out to be roughly as flammable as kerosene. And strangely, they don’t show up in photos, a plot necessity that doesn’t make a lot of sense in context and is never explained. They look absolutely great, with realistically dead countenances and creepy-ass red irises. The zombie make up is unfailingly excellent, especially the autopsy zombie. The gore is nicely done too, apart from one fairly cheesy looking killing of a nurse.

Overall the acting is decent, but there is some silly overacting and clumsy delivery here and there. It’s not terrible, and it never derails the movie, but it’s definitely chuckle worthy. The story is strong, and in fine zombie tradition there’s even a heavy-handed message — pro-environment/back-to-nature in this case. The script is solid, if a little heavy on the talking and police procedural angle, which slows down the pace a bit. Still, everything is stylishly shot and the atmosphere is great, so the relatively languid speed at which it unfolds isn’t a problem. It also sounds incredible – the score and sound design, which intermingle in curious and effective ways, are top notch. All things considered, Let Sleeping Corpses Lie is well-deserving of its status as a minor classic.

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