My love of zombie movies is no secret; I’ve written about it here many, many times. Similarly, my love of bad films has received a fair amount of ink (okay, pixels) here as well. Since many zombie movies are truly terrible, it should be no surprise at all that sometimes those two loves combine into one glorious orgy of gut-munching bad taste and poor filmmaking, and no film does this quite as well as Burial Grounds: The Nights of Terror.
How is it terrible? Let me count the ways. Terrible acting, terrible effects and makeup, terrible writing, dubbing, you name it. Every single element of this film is inherently awful, often the most awful it could possibly be. Yet somehow, the film 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 bit louder or, in this case, just a little bit crazier.
Let’s start with the plot — or, more accurately, the complete lack of one. There are some people who visit a man at a country estate, but the man accidentally woke up zombies. The zombies eat the people. That’s it. The whole story. No reason is given, and none is needed. There are zombies. There are people. Zombies kill and eat people, so the people are killed and eaten. Why bother with a plot when you can simply offer a selection of victims?
To that impressive start, the film adds absurdity after absurdity. How about an adult dwarf in a truly awful hairpiece playing a twelve-year-old boy? Not weird enough? How about we get an adult woman to do his badly dubbed voice? Still not weird enough? Okay, let’s give him an incestuous yearning for his mother, and then, just to make sure you’re properly skeeved out, we’ll make sure he actually gets to third base with her before killing her after he becomes a zombie himself.
But wait! That’s not all!
It’s a sleazy Italian exploitation film from the ‘80s, so of course pornstaches are everywhere. And almost all of the women get naked within the first ten minutes of the film, because of course they do. The zombies are intelligent enough to work together, even donning disguises at one point, but the servants are so fucking stupid that they mindlessly follow orders that put them directly in harm’s way. At one point, a woman is running from the zombies and steps into a bear trap that is just casually set on the path of this Italian estate. Why is it there? Are bears so common in the Italian countryside that even the well-trodden paths of a country estate must be protected by a giant, rusting death trap?
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I don’t know, but writing all of this is sure making me want to go watch it all again.
There are other little touches that will command your attention, from the bizarro soundtrack — half cheesy lite-jazz stock music, half someone randomly stabbing a synthesizer with a pitchfork — to the straight ripoffs from better zombie films, like the obvious Fulci eye-gouge homage/theft. There are even charming behind-the-scenes anecdotes, like the stuntman who was literally set on fire by mistake and the director just kept filming while the guy screamed for help because it was too good of an opportunity to miss (you have to hit the DVD special features for that one, but it’s so, so worth it). Nearly as inept as The Room and even more offensive and grotesque, Burial Ground is an absolute triumph of terrible, a one-of-a-kind film you'll be telling people about for years — and those people won't believe you, because Burial Ground truly has to be seen to be believed. Don't miss it.
See Burial Ground: The Nights of Terror (on 35mm!), at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, July 27, at the Alamo Drafthouse. Tickets are $7 or $8 with a donation to the American Genre Film Archive. For tickets and more info, visit the Alamo Drafthouse Denver website.