Burial ground Nights of terror 1981 by Andrea Bianchi

Burial Ground: The Nights of Terror (1981)

Burial ground Nights of terror 1981 by Andrea Bianchi

Burial Ground: Nights of Terror‘ is an Italian video-nasty that is also known by its original Italian title ‘Le Notti del terrore‘. This is pure zombie grindhouse from start to finish.

Directed by schlock and gore specialist Andrea Bianchi, 1981’s Burial Ground: The Nights of Terror is a film likely to divide horror and zombie fans. On the one hand, if you are someone who likes their horror to come within the context of a story involving recognisable characters with engaging individual plot arcs, then this may not be for you. On the other hand if you’re looking for zombies killing people and being killed, then Burial Ground unquestionably delivers.

So what’s it all about then?

The film sets itself up with a professor studying an old crypt which is situated near a huge mansion where the 1% spend their time relaxing and partying with other jet-set types and playboys. During his study of the crypt, the magnificently bearded Professor Ayres deciphers an inscription he finds on an Etruscan tablet and summons his friends and colleagues to share this discovery.

He then heads down into an ancient subterranean crypt where he is attacked by zombies. Three couples arrive at the Professor’s home, oblivious to his fate. They keep themselves amused while they wait and, although they’ve all come to see the Professor, they also seem keen to use the opportunity to have a bit of sex in the country. Unfortunately, Michael, the 13 year old son of Evelyn and George, walks in on his parents having sex, clearly traumatising the already creepy child – Michael seems all the more creepy because he was played by little person actor Peter Bark, who was 26 at the time. Peter Bark was an Italian thespian who despite looking young and having a small stature, still doesn’t really manage to convince you he is a child in this film. The oddness of this casting (and how chilling he plays the character) only really serves to add to the nightmarish and surreal quality of this film – and lets face it, it is bonkers stuff like this that are all essential ingredients in turning odd films into cult favorites.

Anyway, the fact that Michael is disturbed from seeing them having sex turns out to be the least of their problems, as the following morning zombies begin first to emerge from the lawns and flower beds, and then proceed to attack the house in an apparently endless stream.

At first the couples barricade themselves in, but this proves ineffective and people start to die, all in pretty graphic and lingering ways – Andrea Bianchi’s direction certainly doesn’t shy away from blood and violence. They then decide to let the zombies in to the house while they escape. This works at first, but unluckily they take shelter in a monastery which is inexplicably filled with zombie monks. There are no survivors.

Burial Ground Nights of Terror 1981

Burial Ground: Nights of Terror

If that seems a bit of a short summary then it’s because in real terms very little actually happens in the film. The only plan the trapped people try is letting the zombies in, which just means they have no place to hide from those zombies still at large in the countryside. And the only things we learn are that a) leaving bear traps lying around your garden is asking for trouble, and b) in the event of a zombie apocalypse, servants will still be expected to serve.

The only concession to a personal plotline is Michael’s unhealthy obsession with his mother, resolved when he turns into a zombie and eats her breasts! The Oedipal sub-theme might make the viewer think there is more depth to this movie than they first thought…..but trust us, there isn’t – its just an excuse to film a really surreal horror scene.

Why the zombies rise is never addressed but it doesn’t really matter. What the film is going for is the classic siege set-up that works so well in Night of the Living Dead (or indeed in non-genre films like ‘Straw Dogs‘ or even ‘Zulu‘). It’s a tough thing to get right because the stakes never really change so the characters have to provide the tension, otherwise it can become dull.

Burial Ground - Zombie Attack!

Burial Ground – Zombie Attack!

‘Burial Ground: Nights of Terror‘ definitely falls short as a suspenseful thriller, largely because its characters barely register as individuals, but it does have points in its favour. Most obviously, the zombies look great. They’re more skeletal than most you see, emaciated and with maggots crawling from the empty cavities of their eyeless, decomposing faces. They’re also more creative than the average zombie, with kills that are sometimes gory, sometimes hilarious and often both. The pick of the bunch is the maid whose hand is pinned to a rail with a thrown knife, holding her in place while she is decapitated with a scythe.

As an interesting or engaging story, ‘Burial Ground: Nights of Terror‘ really fails, but as a catalogue of death it can hold its head high.

Watch the trailer for Burial Ground: Nights of Terror below:

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Burial Ground: Nights of Terror‘ has a fantastic film score by Berto Pisano and Elsio Mancuso, two Italian composers that had backgrounds in Jazz, as well as a history of creating film scores for other Italian Giallo and Spaghetti Westerns style films. The soundtrack veers wildly between standard Jazz numbers to nerve-shredding experimental electronic pieces. Lovers of synth based horror-scores will find plenty to love here. Read more about the soundtrack for Burial Ground: Nights of Terror.

Written by: Robin Bailes