Categorized Commentary on Andrea Bianchi's Burial Ground (1980)

                             Hoff! Hoff! Hoff! Hoff!

I. Zombie Porn. Like most lucrative sex films, Burial Ground (Italy; 1980) delivers what it says it will deliver--no more, no less. Exposition, characterization, style--all those unwelcome extras which simply get in the way of the good stuff--are kept to a sheer minimum. To the delight of gorehounds who always half-expect a dud, Burial Ground thoroughly packs its running time with hardcore cannibal zombie mayhem. And though this mayhem may seem repetitive, tackily-staged, and derivative to some, at least it's there, in quantity. The movies makes no concessions to aficionados of the "ciniemah", choosing instead to fill the needs of true, grassroots horror fans, who take their carnage straight. Burial Ground has its priorities in line.

II. Zombie Fetish. Is Andrea Bianchi a man or a woman?* It would be helpful to know. The movie's three main female characters ten to kick zombie ass with as much spunk and success (though the zombies ultimately win) as do the male participants, but by the same token, these women are apt to cower, tremble, gasp, and holler during even the mildest display of zombie mayhem. In fact, they do this so much and so often that the viewer

A) begins to long for the quiet, catatonic hysteria of Night of the Living Dead's Barbara, and

B) begins to suspect that there's a directorial impulse at work here that is stranger, more pervasive, and more personal than merely a desire to have the characters react realistically or stylistically; it's a fetishistic impulse.

To put it bluntly, Andrea Bianchi seems quite literally to orgasm over zombies and zombie violence. (Either this or Bianchi assumes that his intended audience orgasm for zombies.) The evidence is strong,. Characters' reactions to the action are consistently sexual in nature. For a home demonstration of this, simply put on the Vestron videocassette of the movie, turn the volume up loud, go into the adjoining room, and listen. You'll think your local video pimp gave you a porno flick by mistake. Here's an example of what you'll hear:

WOMAN'S VOICE--"Oooo.Ooh. Aaah. Harder. Harder! Uuh! Go on...ummmm...aaaaah. Uuh! Uh! Oooh! Uh! Uh! Uh! Uh! Ah!Aaah! Aa-aaaah! Ah! Oh honey please. Aaah. Uh-aaaah! Uh-ah! Uh-ah! Uh-ah!"

MAN'S VOICE----"Hold on, darling! Let me try another way."

WOMAN'S VOICE--"Uh. Uh. Uh. Aah-aaaaaaah! Oooo! Ooooh! Ooooah! Oh-ho! I can't stand it! Ooh! Ooh! God! Aa-aa-eeee! Mark! No-oooo! Ah! Aa-aah! Oh God! Oh-ho! Oh-hoooo! Aaaaaaaahhhh! Ah-ah-ah-aaaah! AAAAAAHH! WHOOOOOAAAHH! HO-HO-AAAAAAAHHHH!"

This is not from one of the movie's sex scenes. (There are two or three mild, rather dull ones.) Rather, it's from a sequence in which a girl gets her foot caught in an animal trap and her lover tries to extricate her while fending off the encroaching zombies. The girl's orgasmic utterances are typical of the overtly erotic vocal response of (primarily) the female characters to zombie-related havoc. It is significant that the movie's orthodox sex scenes are handled perfunctorily; for Bianchi, the zombie action is what's truly hot. Few directors would be bold enough and honest enough to openly trade their own unorthodox erotic obsessions the way Bianchi does here.

*--Author's Note: Turns out Bianchi is a man.

III. Michael. We have established that the film is mercifully free from artistic indulgence. However, Bianchi does manage to engage in subtle cultural commentary at times, without interrupting the narrative's steady flow of action. For instance, the characterization of Michael, the little boy, is representative of the pre-pubescent sexual repression that is known to be a cause of teen apathy. Significantly possessing a face reminiscent of the tiny, gasping human visage trapped in the cobweb at the end of The Fly (1958), young, angst-ridden Michael revealingly attempts to engage in sexual intimacy with his mother, is rejected for it, dies, returns as a zombie, and kills his mother by "feeding" from her breast. This is, of course, a clear metaphor for the unhappy experience of so many of today's children whose natural lust for a parent is discouraged and suppressed.

IV. Drive-In Homage. Director of photography Gianfranco Maioletti pays homage to our warmly-remembered drive-in viewing experiences of bygone days with a lighting scheme that often plunges the screen into near or total darkness. The large portion of the movie involving underground interiors and nighttime settings encourages the viewer to engage in the same squinty-eyed involvement with the screen that drive-in movie proprietors used to encourage with their unwillingness to properly maintain the projector lamps.

V. Musical Irony. The music score by Elsio Mancuso and Burt Rexon is cruelly ironic in its sophisticated attempt to evoke the Age of Aquarius in an otherwise depressing film of zombie apocalypse. Attacks and carnage are often accompanied by stark, repetitive electronic riffs that call to mind vintage Moog Synthesizer recordings of the late sixties/early seventies: WEE-OOH! WEE-OOH! WEE-OOH!

VI. Selfless Zombie Choreography. We've all suffered through badly-directed crowd scenes of the sort where the extras stand blankly or move together in total unison. A notorious example of this is Phil Karlson's crowd direction for Ben (1972), where onlookers ogling the aftermath of rat attacks are uniformly hypnotized into wide-eyed immobility. In Burial Ground, Bianchi occasionally engages in a knowing send-up of this sort of cinematic unreality. In one scene, for example, a mass of ghouls raise their arms above their heads and beat on the door of a villa with such total uniformity that all twenty or so zombie hands strike the door at the same time. The, unable to break through the door of this concerted effort, the zombies all-together lower their arms, do an about-face, and walk away in perfect formation. The statement being made here is that the only thing worse than a poorly-directed crowd scene is one with zombies. It is self-sacrificing attempt by Bianchi to remind other directors, through the use of a negative example, that they must pay careful attention to their crowd scenes.

VIII. Chaplineqsue Set Pieces. Bianchi's commendable efforts at self-reflexive cinematic engagement notwithstanding, his stand-out specialty is the over-the-top set piece of zombie violence. Like Charlie Chaplin with his comedy set pieces, Bianchi take a basic situation, carries it through its logical conclusion, and then continues to expand on it way past the point of normal expectation. In one example, a maid carrying a candle goes to an open balcony. A zombie in the bushes outside--who happens to be an expert knife-thrower--does his thing and pins her hand to a shutter in semi-crucifixion style. The maid screams orgasmically as the zombies below take a scythe and decapitate her. End of sequence, right? Nope, only the beginning. Now a male character comes across the maid's body and looks it over for a while. He then, for some reason, heaves it over the balcony. Thanks to the skewered hand, the body hangs in mid-air. The hungry zombies grab its legs and wrench it repeatedly.

Finally, in close-up, the hand cuts loose from the knife, and the body falls. The zombies feast on guts. It is well-orchestrated, impressively extended sequence of sadistic, morbid entertainment. Such delirious set pieces are what Burial Ground is ultimately all about.

VIII. Death by Dialogue. Dialogue involving words (as opposed to the film's liberal use of orgasmic moaning and crying) is carefully rationed. This is probably due to two related considerations:

A) the impulse to create "pure cinema" of the zombie porn variety, and

B) the desire to avoid overindulging in too much of a good thing;

Bianchi obviously knows that too much dialogue, no matter how good it is, is death to a zombie action film.

What follows is a representative sampling of the movie movingly realistic dialogue.

1) "I've always been terrified of the dead. I hope we're going to leave them in peace."

2) MARK: "Nothing broken, is there?"

JANET: "It's strange. It's almost as though the ground had disappeared from under my feet, but I don't feel any holes in the turf around here."

3) MARK: "You're turning into a great little model."

JANET: "Then I deserve a raise in pay."

MARK: "You're getting a raise from me all right, but it has nothing to do with money. Huh. Huh."

4) MICHAEL: "Mother, this cloth smells of death."

EVELYN: "Why, it's nothing but an old rag, Michael. You get the strangest ideas in that young head of yours, don't you?"

5) MICHAEL: "Ma Ma, I can't stand it anymore...Oh, Ma Ma! I love you so much. I need to feel you near me. I need to touch you. When I was your baby, you always used to hold me to your breast. I loved your breast so much, Ma Ma."

EVELYN: "Oh yes, darling. Just like when you were a baby. Go ahead, darling. I know you want to. You used to love it so, Michael! AAAAHHH!!"

IX. FAMOUS LAST WORDS. "I've got an idea...we'll let them inside. We can keep out of their reach. They're all so slow!"

      --guest commentary by david walker

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