BURIAL GROUND (1981) Blu-ray
Director: Andrea Bianchi
Severin Films

"The Nights of Terror" are here as "profecized" by the Black Spider on Severin Film's Blu-ray of absurd Italian zombie classic BURIAL GROUND.

A trio of jet setting couples – doctor George (Roberto Caporali, AND THE SHIP SAILS ON), his wife Evelyn (Mariangela Giordano, GORE IN VENICE), and sullen stepson Michael (Peter Bark), photographer Mark (Gianluigi Chirizzi, TERROR EXPRESS) and model Janet (Karin Well, CONVENT OF SINNERS), along with James (Simone Mattioli, THE OTHER HELL) and Leslie (Antonella Antinori, PLAY MOTEL) – retreat to George's fifteenth century Frascati villa for a weekend of relaxation and debauchery. Little do they know that George's other guest, a professor of archaeology (Raimondo Barbieri), has been doing some excavating and unleashed a horde of Etruscan zombies who spill out a nearby tomb, from inches beneath the villa's sprawling lawns, and out of nearby flowerbeds. The survivors of the initial attack barricade themselves inside the villa with ill-fated servants Kathryn (Anna Valente) and Nicholas (Claudio Zucchet, STAR ODYSSEY), but the zombies can climb, use tools, possess a dead aim, and are quite the masters or disguise, making for a memorably messy night of terror.

Mounted in the wake of Lucio Fulci's ZOMBI 2 – a gore-drenched unofficial sequel to George A. Romero's DAWN OF THE DEAD which was released in Italy as ZOMBI – Andrea Bianchi's BURIAL GROUND (export title: THE NIGHTS OF TERROR) has its fair share of post-Fulci clay pot zombies and over-the-top gut-yanking courtesy of Rosario Prestopino (DEMONS) but is in some ways more of a take on the Italian gothic spiced up with sex and gore. Screenwriter Piero Regnoli had gone from scripting Riccardo Freda's I VAMPIRI to lower-tier gothics like THE PLAYGIRLS AND THE VAMPIRE and the underrated THE THIRD EYE (a modern-day response to Freda's HORRIBLE DR. HICHCOCK starring Franco Nero) during the genre's 1960s heyday. Indeed, BURIAL GROUND was part of a quartet of sexy, gory 1980s gothic retreads that also included Bianchi's MALABIMBA, Mario Bianchi's SATAN'S BABY DOLL, and Mario Landi's PATRICK STILL LIVES (a ripoff of the Australian Richard Franklin thriller with an emphasis on telekinetic groping). The recycling of jazzy cues by Berto Pisano from his first scoring assignment KATARSIS – interspersed with more modern synth noodlings by Elsio Mancuso (MALABIMBA) – does add a rather shopworn feel to the setup that is queasily countered by Michael's incestuous pining for his mother, some hairy and sweaty bedroom romps, and gore set-pieces that are not as technically proficient as those of Fulci's films but no less unpleasant. The zombie make-ups and masks are alternately laughable and unsettling, particularly in the case of the latter those that completely obliterate any sense they were once normal-looking human beings.

Released theatrically by Film Concept Group – a short-lived Motion Picture Marketing offshoot that also released Bruno Mattei's THE OTHER HELL as GUARDIAN OF HELL and Paul Naschy's NIGHTS OF THE WEREWOLF as THE CRAVING – BURIAL GROUND went to VHS from Vestron in two versions (cut and uncut) in darkish transfers. Shriek Show's 2002 anamorphic 1.85:1 DVD was brighter but also hazier with the usual faults one associates with Italian digital transfers of that period. Their 2011 Blu-ray was a new transfer that was a mess of other faults, including more prominent scanner noise and missing frames. 88 Films in the UK released a Blu-ray earlier this year that was a composite of more than one scan from Italian 16mm negative and 35mm blow-up elements and also included a 35mm transfer of an American BURIAL GROUND print that was faded, dark, with blown-out highlights but was still watchable as a "Grindhouse" transfer. Extras included a commentary by zombie expert John Martin, a featurette on director Bianchi, deleted scenes without sound, and the trailer. Severin Films' new 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC widescreen Blu-ray is derived from its own 2K scan (framed at 1.66:1 rather than the 1.85:1 mentioned on the back cover). Gone is the scanner noise (which often exacerbated the already present film grain in slow motion shots), the greenish tinge, while blacks are deeper, reds are redder, day-for-night shots are mostly well-judged (the opening shots exterior shots seem set just before dawn), the coarse weaves of the zombie's "painter smock" clothing stands out as much as the hair stamped into the zombie masks and rustic park greenery, and the zombie make-up and mask close-ups have a certain bluish hue to them that is evident without being overpowering. Audio options include a clean English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono mix and an Italian Dolby Digital 2.0 mono mix with optional English subtitles (after a zombie is decapitated, young Michael says "How disgusting" on the Italian track rather than just gasping).

Extras start off with "Villa Parisi: Legacy of Terror" (15:47), in which film historian Fabio Melelli revisits the Frascati location as it is today immaculately restored and traces the villa's use in films from THE THIRD EYE and NIGHTMARE CASTLE through BLOOD FOR DRACULA, BURIAL GROUND and PATRICK STILL LIVES with clips illustrating the use of various rooms and locations on the grounds (sometimes giving us a better view of the villa's décor than the films themselves). He also points out that Bianchi had become known in the 1980s for cheap films but had also produced some quality product earlier like the ultra-violent and grueling Henry Silva crime film CRY OF THE PROSTITUTE. He does reveal that chief make-up artist Mauro Gavazzi (THE DAMNED) made the headlines the same year for stabbing a stranger. "Peter Still Lives" (7:35) is a 2013 Villa Borghese screening Q&A with fifty-four year old Bark. The audience is raucous and generally asks questions about the nipple-biting scene while the two moderators touch upon Bark's ARRIVANO I GATTI as a literal "undersecretary" working underneath a desk and his other works (with clips from a TV disco show). Bark mentions at the time that he was working on an autobiography that is presumably out now. In "Just for the Money" (8:57), actor Mattioli reveals that he took the job just for the money after finishing a winter tour with his theater company. He had fun with Bark on set but recalls little about the shooting experience (other than confusing Prestopino for Gavazzi when mentioning the newspaper article on the stabbing).

"The Smell of Death" (9:20) interview with producer Gabriele Cristiani and actress Mariangela Giordano is ported over from the Shriek Show release with new clips. The two in separate interviews cover much of the same ground: working with Bark, the special effects mishaps, the Frascati location, and sex and horror as a winning formula. Also included is a deleted/extended scenes/shots (10:24) reel without audio but scored with music and effects from the film's audio. Extensions include introductory scenes in each of the automobiles that would have interrupted the credits, some additional angles during the sex scenes, and a few extra frames here and there of the gore and pyrotechnic head shots (presumably removed for greater impact). The film's export theatrical trailer (3:30) is also included in standard definition. The cover is reversible and the first 3000 copies of the Blu-ray come with an exclusive slipcover (the artwork of which is on neither side of the cover but is the artwork for the DVD edition). (Eric Cotenas)