‘When the moon turns red the dead shall rise’
The Nights of Terror is a 1981 Italian horror film directed by Andrea Bianchi (Strip Nude for Your Killer; Malabimba; Maniac Killer) from a screenplay written by Piero Regnoli (Nightmare City; Patrick Lives Again; The Playgirls and the Vampire).
The film was produced by Gabriele Crisanti (Satan’s Baby Doll; Patrick Lives Again; Malabimba). The original title is Le notte di terrore and it has also been released as Burial Ground and The Zombie Dead.
A large portion of the film’s limited budget was apparently used on the maggot and worm-ridden, crusty zombies and gore special effects by Gino De Rossi and Rosario Prestopino, despite some of these looking fairly cheap.
The movie stars Karin Well, Gianluigi Chirizzi, Simone Mattioli, Antonella Antinori, Roberto Caporali, Pietro Barzocchini, Claudio Zucchet, Anna Valente, Raimondo Barbieri, Mariangela Giordano (Patrick Still Lives; Giallo a Venezia).
In the US, the film was released on Blu-ray on October 25, 2016, by Severin Films. It has been restored in 2K with a new colour correction from negative elements and includes both the English and Italian audio tracks. The first 3,000 copies include a slipcase featuring new artwork by Wes Benscoter. The special features are:
- Villa Parisi – Legacy of Terror: Featurette on the historic house location
- Peter Still Lives: Festival Q&A with actor Peter Bark
- Just for the Money: Interview with actor Simone Mattioli
- The Smell of Death: Interviews with producer Gabriele Crisanti and actress Mariangela Giordano
- Deleted and extended scenes
- Theatrical trailer
A scientist studying an ancient crypt near a grand mansion accidentally unleashes an evil curse. The curse reanimates the dead buried in the area and the zombies devour the scientist. Three jet-set couples and the creepy, mentally challenged son of one of the women arrive at the mansion at the scientist’s invitation. The guests are quickly attacked by rotting corpses as they begin rising from their graves.
The group of people lock themselves in the mansion and, as night falls, the zombie siege begins. The first victim is Kathryn, the maid (Anna Valente), who is pinned to a window and decapitated with a scythe. The zombies begin to display unusually high levels of intelligence, using tools, axes to chop through doors, etc. One of the guests, George (Roberto Caporali) tries shooting at them with a shotgun but quickly runs out of shells.
Zombies then break into the mansion and attack the guests in the library. One of the guests, the young Michael (Peter Bark) has become traumatized, and his mother Evelyn (Mariangela Giordano) tries comforting him in another room. Michael, however, seems to be becoming physically attracted to his own mother. Evelyn slaps him, and he runs off, screaming “What’s wrong?! I’m your son!” Michael then encounters the now-zombified Leslie, another guest, and stands still and stares at her while she shambles towards him, snarling and covered in blood.
The group then decides to let the zombies inside the house, reasoning that they can distract them while they escape. Evelyn goes off to get Michael but finds he has been killed by Leslie, then has a nervous breakdown.
The remaining survivors escape from the mansion and hide out until morning. They then find a monastery but discover that all of the monks have become zombies. The zombie monks chase the rest of the survivors to a workshop in the middle of the forest, where they encounter the zombified Michael who bites his mother. The last two survivors, Mark (Gianluigi Chirizzi) and Janet (Karin Well) are assaulted and killed by zombies in the workshop; as the scene fades, the zombies put their hands on Janet’s head while she screams in terror.
The misspelt “Profecy of the Black Spider” appears on the screen (“The Earth shall tremble, graves shall open…they shall come among the living as messengers of death, and there shall be the nigths (sic) of terror”)…
The film was released in Italy on 9th July 1981.
During the 1980s, the film was difficult to get a hold of in the UK in its uncut form due to the stricter rules regarding the Video Recordings Act of 1984. It was instead released on video in a heavily censored form under the title Nights of Terror, with a whopping 10 minutes and 6 seconds pre-cut by the distributors and then it was cut 3 minutes and 11 secs by the BBFC!
As of 2004, the film has been available uncut in the UK under the title The Zombie Dead and on March 28, 2016, it was issued on Blu-ray by 88 Films.
Burial Ground is famous for Peter Bark’s classic portrayal of young Michael. Although Bark was in reality an adult dwarf (with an obvious toupee), in the film he plays an adolescent boy. Bark turns in a performance as a young lad that lusts after his mother, both before and after he becomes a zombie. His work is now widely regarded with cult reverence amongst fans of the movie.
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“Directed by Andrea Bianchi with the sort of disinterested efficiency that you’d expect from a jobbing hack (the final screen text referring to the “profecy of the Black Spider” that refers to “the nigths of terror”perhaps indicates the levels of attention being shown all round), everything about Burial Ground suggests that it should be irredeemable rubbish. And that’s very much been the consensus, even amongst fans of Italian schlock. But I’d like to make a case for the defence, if I may. Because you can take this as thoroughly enjoyable trash or you can look for the more interesting aspects of the movie, but either way, it’s actually much more worthwhile than it ought to be.
The film doesn’t dither. Unlike its zombies, it moves at quite a pace and even manages to build a bit of tension here and there. That’s not something I can say of some of the more beloved Italian films of the era.
Of course, I’m not suggesting that this is some forgotten masterpiece. It’s derivative (at least two scenes are direct copies of better sequences from Zombie Flesh Eaters), the characters are entirely ridiculous and prone to spouting utterly awful dialogue (“you look like a whore – but I like that in a girl”) and everyone has to do very stupid things – even by zombie movie standards – to allow these slow-moving – sometimes not moving at all – creatures to catch them.
One character even points out how easy it would be to avoid the zombies, and the film subsequently requires everyone to stand around shouting until they are eaten, rather than simply walk away at a brisk pace. And nothing can ever excuse Peter Bark, even if he is involved in what might be the most outrageous moment in the history of Italian horror cinema. But if you have avoided this movie because of its genre critic rep, I’d suggest giving it a go. It is, at the very least, good fun.”
David Flint, MOVIES and MANIA
” …the entire runtime of Burial Ground is filled with zombies marching, marching, marching and then munching, munching, munching. The repetitiveness becomes hypnotizing – as viewers we’re usually so attuned to the ebb and flow of plot turns and contrivances that we are transfixed by this film’s resistance to structure.” Daily Dead
“Burial Ground starts off with a clip and never slows down … European zombie films must have at least one big gory set-piece that will stamp itself on the mind of the viewer forever. Burial Ground has at least two of these.” DVD Drive-In
“The zombies are without question some of the most bizarre ever seen. They range from the dried up and almost mummified, to almost fresh-looking corpses. Some have one or two perfect eyes set in a completely rotted face (these guys are a hoot) and virtually all of them are covered in loads of maggots and worms. Must have been hell for the unfortunate actors.” Beardy Freak
“The overwhelming dumbness of this film’s characters has played a large part in Burial Ground’s undeserved reputation as a full-blown turkey. A horny couple foolishly stand around looking at a slow-moving zombie heading toward them while yelling impotently “It’s a walking corpse!”.” Eat My Brains!
“As the zombies attack the castle … the story’s political undertone becomes clear enough. This is a revenge of the dead against the living in which the ragged, plebian zombies overthrow the decadent, libertine bourgeoisie. What’s more insistent than the issues of class warfare, however, is the sexual undercurrent …
As events unfold, Bianchi frequently cuts between sexual clinches and scenes of the zombies milling around. As in de Ossorio’s Blind Dead films, there’s no sexual pleasure in this world, chiefly because the interloping zombies always interrupt it.” Sex again becomes a prelude to death.”Jamie Russell, Book of the Dead: The Complete History of Zombie Cinema
“Bianchi’s contribution to the Italian zombie torrent is a high-impact, somber dirge that sustains tension mercilessly and wastes little time on plot and circumstance … The gore is heavy, the violence untamed and frustrations are augmented rather than relieved.” Peter Dendle, The Zombie Movie Encyclopedia
“The violence is more directly sexual, the victims more attractive and the overall effect more pathologically regressive than in Fulci’s picture [Zombie Flesh Eaters].” The Aurum Film Encyclopedia: Horror
“Moments that might have been interesting if they were cut shorter are stretched out to agonizing lengths to pad the running time. There isn’t one iota of suspense or terror, and you won’t care about or like any of the characters … Bianchi even lingers too long on the pathetic zombie makeup – allowing you to get a good look at the rubber, foam and clay.” Glenn Kay, Zombie Movies: The Ultimate Guide
“Carelessly directed by the shameless Bianchi (the actors look more at risk from the wayward camera moving to peculiar angles than from the shuffling, sack-cloth clad Etruscans!), it still carries a truly bizarre atmospheric charge and is far preferable to both Zombie Holocaust and Zombie Creeping Flesh. This can partly be attributed to the mix and match soundtrack that comprises eerie Moog doodling and snatches of Pisano’s score for Sfida al Diavolo/Katarsis (1963), but is also due to the unsettling sense of claustrophobia that Bianchi’s clumsy framing imposes on the non-action.” Mark Ashworth, Delirium fanzine
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James: “You can get a raise from me alright but it has nothing to do with money!”
Villa Parisi, Frascati, Italy [also the location for Blood for Dracula; Patrick Lives Again]