Saturday, 27 February 2016

Burial Ground

The movie itself you're either going to have a great time with or loathe - Burial Ground (or Nights of Terror, or Zombie 3, etc., 1981) exists in its own microcosm and creates its own rules, despite being triggered by the whole zombie craze that was given birth by Dawn of the Dead towards the end of the seventies, especially in Italy where this oddity was born.  A group of weirdos head out to a mansion for weekend activities, a place where the owner has been toying with supernatural forces resulting in the rather large number of rotting corpses buried on the grounds returning to life before the opening credits have even got under way.   Before anybody even has chance to become impregnated (seeing as most of the characters get down to making out at the first opportunity upon arrival) the onslaught begins and these ugly mothers (the corpses that is) are tearing just about anybody to shreds who lingers in their path for more than a minute or so (which the denizens of this world frequently do).  Thus the rest of the film is a desperate bid to survive and escape for the gradually decreasing number of survivors.  What makes this film quite amazing is the sheer insanity of some of the goings-on - lightbulbs explode for no reason, bear traps seem to have been laid on the grounds for no apparent reason, the dialogue is priceless (child to mother: "mamma, this cloth smells of death"), and there's the boy, Michael, who looks like a forty year old man, and sounds like a forty year old man trying to be a boy - this chap has to be seen to be believed, and particularly notable for his jealousy towards anyone offering his mother any attention (i.e. new and unwanted step dad).  This jealousy leads to a rather bizarre incestuous encounter that ends with his mom slapping Michael and him running off upset crying, "but mamma, I'm your son!"...  It's hilarious like few American comedies can match.  The monsters are UGLY, and these things have real maggots crawling over their heads.  They're burned, shot, stabbed, but there is no end to their destruction.  They even don tools to break into the house for their victims - smart creatures despite probably being in possession of half rotted brains.  The electronic music really boosts the appeal too - it's in turns zany and melancholic.  This world may be funny at first, but it only leads along a path of gore and hell to utter doom.  Love it!
Having seen this a few times on VHS tape and a few more times on DVD, I was interested to witness how its Blu-ray incarnation turned out.  Upon originally picking up the Shriek Show Blu the first thing I did was flip out the older DVD from the same company (Shriek Show was the horror-devoted banner of Media Blasters) to compare shot-to-shot.  Initially the SS Blu-ray looked a little messy to be honest but comparison with the DVD revealed a better composition first and foremost - previously closer to 1.78:1 it was now framed at 1.66:1.  This is likely to be the accurate ratio as many Euro films were shot/screened in this manner around the period and before.  The DVD was interlaced whereas the Blu-ray was progressive (at 24fps), reducing jagged edges.  Detail and contrast was improved by a small amount in the Blu-ray though grain consequently also increased, quite a bit.  The main problem with the visuals was an ever-present turmoil of chromatic noise, not reflective of how you would expect natural film grain to appear.  Of note on the audio side was the fact that the sound (DTS-HD stereo) was a little fuller on the Blu-ray disc, the DVD sounding a tad tinny after going back.  So whilst it didn't look great, direct checks between the SS DVD and Blu discs revealed improvements, modest though they may have been.  The DVD was rendered almost unwatchable after sitting through the original HD version (though see the point about the running time below).

Media Blasters (i.e. Shriek Show) also exhumed from somewhere a number of outtakes that I'm surprised even exist!  For someone who's seen the movie around fifteen times this is quite fascinating material, depicting various further interactions between the characters and even a bit more undead mayhem.  This piece runs nearly ten minutes albeit without looped dialogue or sound effects - instead it simply plays against the movie's music track.  Given that it's in good condition (in HD too) it's a shame the footage is missing its intended audio because some of this would have slotted nicely back into the main feature for an 'extended' version.  My favourite segment is with Michael sitting in the back seat of the car that his mother is driving to the mansion, and clearly pi**ed that she and his new stepdad are having a nice time chatting.  There's also an interview section with actress Mariangela Giordano and producer Gabriele Cristani - pity nothing with director Andrea Bianchi could be found (the same man who bestowed Strip Nude For Your Killer upon the world), but nice to have anyway.  A trailer and gallery padded out the SS Blu further.  These and the interviews were present on the old US DVD but the outtakes had never been seen before.  Priceless stuff.

It may have taken some flak for a grainy presentation - this is not entirely unwarranted as the grain looked unnatural/digital as aforementioned, but a direct look at the same footage on the DVD shows that the SS Blu-ray was a small-to-medium step up in almost every respect.  HOWEVER, somehow Shriek Show inexplicably used a shorter cut for this presentation - about 1 minute 45 seconds shorter to be more precise.  Oddly it was not a clear cut case of scenes being simply excised, in fact there was some footage in the newer SS version that's not in the previous versions.  It looked like a lot of the missing footage was down to frame removals at the edge of shots as well as a few seconds of stuff here and there.  This version is a curiosity to say the least.

2016: After a long wait UK-based 88 Films put out another Blu after managing to locate some decent elements for a new scan, partly funded through the Indiegogo campaign that was initially there to restore Zombi Holocaust.  The new Blu is framed again at 1.66:1, but now presents for the first time (to my knowledge) an option to view the film in Italian with English subtitles - don't worry though, the famed English dub is still there for one to enjoy.  Extras are improved, the disc containing an audio commentary, a half hour documentary about the mysterious Bianchi, the same deleted scenes mentioned above, and a couple of trailers.  The package is really neat, giving you the option of two covers (i.e. a reversible sleeve), and having a booklet plus artcard inside.  If you contributed to the restoration through Indiegogo you also get an extremely limited slipcase, something that I will never let go of.  The disc itself is the same either way.

The audio quality has reached its limit as far as I'm concerned, considering its source, and sounds comparable to the Shriek Show Blu - both a little beefier than the film's former incarnations on DVD and VHS.  The Italian track is an intriguing curiosity, though I think it would be difficult to pry me away from that wonderful English dub.

88 have thoughtfully provided two versions of the film to watch:  an HD scan of the original 16mm negative (done in Italy) with audio transferred at 24 bit, and also a 'grindhouse' version, which is essentially a battered old 35mm projection print.  Good news with the running time in the case of this Blu-ray: the 16mm version runs at what I believe is the most uncut version we know and love: 85m 11s.  The grindhouse print is slightly shorter at 84m 21m.  As way of comparison, the SS Blu ran 83m 24s.  I'm also pleased to say that the OCN version in particular looks excellent, with a more natural representation of grain (rather than the chromatic noise of the SS disc), and noticeably improved levels of detail (bear in mind the 16mm source, however).  I can't imagine it ever looking better in all honesty.  The grindhouse version is very rough with a crackling soundtrack - a nice bonus but it won't be my preferred means of viewing the movie considering the option is here to view the much superior scan of the OCN.  Well done, 88 Films.

The likes of this film will never be made again and for some of us who have 'acquired' the taste (and a very strange taste it is, admittedly), Burial Ground is an awesome experience.  The new 88 Films Blu-ray is now the definitive edition.

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