Thursday, October 24, 2013

Halloween Hootenanny/Italian Horror Blogathon: Late Night Double Feature: The Nights of Terror aka Burial Ground (Andrea Bianchi, 1981) and Dellamorte Dellamore aka Cemetery Man (Michele Soavi, 1994)


For my first contribution to the Italian Horror Blogathon that's starting today over at Hugo Stiglitz Makes Movies, I decided I'd move away from the haunted world of the gothics (though elements will continue to creep into today's titles) to the more modern territory (relatively speaking) that is the Italian zombie movie. And as I was feeling particularly decadent last night, I decided I'd make it a double... 

Burial Ground has, even for a zombie movie, one of the most basic set-ups imaginable (and this isn't a criticism)... a professor (Raimondo Barbieri, credited as Renato Barbieri) pries too far into some Etruscan ruins one night and inevitably unleashes a legion of the living dead... and to make matters worse (or delightfully convenient from the perspective of both audience and said gut-munchers), a group of well-to-do holidaymakers arrives the next day to stay at the very villa this hell has been unleashed upon. 

Soon after checking in, several members of the party indulge in the opportunity for some brief sexy time... and then the shit starts hitting the fan... and continues to rain down upon it for the remainder of the movie... Seriously, this is hands down one of the most no-nonsense, fat-free exploitation movies you could ever hope to find... and again, this is even more so than in the average zombie outing... gorehounds and connoisseurs of sleaze will both have a field day with this one. 

There's loads of delightfully demented moments I could bring up here, but I really don't want to spoil anything for anyone who hasn't seen it.... all I'll say is this, if nothing else, the film is worth checking out alone for the singularly bizarre screen presence of Peter Bark (above... I wouldn't advise staring into his eyes for too long by the way... you might never leave), a dwarf actor (appearing here in his only credited role) who plays a barely pubescent boy with an unhealthy fixation on his own mother (Mariangela Giordano, credited as Maria Angela Giordan), to say the least...

Finally, the make-up artists and musicians who worked on this are both deserving of a quick shout out. Kudos for the former goes to Mauro Gavazzi and Rosario Prestopino, who provide the pantheon of cinema zombies with some of its most memorable and visually striking creations. And supplying some serious synthesiser action and a rather groovy theme tune (which I've playing on my internal jukebox most of the day) are Elsio Mancuso and Berto Pisano. As a slight side note, I forgot to mention that the undead in this movie are smarter than your average zombies (and probably some of the human characters too, come to think of it), utilising tools and even the odd bit of teamwork, making them sort-of cousins to the ones from Lenzi's equally sublime Nightmare City (even if the director insists they're not zombies)... and my God, what a double feature that would make for! 

In summary, if you want a slice of unpretentious, gory, sleazy, fucked up fun for your evening's entertainment, you really can't go wrong with Bianchi's Burial Ground

Moving forward thirteen years, we come to what is generally regarded as the last classic Italian horror film (there have arguably been other great ones since though), and probably Michele Soavi's masterpiece, the superlatively titled Dellamorte Dellamore, which is something of a play on words, but roughly translates as "of death, of love", though there are apparently a few other possible variants on this. 

Featuring almost equal levels of sleaze and gore to Burial Ground, the film is more than a little preoccupied with sex and death (as its title suggests), though this is somewhat stating the obvious, as these are horror films we're talking about here. But unlike that earlier eighties outing, this is far from a routine exploitation romp... in fact, it seems so potentially rich that I won't be able to scrape more than the sheer surface with this quick overview...

Francesco Dellamorte (Rupert Everett, in one of the most unexpected pieces of casting in an Italian genre film, period) is a cemetery caretaker in a small Italian town, assisted by his somewhat mentally deficient colleague Gnaghi (François Hadji-Lazaro)... and frankly, the pair have been doing some serious overtime, due to the fact that Buffalora cemetery is apparently a prime spot for the spawning of zombies, or returners as Francesco calls them. However, there's a brief glimmer of light amongst all this death, as our protagonist meets and falls in love with a recently widowed woman known only as She (Anna Falchi). Perhaps unsurprisingly though, a happy ending is apparently the last thing fate has in store for the couple, and things soon start to go seriously off the rails...

I'd struggle to summarise the film much further beyond that point, as things start to get a little bit crazy, to say the least... and as with Burial Ground, I wouldn't want to run the risk of ruining any of the surprises the movie has in store for the uninitiated. What I probably should say at this point (i.e. before I forget) is that this is one of those films that can't really be properly judged or digested from the first viewing alone. In fact, I'll admit that while I enjoyed it when I initially encountered it, I wasn't crazy about it... and I've gradually warmed to it over time to the point where (especially after last night's revisit) it's now a firm favourite. It's probably still not my favourite of Soavi's movies (that honour currently belongs to The Sect... I still need to see The Church), but I think it's quite possibly his "best" film. It's certainly the most technically audacious and cinematically adventurous Italian genre release I've seen outside of the work of Mario Bava and Dario Argento. For another point of comparison, I'd say that the seemingly boundless energy the makers exhibit and the sheer amount of stylistic fireworks they unleash reminds me of such mad movie geniuses as disparate as Orson Welles (there's a particularly brilliant riff on Citizen Kane here) and Sam Raimi. And among the collected cast and crew, no one drops the ball for even a second. The latter parts of the movie may take a couple of viewings to fully appreciate (or at least that's what I found myself), but generally speaking, if you have even a remote interest in Italian horror and haven't seen this yet, I'd put it right at the top of your list... or if you're a general horror fan who is interested in getting into the world of spaghetti splatter, this is a damn good place to start.... and the same could certainly be said of Burial Ground as well. 

And finally, be sure to keep checking in over at Hugo Stiglitz Makes Movies from now till Halloween for some more Italian horror themed blogging goodness! 

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