Forgotten Gems: The Zombie Dead

The Zombie Dead (1981)
Aka Burial Ground: The Nights of Terrorl Le notti del terrore
Director: Andrea Bianchi

The revolution is coming, armed with pitchforks and teeming with maggots, there is no escape from the influence of other films in this definitive genre movie.

Zombie Dead coverReleased under several titles and allegedly shot in only four-weeks, this film is a true forgotten gem of the 80s Italian zombie cycle, directed by Andrea Bianchi (who also directed the fantastic giallo ‘Strip Nude for your Killer’) and written by Piero Regnoli (whose credits also include the fantastic Nightmare City), they treat us to arguably the definitive Italian zombie film, combining atmosphere, violence and the obligatory ripped off scenes.

Plot wise the film opens with a professor discovering the location of a secret crypt in an ancient stone where he unwittingly unleashes a horde of zombies who proceed to seek out and feast on the living.  Fading to the opening credits we are then treated to an delightful jazz score at odds with what we have just seen but perfectly setting the scene for the sporadic inconsistency that we are about to witness.

Bloody Monks

Bloody Monks!

As three couples and one “child” (I use that term lightly) arrive at the Professors mansion to hear about his latest discoveries, they are more interested in their own lust than worrying about where their host could be, and in true Italian exploitative style we are treated to some flesh in the first ten minutes, but thankfully this film does not go down the terrible soft-core route and before you can say basta the zombies are besieging the grounds. Here we encounter our first issue, while the professor unleashed some zombies trapped in an ancient tomb, others appear to rise out of the ground, with the exact reasoning of why or how completely ignored.

As the zombies rise and launch their attack, the film takes on briefly what one could possibly describe as a hammer horror vibe, with this feeling enhanced by the choice of music and even the cinematography. Considering the setting this suits the feel of the movie but in true splatter style the Italians ramp everything up a notch from that of the famed British studio. It is also worth noting that throughout the film you will sense the vibe of many other European films (ZFE and Tombs of the Blind Dead to name but two).

Bloody bathroom

The maid has a lot of cleaning to do this evening.

Trapped inside the mansion, our ‘heroes’ should be safe, but they fucked with the wrong zombies, capable of not just picking up and swinging tools, these peasants are able to organise collaborative efforts (using a battering ram) and the effective use of weapons (slowly scything off a maids head) but you know what, in this film it doesn’t come across as ridiculous at all, but rather showcases the proletariat rising up against the exploitative and decadent bourgeoisie as they storm and take back the mansion. This interpretation is not one that is really explored in the film, nor in many critiques of it and as such it is hard to distinguish if this really was an underlying thought and aim of the writer or if it was coincidental and any attempts to rationalise and theorise it through a social commentary perspective is futile.

One of the things that does go a significant way to making this an enjoyable film is the gruesome zombie make-up. Similar in style to that of the clay ‘flower-pot’ zombies of Fulci’s films, which isn’t surprising considering it is legendary Fx artist Gino De Rossi, the undead in this film take slimy and maggot-encrusted to the next level and are possibly one of the most repulsive seen in the genre.Living Dead

Building on this, the film really goes up a notch with the over-the-top head explosions which really do appear to be an explosive squib on a dummy head full of goo, and rival even that of the unforgettable scene in Romero’s Dawn of the Dead.

Peter Bark

Creepy Peter Bark, no way is he a kid.

Also, neither good nor bad but simply hilarious is the choice to cast a blatantly mid-20s actor (Peter Bark) as a supposed Oedipal pre-teen which simply adds an even more creepy edge to an already perverse character dynamic. Looking as strange as Bob in House by the Cemetery sounds, Bark and Bianchi play this role straight, I guess hoping that no-one would notice. I would be more worried about the audience if they didn’t.

Despite being riddled with continuity errors, mistakes and more (bad audio syncing, acting and illogical character decisions) this is still a fun, underrated film which is much better than it deserves to be and perfectly captures the spirit of the Italian splatter zombie cycle. Featuring several unintentionally hilarious moments, graphic gore and a little flesh this movie has to be recommended for fans of the genre and in particular fans of Fulci’s zombie will get a kick out of this forgotten gem.

Interestingly little fact about the film, one of the shots of a zombie on fire, was actually a real incident on set as opposed to a stunt, seizing his good fortune Bianchi ordered the camera’s to film and later used this unfortunate accident in the film, with the beautiful actress Mariangela Giordano later going on record to state that she heard the ‘zombie’ screaming in fear.

Oh and check out the trailer, how a film can get a full release with two spelling mistakes on the screen I will never know, but then again I am not Italian, and it somehow only adds to the charm.


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