The Zombie Dead (1981)
"They craved flesh with a hunger!"
A professor conducting research into an ancient burial site unwittingly unseals an underground crypt and unleashes an army of flesh-eating monsters. They immediately head for his mansion nearby which is hosting a party. Following a terrifying encounter in the grounds of the mansion, the guests seal themselves inside as the undead gather outside.
The good old Italian zombie genre produces one of it's most infamous offerings with The Zombie Dead, perhaps the sleaziest of the Italian zombie gore fests. Following the success of George A. Romero's Dawn of the Dead, a whole slew of Italian zombie flicks were churned out and no one did cheap exploitation rip-offs like the Italians. Pushing the boundaries of graphic horror further than their American counterparts would ever dream, the Italian zombie films mostly consisted of little plot, little in the way of characterisation, bad dubbing and generally poor production values. But they contained a tremendously mean spirit and sense of brutality that would see them turned into iconic and controversial films, most notably during the 'Video Nasty' furore in the UK during the 80s. It's generally hard to tell each of the films apart as they all plagiarise each other but the occasional one did manage to stand out. Say hello to one of the most notorious of the lot: The Zombie Dead. Though its original title, Burial Ground: The Nights of Terror, is the one it is more commonly known as, I try to review the version and title that I watch films under. The Zombie Dead is a more lurid title, though doesn't make a lot of sense given that zombies are, well, dead.
As with Zombie Flesh Eaters 2, Zombie Holocaust, et al, the film makes little attempt at creating a plausible story. The professor unlocks the crypt and unleashes zombies right in the opening scene. End of. We don't learn of how the professor raises the dead or why they have come back to life. They just appear and kill him off. From there the script introduces us to the various human characters who will eventually turn into zombie chow by the end of the film. Why are all of these people gathering at the professor's mansion too? All they do is have sex with each other - I actually think it was some sort of wife-swapping weekend. Whilst this does deliver the T&A pretty early on (and most of the women are really attractive too), it means that you'll be waiting a while to see the living dead once. The naughty antics and debauchery of the characters is most welcome though and adds a nice sleazy element to the film. The characters are all thinly sketched and apart from one or two of the more infamous characters (more on that later), I have no idea who was who. Names meant nothing to me here. You won't care about any of the characters because not enough time is spent with them. Andrea Bianchi knows what his audience expects and soon delivers our wishes in buckets when the zombies make their presence known to the characters.
The zombies are suitably rotting and maggot-infested although the make-up department went a little overboard with the oatmeal faces. They're some of the most realistic-looking Italian zombies and most look like they've been decomposing in the ground for a long, long time. Effects man Georgio De Rossi worked on Fulci's zombie opus Zombie Flesh Eaters and you can see the similarities with the zombie designs. Compared to the pale-faced zombies of George A. Romero, the Italians get higher marks for believability. These zombies are slow and shuffling but also reasonably intelligent, not afraid to pick up weapons to attack their victims or band together to smash down a door with a battering ram. In fact the zombies are cleverer than the cast as is proven when they have the bright idea of opening the doors to let the zombies in since they can be outrun. Look where it gets them.
When the deaths begin to roll, they're pretty graphic. Fulci's trademark close-up of someone's eye being impaled on a sharp object is copied here to the same gruesome effects. Let's just say that the zombies are well fed. Its rudimentary carnage though as the film simply drifts from one set piece to the next, with no story to hold it all together. But what set pieces they are! The two standouts are the decapitation of the maid which proves that zombies should work together more often and the most-talked about scene of the film during the finale (more on that in a moment). Gore fanatics will have a field day once the zombies start whittling down the cast and there is no denying that the walking dead have an unnerving presence here, not quite in-your-face but The Zombie Dead sports an consistent ominous tone throughout - you know that no one is getting out of here alive.
The Zombie Dead is perhaps most infamous for one as one of it's implied subplots is based around a mother and her incestuous, extremely freaky looking thirteen year old son. I mean this kid looks like a middle-aged man in a tiny body - he really does give you the shivers before he even opens his mouth. Peter Bark, the actor, actually a 25-year old adult dwarf, was cast so that the scene where he gropes his mum wasn't as shocking (imagine having a child do that for real and you can see why they opted for Bark). Still, the scene is disturbing enough at the suggestions being made and this bizarre man-come-boy actor certainly doesn't do it any favours. But the real kicker is in the finale where the now zombie-boy seeks to get his mother's affection for one last time. Obvious prosthetic chest aside, it's the highlight of the film. This finale leads into an ending which is just as shocking and abrupt. Take a note Hollywood, not all films are meant to end in sugar-coated packages where everything is resolved.
The Zombie Dead is one of the greatest of the Italian zombie films and deservedly a cult horror flick. With no plot and weakly-sketched characters, the film more than makes up for it with its excellent make-up effects, controversial moments and a general sense of impending doom. Even if you don't want to sit through the film, just have a long stare at Michael's picture above - I swear he'll give you nightmares like never before.
The Zombie Dead
Also Known As: Burial Ground: The Nights of Terror
Director(s): Andrea Bianchi
Writer(s): Piero Regnoli(screenplay)
Actor(s): Karin Well, Gianluigi Chirizzi, Simone Mattioli, Antonella Antinori, Roberto Caporali, Peter Bark
Duration: 85 mins