Strange cinema

Completely unclassifiable cinema, bizarre films from the fringes

Burial Ground

burial-groundTitle multiplicity is in full effect here: the wackier the movie, the more likely a title mouthful. Burial Ground is known by its original handle, Le Notti del terrore, Nights of Terror, but also Zombi Horror and The Zombie Dead. (That last one seems a bit redundant unless you’re splitting definitional hairs; Zombies could be considered “undead.”)

In Peter Normanton’s The Mammoth Book of Slasher Movies, the author claims it’s “one of the many films released as Zombi 3.”

Whichever way you slice it this 1981 Italian horror, like others of its ilk, leans heavily on mysticism and the lingering curse of long-dead cultures.

Directed by Andrea Bianchi, best known for 1975’s Nude per l’assassino aka Strip Nude for Your Killer (again, it’s kinda implied that if you strip, it’s in order to be nude) in terms of plotting, Burial Ground makes Demons look like Chinatown.

Still, there’s enough ineffable Italian weirdness to carry the day.

Here, an anthropology professor – fertile employment ground when it comes to horror films, if not in real life – conjures up some ancient Etruscan curse at a Roman estate and pays the price.

Through some mechanism conveniently omitted, three couples are invited to the villa and are set upon by the maggot-riddled shuffling undead, one of whom looks like the restless spirit of the Abominable Dr. Phibes.

burial_ground_movieBut it’s the wackadoodle oedipal text/subtext of Burial Ground that’s made the film so memorable to horror fans. You see, one of the women (played by Mariangela Giordano) has a “teenage” son, Michael, played by little person (!) actor Peter Bark/Pietro Barzocchini.

And, to paraphrase The Bard, what a piece of work is this man! He gropes/fondles his way through the movie (“mama, mama!”) and gazes gazely forlorn stares…

It’s Michael who takes an otherwise tawdry Night of the Living Dead clone and elevates it to legend status.

“The earth shall tremble, graves shall open!”

***1/2 (out of 5)

[CHECK OUT OUR BURIAL GROUND PODCAST DISCUSSION!]

Dead Ringers

dead_ringersLong before the Winklevoss twins unfriended Mark Zuckerberg, David Cronenberg introduced us to these scheming monozygotes —  the gynegologist duo Bev/Elliot in Dead Ringers.

We’re all fascinated by twins, whether it’s the charming movie of the same name with Messrs De Vito and Schwarzenegger or the ditsy Vegas girls from The Bachelor.

According to a study in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, in 2006, the rate of twin pregnancies in the United States was 32 per 1000 births. It’s rare and it’s genetic, but it’s their use in nature/nurture studies that probably piqued Cronenberg’s interest, what with his background in the biological sciences.

Like Cronenberg’s early horrors, Dead Ringers is a mutant movie, in this case, “mutant women” treated by a team of twin brother gynecologists, the Doctors Mantle, who operate out of a high-tech Toronto clinic where their surgical team dress like Spanish Inquisitors in showy red robes.

And only someone like David Cronenberg could explore the dark side of the twin phenomenon and make it great fiction fodder, teasing apart the subtle behavioral differences between the doctor twosome, Bev and Elliot, who share 100% of their DNA. (It’s a tour-de-force performance by the icy Jeremy Irons, whose name humbled would-be anagram-ist Lisa Simpson, not to mention a great technical cinematic achievement by Cronenberg “separating” the two Irons, as it were.)

One the docs has designed a solid gold “retractor”: a creepy instrument that he wants to take from the coroner’s table to the gynecologist’s chair.

And they date the same women surreptitiously (obviously the most fun you can have as a twin) while abusing drugs and alcohol.

dead-ringers-movieOne of these women, Claire Niveau, is a small time TV actress (played terrifically by Geneviève Bujold), a “mutant” possessed of a “trifurcated cervix,” most likely making her infertile.

Elliot, much like he does with his other patients, attempts to seduce her, then passes her off to his meeker brother.

As Elliot’s drug abuse begins to take more of a toll, he commissions a local artist to cast experimental gynecological implements out of metal, and that’s where Cronenberg really turns his horror obsessions inward.

Roger Ebert back-hand complimented Dead Ringers as “a collaboration between med school and a supermarket tabloid.”

And it’s as clinical as Cronenberg’s ever been, but given the circumstances, with good reason.

***1/2 (out of 5)

[CHECK OUT OUR PODCAST OF CRONENBERG’S THE FLY]