Sex, Death and Oblivion in Andrea Bianchi’s ‘Burial Ground’

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This article was originally featured in issue 2 and written by frequent contributor Liam Thompson, pick up a copy here.

Andrea Bianchi’s Burial Ground: The Nights of Terror is a prime example of what is possibly Italy’s finest cinematic export: zombie exploitation. Like many other movies of its era, it is crude, sleazy, and not particularly well-made. What is interesting about it is the parallel this film draws between the act of copulation and humanity’s ultimate act – death.

The plot of the movie is standard fare – an archaeologist uncovers ancient Etruscan texts which purport to hold the power of restoring the dead back to life. He proceeds to recite the spell in question and unleash a tide of undead monks[1] upon a nearby country palazzo and its unsuspecting inhabitants. These inhabitants are a collection of young and libidinous couples who seem to be deeply motivated to have sex with one another all of the time. Every time each couple starts fucking however, the zombies move in to attack them. Over a soundtrack of wailing and warbling synthesisers these ghouls proceed to very slowly move in on the couples and tear them to pieces – stomachs are ripped open and shining crimson intestines are wrenched from the cavities. The victims also fight back: bludgeoning the naff-looking zombies with boulders and blowing their heads off with a hunting rifle. These are the cheapest, basest thrills we can experience – ones that have been exciting us since the beginning of history: sex and death.

A feature of this movie that transfixed me was the character of the young boy, Michael. This ten year-old is played by a 26-year old actor due to the content of some of the scenes he was involved in. There is something genuinely haunting and creepy about this character, and in a way he makes the film weirdly unforgettable. Michael, being comforted by his mother following a zombie attack, requests in one scene to feed at her breast like he did as a baby. She reproaches him and refuses. Later on, when Michael himself has been bitten and joined the ranks of the undead, he reveals himself to his mother. She doesn’t notice that he has changed and embraces him; exultant over the survival of her child. She then offers him her breast to suck upon like he did as a baby. In a truly revulsion-inspiring moment, he bites her breast off and proceeds to chomp on its flesh. Her reaction is to cry out in pain – but in a way that sounds almost fraught with sexual pleasure.

An aesthetisation of violence commingled with sex has been present in human culture for a very long time, and Burial Ground struck me as a good example of this due to how very literally it links the two. It can be seen in relatively mainstream movies like say, Blue Velvet or A Clockwork Orange, and can also be found in some of the finest of the low, dirty exploitation flicks of the 70s like She Killed in Ecstasy and The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh. Why does this continue to pervade the art – and entertainment – we make? Why is death the most powerful aphrodisiac in the world? Buried in some of the most ancient structures of our brain – the limbic system – are our capacities for fear, aggression, and lust. Those most primal of emotions have always proven most critical for human survival, and therefore it is no surprise that these feelings provoke the most profound excitement in us.

Perhaps more salient to this idea still is the concept of oblivion. La petit mort, the orgasm, represents the closest we can get to a death-state without our hearts stopping. A moment of utter nothingness, a blank, is what these trudging zombies are really the harbingers of. Is the pursuit of orgasm actually a desire for negation? A means of proclaiming the existential “No!” to the void? In movies full of gore, lust, and zombies we are both attracted and repelled. We pendulate between the nothingness of climax and the nothingness of death.

During the Big Bang, the instant the universe was created and the beginning and end of all life, all of creation was in a state of chaotic flux. Sex, death and everything in between were combined in a unitary state of oblivion. Following this moment, everything changed, and these states were separated. Perhaps we’ve been trying to unify them ever since.

Liam Thompson 

[1] See Amando de Ossorio’s brilliant Tombs of the Blind Dead for a more visceral take on the “medieval zombie” idea.

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