Burial Ground
(1981), directed by Andrea Bianchi

This Italian zombie offering from sleazemeister Andrea Bianchi came during the heyday of the movement -- a time when Italy was fixated on aping the success of George Romero's Dawn of the Dead. The beauty of the Italian pastiches, though, is that they often take an idea -- like zombies -- and then do totally crazy twists on them. Burial Ground is no exception -- an odd mixture of gore and sex that has to be seen to be truly appreciated.

The story in this one is almost an afterthought -- a group of horny Italians (including Mariangela Giordano) head off to an isolated estate for a vacation. Between bouts of sex between the living folk ("You look just like a little whore, but I like that in a girl."), nearby zombies rise from their grave and begin an all-out assault on the villa. Why are zombies attacking this place? What brought them back from the dead? Bianchi is not too concerned with telling us. It doesn't matter anyway, because the real reason everyone loves Burial Ground can be summed up in two words: Peter Bark.

Bark, a man in a boy's body, looks like a mini-me version of Dario Argento. He didn't do many films in his career, but it's safe to say that his turn as Michael is the most memorable of the bunch. Michael is the son of Mariangela Giordano's character -- and he's definitely hot for mamma. I don't mean in the casting furtive glances or spying on her having sex kind of way (both of which he does) -- but in a much more obvious manner. In one of the film's unforgettable moments, Michael puts the moves on his mother -- literally feeling her up and making out with her. Only a premature move toward third base keeps Bark from rounding the bases and sliding into home. Incest is creepy enough, but add in Bark's odd looks, his goofy girl jeans complete with skinny white belt, and his hilariously dubbed voice, and this sequence becomes legendary. Bark's final scene is no less bizarre -- leading me to wonder why this guy didn't get more work? I think a Peter Bark comeback could be in order ...

After the jump, getting Stagefright will tear you to Pieces.
Stagefright directed by Michele Soavi

In a perfect world, the name Michele Soavi would be as recognized as Fulci and Argento. The one-time heir apparent to the Italian horror throne made his directorial debut (after learning his craft under the tutelage of Dario Argento) with the 1987 slasher film Stagefright.

Produced by Joe D'Amato and written by George Eastman (one of the many pseudonyms of Luigi Montefiori), this tale of a group of stage performers trapped inside a locked theater with a madman seems like your standard slasher fare. However, under the watchful guidance of Soavi, Stagefright transcends its humble origins and becomes one of best slasher flicks to emerge from Italy -- or anywhere else in the world, for that matter. Soavi's keen eye for visuals makes up for the relatively predictable storyline -- a narrative that doesn't even bother trying to mask the identity of the killer -- and keeps things engaging even in the film's quieter moments. The decision to have the murderer run around in a gigantic owl mask is good, creating a genuinely creepy looking villain.

The cast is a lot of fun in this one, particularly David Brandon as the jerky director of the stage show being rehearsed. John Morghen turns up too -- but in a disappointing change of pace, his death scene is pretty ho-hum. Add in a great score featuring tracks from Simon Boswell, and it becomes easy to see why slasher fans love Stagefright as much as they do.

Pieces directed by Juan Piquer Simón

Juan Piquer Simón's 1981 slasher flick Pieces is nowhere near as good as Stagefright, but it is so campy and gory that it's earned a place in horror movie history. With a tagline like "It's exactly what you think it is!" beneath a photo of a chainsaw and a woman's corpse, it's hard not to love Pieces in spite of some hilariously awful dialogue, boring stretches, and the appearance of the infamous "kung fu professor."

A chainsaw-wielding madman is cutting a bloody path through an unnamed college and it's up to Lieutenant Bracken (a relative of our own Mike Bracken?), a goofy college student, a professional tennis player/undercover cop and Bracken's stodgy partner to crack the case. Real life husband and wife Christopher George and Linda Day George lead the cast (including Edmund Purdom!), but it's the gruesome murders and hysterical dialogue that really make this film a cult classic.

The special effects are all over the map in this one -- some scenes of chainsaw dismemberment are total gross out, while others are horribly fake. It meshes perfectly with the odd, almost disjointed tone of the film as a whole. I'd point out all the strange things that happen in Pieces, but that would be robbing you of the joy of discovering them for yourself.