HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY
EC's review of the 2000 Diamond edition
after all these years I'm still trying to fathom just why
Italian director Lucio Fulci has garnered such an unapologetically
devoted following. He made a few topnotch giallo thrillers
in the 1970s, and his best-known film, 1979's Zombie,
remains a minor classic of that particular horror subgenre, warts
and all. But his early '80s output the splatterific gore films
his diehard fans seem to particularly adore have always left
me cold at best, and more often disappointed. Instead of 'classic'
I see them as nonsensical, disjointed and (sometimes) sloppy.
Zombie aside, it seems that the Fulci
was simply incapable of making a first-class monster movie.
A shame, too, because The House By the Cemetery
has all the necessary ingredients.
York-based psychiatric researcher Dr. Norman Boyle (Paolo Malco)
has been assigned to follow up on the work of one Dr. Peterson,
a colleague who took a sabbatical to the small town of New Whitby,
Massachusetts to study the history of suicides in the area. In
the midst of his research Peterson wigged out and slaughtered
his mistress Sheila (Daniela Doria, who gets a knife through the
head in the film's prologue) before hanging himself. Boyle, far
from resigned to what could be a grim task, prefers to look at
his impending stay in New England as a family vacation in the
country. He's taking his wife Lucy (Fulci regular Catriona MacColl)
and 6-year old son Bob (Giovanni Frezza) with him. Weird things,
however, are occurring even before the Boyles set out. In a photograph
of an old house adorning the family's apartment, Bob sees a young
girl in the window whom he claims talks to him, telling him "not
to go". No one else can see the girl's image in the photo, chalking
it up to Bob's fertile imagination. When the family arrives in
New Whitby, Bob sees the same girl standing across the street
as his parents talk with the real estate agent. Telepathically
the two children communicate, with the girl explaining that her
name is Mae and again warning Bob to stay out of the house.
'luck' would have it, the Boyles end up renting the same rambling,
ramshackle house outside of town that Peterson leased during his
ill-fated stay. It also happens to be the same house as the one
in the photo, located right next to an abandoned cemetery. Though
she can't pinpoint exactly why, Lucy immediately begins to feel
uneasy about it. A boarded-up cellar door, strange noises within
the house and its creepy environs only heighten her discomfort,
which Norman mostly dismisses. The family settles in, hiring an
odd-behaving babysitter, Ann (Inferno's
Ania Pieroni, looking quite frumpy here amazing what a little
eyebrow tweezing can do!), to help look after Bob. The boy, in
the meantime, has found a playmate in Mae, the little girl who
mysteriously appears from time to time and no else has seen.
up Peterson's notes, Norman learns that his predecessor had abruptly
dropped his line of inquiry to focus solely on a Dr. Freudstein,
a local physician who died over a century earlier. Freudstein
lost his medical license and was questioned by police for conducting
illegal experiments. Norman can't fathom why Peterson would abandon
his research to focus on this unrelated case. Later it's discovered
that the house Peterson rented the very house they're staying
in now was owned by Freudstein in the 19th Century. After Ann
(for some unexplained reason) removes the boards from the cellar
door and the key is found, Norman explores the basement only to
be attacked by a bat, which he kills in extremely bloody fashion
after being bitten on the hand. With that little incident the
Boyles decide they need a change of environment ASAP. They go
to the real estate office in town to arrange for a different rental
but their agent, Mrs. Gittleson (Dagmar Lassander of Black
Emanuelle 2), isn't around. (She's dead, in fact, brutally
killed with a fireplace poker in the flick's best murder sequence
when she went to the Freudstein house while the Boyle's were
out.) Norman picks the worst time possible to return to New York
to follow up on Peterson's notes and report to his superior. Lucy,
Bob, and Ann are left alone in the house. And there's something
in the cellar...
House By the Cemetery director Fulci
would seem to have a reliably solid spook show premise to work
from. There are some nicely helmed, eerily atmospheric tracking
shots of the house both within and without which ably set
the mood. (Blatantly ripping off the "glowing eyes" bit from Argento's
at one point.) Dr. Freudstein, the film's monster, is sufficiently
grotesque and pretty darn creepy in his shamblingly slow but inexorable
assaults. (True, he's even more lethargic than most mummies, but
the ability to teleport is a definite advantage.) And yet Fulci
throws it all away with nonsensical story elements, continuity
problems and a fetish for cheesy makeup effects:
tale is clearly steeped in the supernatural (the storyline involving
the ghost child Mae), yet a half-assed scientific explanation
for the monster is hastily included, almost as an afterthought.
What was the deal with Ann the nanny? She behaves bizarrely, leading
the viewer to believe she's somehow in league with evil forces
within the Freudstein house. Is she possessed? If so, by what?
It's also hinted that she shares a secret with Norman, possibly
an affair. These plot threads are never explained or explored.
When Norman talks with the town librarian (Carlo De Mejo) about
Peterson, the man recalls Norman from a prior meeting, when the
researcher visited New Whitby the previous year with his daughter.
Norman explains that this is impossible as he's never been to
New Whitby before and has a son, not a little girl. This cryptic
bit of dialog is never followed up on.
Ann is killed in a particularly nasty way her throat is slowly
and repeatedly slashed with a knife until she's decapitated. What
starts as a horrifically shocking and effective scene is utterly
ruined when Fulci's camera closes in to lovingly document every
little slice of the blade. Shown too close, with too much lighting,
one can also see every little seam and ripple in the fake neck
appliance worn by the actress. This badly botched scene is emblematic
of the chief shortcoming inherent in Fulci's horror films: More
is not always better.
Ann's gruesome slaying occurs at the top of the cellar stairs.
A lot of blood is spilled. Only moments later not a drop
of it remains, so that the other characters don't realize Ann
has been killed. (I know the ads claim Bounty is the "quicker
picker-upper", but this is ridiculous!)
Characters make the same stupid mistake of getting accidentally
locked in the cellar... over and over again.
these blunders add one of the most gratingly annoying child actors
to ever appear on screen: towheaded Frezza as little Bob. It's
not really the kids fault, though; it's the dubbed voice used
for his character that's like nails on a chalkboard youll hope
against hope that Bob will be one of the first to get whacked.
And hope in vain. (The kid sticks around to the film's conclusion
and has lots of dialog.)
its topnotch A/V quality and bargain price, this new release
simultaneously issued on Blu-ray
is unquestionably the definitive home video version of House
By the Cemetery to date.
2011 "special edition" marks the second time Blue Underground
has released House; the first was
in 2007, after the Anchor Bay version went OOP (and using the
latter's old transfer). A brand new HD master is the basis for
the special edition transfer, giving the film a truly excellent
presentation in anamorphic 2.35 widescreen.
Image quality is virtually flawless, displaying deep blacks
and rich, juicy reds, while grain looks naturally filmic. Audio
is available in both English (Dolby Surround 2.0) and Italian
(mono); these are solid if not particularly impressive, although
certainly a cut above what one typically expects with a 30-year
old low budget Italian film. Optional English, French and Spanish
subtitles are on hand if so desired.
Along with a short deleted scene ("Bat
Attack Aftermath"), an image gallery, the international/U.S.
theatrical trailers and a TV spot, four brief featurettes are
offered. These are all nicely put together interview pieces with
members of the film's cast, recalling their work on House,
memories of Fulci and other tidbits of interest for Eurohorror
fans. Meet the Boyles (14 min.) sits down with the film's
leads, Catriona MacColl and Paolo Malco; Children of the Night
(12 min.) catches up with the two child actors from the film,
Giovanni Frezza and Sylvia Collatina, now 30 years older; Tales
of Laura Gittleson (9 min.) are recounted by House's
ill-fated real estate agent, Dagmar Lassander, during a recent
horror convention in Indiana; and in My Time With Terror
(9 min.), Carlo De Mejo talks about his small role as the town
librarian, his much larger one in Fulci's City
of the Living Dead, and the director's fondness for slathering
his actors in worms, blood and other assorted goop. (NOTE: The
Blu-ray edition contains two additional featurettes, which focus
on the script, cinematography and makeup FX.) 10/25/11