House by the Cemetery, The (UK - DVD R2)
The Wilson brothers take a look at this Lucio Fulci horror feature from 1981...
The early eighties was considered by many to be the golden age of Italian horror cinema; there were many who thought that this period was indeed the “golden age of gore”, with directors such as Dario Argento, Ruggero Deodato and, of course, Lucio Fulci all making horror and thrillers that would be receiving acclaim and huge box-office returns across the globe.
Lucio Fulci was a man who began as a multi-purpose director who was able to turn his hand to almost any genre. He had started off making teenage movies in the fifties, before making spy movie spoofs and westerns, amongst other things. In the late sixties, he fell into making gialli (Italian thriller/detective movies), where he began to find his niche. His classic 1971 movie A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin made audiences and critics sit up and take notice of this previously generic director. With the success of George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead in Europe, Fulci made what was intended to be a quick knock-off, Zombi 2 (aka Zombie, Zombie Flesh-Eaters, Island of the Living Dead, etc), but this effectively kick-started a boom in his career and would see him direct a slew of graphically violent horrors over a short but intense period of three or four years. Though Fulci would continue to make movies in other genres, his name became synonymous with horror.
The House by the Cemetery sees Norman Boyle (Paolo Malco), his wife Lucy (Catriona MacColl) and their young son, Bob (played by blonde, mop-haired Giovanni Frezzi) move from NYC to a small house just outside of Boston. Boyle wants to finish his research project (taking over from his academic predecessor, who went bonkers and killed his bit on the side in the same house) and persuades Lucy that the months spent in New England will be like a holiday for her and their son.
Tranquillity is sadly not on the cards, as a malevolent former occupant of the house, Doctor Jacob Freudstein, is not quite as dead as everyone had previously thought and soon strange events plague the house and its occupants and people begin to die in very gory ways.
The House by the Cemetery opens in a way that makes you think that Fulci is imitating a standard American “slasher” movie that was hugely popular at the time, with a creepy house at night and an attractive young babysitter who has obviously just finished up being in the sack with her boyfriend (and also has rather nice front upholstery) and has to leave because of an imposed curfew. Both babysitter and boyfriend meet a sticky end and we’re into the opening titles and the music of Walter Rizzati and the accompanying visuals are arguably more audacious and ambitious here than in any of Fulci’s other works, as the audience is treated to some impressive shots from the very opening of The House by the Cemetery—the 360° shot that begins with the titular dwelling and pans around to a photograph to show a little girl at the window is just wonderful.
Bob is clearly entranced by the picture and the girl seen at the window—when his mother, Lucy, is trying to talk to him whist he in engrossed, her voice can be heard echoing, this is a nice little touch that serves to show the emotional distance that the painting is causing between Bob and his mother. When Bob attempts to show Lucy the girl in the window in the painting, the girl is nowhere to be seen “maybe she had something to do”, muses young Bob—a reply that shows the wonderful innocence and almost lateral thinking of childhood imagination, and also sounds like a moment from Bachelor Party when a car is stolen and the reply is almost identical.
House by the Cemetery follows in the grand tradition of many Italian movies of the late seventies/early eighties in that the action begins in New York, only to have the main characters then move to somewhere else (somewhere cheaper and easier to film). Most Italian movies generally only stayed on the west coast of America (New York and Miami were the most popular), as it would have cost the production more to shoot out on the east coast.
Walter Rizzati’s music score is first rate, but anyone with a passing interest in music will recognise that the main theme sounds suspiciously like Albinoni’s Adagio and there are segments that are almost litigiously similar to Alice Cooper’s Steven. There is a similarity to one of the themes in this movie and Alice Cooper’s song, in that both of them are about preserving the innocence of children (Alice’s song is about the inner child being frightened and confused about having to face up to adulthood, whereas House sees one murdered child trying to warn another in order to try and avoid the same fate). It should be pointing out that Fulci had touched upon the theme of preserving the innocence of children nearly a decade earlier in his masterpiece Don’t Torture a Duckling. Fulci seems to be obsessed with children being protected in some way or another in his movies; there is a teenage babysitter (with seriously thick, dark eyebrows) introduced to look after Bob, but she ends up dead in fairly short order and this theme of protection is given a supernatural twist at the end of the film.
Catriona McColl once again takes the lead role, coming fresh off Fulci’s The Beyond, and she makes for a compelling central character, being able to convey a sense of confusion, outrage and (most importantly) the ability to scream her arse off when the script demands such a thing. Her performance is more measured and engaging here than in the previous movie—this is probably because her character in this movie is saddled with the burden of motherhood than gives an extra dimension to the part. With House By the Cemetery being a little further into the eighties than The Beyond, McColl’s hairdo moved with the times and the one she sports in this film isn’t as appealing as her barnet in The Beyond, but we digress—this is probably due to the fact that we hated the eighties and to see Ms McColl with an eighties ‘do is a bit of a bummer.
There are two areas that prevents The House by the Cemetery from reaching the same heights as the previous movie—the lack of a dynamic leading man is one of them. Paolo Malco is no David Warbeck—from the very moment Warbeck burst onto the screen in The Beyond and utters his first line “this man needs to get to hospital—have you got any water?”, he’s magnetic; Malco doesn’t exactly burst onscreen, he just sort of ambles. Because of the academic nature of the character, Malco is also required to appear onscreen in a ghastly stereotypical professor-like hounds-tooth style jacket, complete with leather patches on the elbows; this, coupled with the ghastly roll-neck jumper, completely robs him of any kind of Euro coolness. Only someone with the dashing sensibilities of Franco Nero could wear such examples of sartorial vomit and get away with it.
The other major annoyance is that in the English language version of this movie, the lousy voice that young actor Giovanni Frezza has been saddled with almost cripples the thing. It’s blazingly obvious with to anyone with the ability to hear that Bob has been voiced by a middle-aged woman trying desperately to sound young and the results are just ghastly. Bob features prominently in the opening dialogue exchange and it gets the movie off to a bit of a bad start. This, coupled with Bob’s annoying voice during several of the film’s key suspense sequences make Bob a less-than welcome character in the English dub of the movie. At one point, Bob’s mother berates him for whining—sadly, this appears to be the only intonation that he can manage. There must be a support group out there for others similarly affected by this tragic ailment.
A melancholic atmosphere hangs over The House by the Cemetery, similar to the one that is present in Fulci’s City of the Living Dead, although City is more of an obvious “romp” than House. There are elements of The Shining in this movie—the premise is similar; a couple with a young son (who has supernatural abilities—Bob’s is communicating with the dead) move to a fairly remote location in order for the husband to finish writing a piece of work, but their plans are thwarted when a previous owner of the place they are staying in starts to make his presence felt. There is also a prominent use of an axe by the father figure in House by the Cemetery, but Norman Boyle does not go off his nut like Sam Torrance.
At one point, Norman Boyle is told that he was here last year with his daughter—Boyle refutes this utterly, saying that he had never visited Boston before and that he doesn’t have a daughter (although with young Frezzi’s blonde mop of hair, ridiculously full, pouting lips and clearly having a female voice, it’s not hard to make that assumption…).
Making a welcome return to Fulci-land is actor Gianpaolo Saccorola, who can be seen in a cameo as a creepy librarian, who takes great delight in pointing out exactly where Boyle’s predecessor strung himself up. Saccorola had previously appeared in The Beyond as Arthur, the equally creepy, but clearly simple-minded caretaker of the Seven Doors hotel.
The violence in this movie is pretty strong, and contains what is possibly the most convincing effects that Fulci ever committed to screen (it could be said that the infamous dog sequence from A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin is more disturbing, but we’re talking about Lucio’s gore movies here); barring the infamous blowing daylight through Maria Pia Marsala’s head in The Beyond, no other Fulci gore movie has had FX scenes that are as well executed, shot and edited as the ones in The House by the Cemetery.
The story was by Elisa Briganti (who is the wife of Dardano Sacchetti), with her hubby, along with Georgio Mariuzzo, being responsible for the screenplay. The works of H.P. Lovecraft were allegedly the inspiration for the story and The House by the Cemetery certainly has gothic overtones reminiscent of Lovecraft. It is more than likely that the writers wanted to combine Frankenstein-like monster with Freudian overtones and the rather literal result was the character Dr Freudstein. This character was a discredited doctor, who was banned for life—presumably branded as a “complete Freud”.
There have been accusations that this movie contains the greatest examples of Fulci’s alleged misogyny—it’s true that some of the female characters are despatched in very violent ways, but no more so than Fulci’s other movies of the period. Saying that, murder of the female estate agent is well done, with some nice throat-puncturing action.
The Beyond had a couple of examples where mistranslation from Italian into English for props and signs resulted in unintentional hilarity for English-speaking audiences (the “Do Not Entry” sign in the hospital is the classic example), but there is only one example here, it occurs early in the movie where the Boyles are preparing to move from NYC to the titular dwelling and there are cardboard boxes everywhere; one of them is a box for speakers and it has emblazoned upon it that they are “two ways” speakers.
It wouldn’t be an Italian movie without a plug for whiskey and The House by the Cemetery is no exception. Usually the preserve of the giallo, on the side of a bus in downtown New York is a huge ad for J&B Whiskey, with the slogan “give J&B”—though we love the stuff, there are probably more guys out there who would prefer to receive a BJ. It’s during this scene that Fulci puts in his usual cameo—he usually plays someone who is the superior of the leading man, and this tradition is carried on here.
Speaking of the New York footage, there is one scene where Paolo Malco is driving his car along a busy street and he goes flying past a pedestrian crossing, without any consideration for the people trying to cross the road. We could make some controversial comment about Italian drivers, but we won’t—there is no controversy about it; Italian drivers are reckless are a health hazard to others on the road (and the pavement for that matter).
At one point Dr Norman Boyle comments on his ill-fated predecessor to his wife “what do you say to a widow who finds out his husband butchered his mistress and then took his own life?”—well, the flippant answer would be “the lucky sod” to the mistress part and “oops” to the rest.
The cinematography is just great, with Sergio Salvati making good use of the sets and locations. As is often the case with Salvati, there are wonderful close-ups of eyes that fill the frame and add to the tension of a scene. The opening 360° mentioned earlier is quite possibly one of his crowning achievements.
As is almost a tradition for Italian exploitation movies, the wigs for the cast in this movie are furnished by Rocchetti & Carboni, with the exception of Bob’s hair, which was provided by Vileda. The babysitter’s eyebrows were provided by Fuzzy-Felt.
As The House by the Cemetery approaches its climax, and the perpetrator of the murders is revealed, a slow-moving corpse-like Dr Freudstein shuffles his way across the basement of the house to finally despatch the bothersome family who have settled into his house. This is a tense and surprising sequence, during which a couple of events occur that would probably have anyone who has been raised on the conventions of American horror movies genuinely shocked. The only trouble with this sequence is that the slow-moving murderous figure tries to get the Boyles as they are at the top of a ladder, trying to escape—the zombie-like Freudstein could have been despatched by one well-placed boot to the Gulliver.
If there is one real criticism, it’s that Freudstein is continually mentioned throughout the movie, as a way of building the sense of suspense for when he finally appears and by the time he finally shows up, he’s just essentially a blank-faced zombie who doesn’t say a word. You would have thought that an evil, malevolent being would have had a bit more personality to him, but it was obviously decided that a silent and inexorably slow-moving presence was needed to generate suspense during the climax of the movie. This is a fairly minor niggle about an otherwise very enjoyable movie.
The transfer seems to be almost identical to the one that Anchor Bay (US) used for their release a number of years back. The colours on the ABUS transfer in comparison are warmer than the Arrow release, with Arrow’s flesh-tones edging closer pink than those in the ABUS transfer. The anamorphic 2.35:1 image looks wonderful and we can heartily recommend this transfer to those who missed out on the US releases of The House by the Cemetery.
Provided for your aural pleasure is a Dolby Digital 2.0 English track. There’s nothing much out of the back, but there are some nice little pans to the front left and right speakers that add a little more depth to the audio.
Featurette: Fulci in the House: the Italian Master of Splatter. This seventeen minute all-new featurette has been produced for this release of The House by the Cemetery and features interviews with several leading lights in the horror and exploitation genre, including Joe Dante, Lamberto Bava and Lloyd Kaufman (OK, so Kaufman seems to know bollocks-all about Fulci, but he talks with a degree of conviction that sells it). Fangoria editor Anthony Timpone also speaks about Fulci and the whole Italian splatter genre and his knowledge on the subject is one of the most pleasing aspects of this featurette. Incidentally, this was written by Elijah Drenner and Dark Side scribe Callum Waddell and they producer it together. Good stuff!
Arrow/Cult Labs have also managed to port over all of the extras that were included on the US Anchor Bay/Blue Underground editions of The House by the Cemetery. They are as follows:
U.S. Trailer: This is probably the quintessential trailer for the movie, as it features everything you would expect, and more. It’s interesting that they employ someone who speaks with what sounds like an Italian accent and you keep thinking to yourself that it might be Fulci himself, as it sounds gruff and cantankerous enough to be him, but it isn’t (the guy‘s name was apparently Brother Theodore)—he booms “you may have just mortgaged YOUR LIFE!“—if you check out the origin of the word mortgage, you will notice that it has the word “death” in it anyway. The voiceover also hisses in an almost threatening tone “one by bloody one they are disappearing”—one has to wonder if an unrated trailer existed where the voiceover hisses “one by f*****g one they are disappearing“…
International Trailer: This follows the more conventional form of European trailers, with a fairly lengthy running time and the emphasis on gore and actor credits that fly straight at you. It’s good fun. It should also be mentioned that like many such trailers, it gives away a little too much of the movie, including quite a lot from the climax. This trailer credits the lead actress as Katherine MacColl, rather than Catriona.
U.S. TV Spot: This follows the same basic premise of the U.S. trailer, but only shorter.
Image Gallery: This presents a series of images from The House by the Cemetery, along with, somewhat mysteriously, a few from other Fuci movies, including City of the Living Dead and The Beyond.
Deleted scene: This short sequence was found during the search for the original elements carried out back in the early part of this decade. No audio elements were found (though given that this was a European movie with an international cast, that’s not really a surprise), and the new footage is presented, silent with the lead-up to the excised material having the audio. This extra scene doesn’t add up to much, but it’s certainly interesting to watch as a curio. Through the wonders of lip-reading, we can bring you the missing dialogue from this sequence. It is approximately as follows…
I want to get away from here. I can’t stand it anymore. I want to get away!
So, now you know.
The House by the Cemetery was what could be described as the penultimate “good” movie in his career, final “good“ movie was New York Ripper, made the following year. The House by the Cemetery was certainly the last of the vague trilogy of gothic horrors that he made during the early eighties; when compared against City of the Living Dead and The Beyond, it probably comes out as the weakest of the three, it’s still good fun and has some formidable set-pieces, a cool music score and a great performance from Catriona MacColl. It’s great fun and something that should be seen in its uncut form, which is precisely what Arrow have been able to do—we doff our caps to them!
Review by Wilson Bros
Suitable only for persons of 18 years and over
Release Date: 29th June 2009
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 English
Extras: Trailers, TV Spot, Featurette, Photo Gallery
Easter Egg: No
Director: Lucio Fulci
Cast: Catriona MaColl, Paolo Malco, Giovanni Frezzi
Length: 86 minutes
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