The Italian cinema scene has felt a bit tepid in recent years with only the occasional title making waves internationally, but once upon a time the country was a movie-making powerhouse. One of its biggest areas of export throughout the 7’0s and 80s was the horror genre with big names like Dario Argento, Mario Bava and Lucio Fulci churning out stylish frightfests oozing atmosphere and gore. Like all things they varied in quality, but the films were rarely less than entertaining.
Fulci was easily one of the most prolific of the bunch often filming and releasing two to three movies per year. That pace continued through his final film in 1991, but his commercial and creative peak was arguably the early ’80s. The House By the Cemetery is sometimes referred to as the third in Fulci’s apocalyptic horror trilogy alongside City Of the Living Dead and The Beyond (reviewed by me here and here). Having finally seen the film it’s not entirely clear why that is… the horror at work here is of a much more grounded nature than in either of those other films, and the ending is far more traditional.
Of course, that shouldn’t be mistaken to mean the story is logical, realistic or coherent. But if nothing else, the movie is a must-see for the bat-attack scene alone.
“You shouldn’t have come, Bob.”
Norman moves his family from New York City to a small New England town so he can research the death of a former colleague and thereby earn a promotion, but what should have been six months of calm and peaceful living becomes a nightmare of hallucinations, ghostly happenings and bloody murders. Bad career move Norman. His wife Lucy (Fulci vet Catriona MacColl) is open to the change of scenery, but their son Bob (Giovanni Frezza, but voiced by some creepy woman trying to sound like a little girl) receives a warning from a girl in an old photograph of the house that he really shouldn’t be going.
Warning successfully ignored, the family moves in and almost immediately begins noticing odd and disturbing behaviors and events. Visions of decapitated mannequins, a creepy babysitter and the discovery of a tombstone converted into the living room’s floorboards all portend something very bad indeed. Or at least it would to any other family… one with a bit more situational awareness then these folks.
Fulci’s films thrive on their willingness to embrace style over substance and then cover it all in a thick layer of blood, gore and utter craziness. The odd antics are never played for laughs as instead it’s simply his style of letting terror and violence unfold slowly, meticulously and without obvious reaction. It would stand out negatively in most other films, but Fulci’s work usually succeeds in making it part of the overall experience.
He stumbles a bit here though with characters whose reactions to the creeping terrors and assaults feel far more frustrating and/or comical than they do intense or dramatic. One such example involves a bat attack in the basement. The flying creature becomes a squeaking, flapping hat atop Lucy’s head, and after roughly 60 seconds of slack-jawed staring Norman finally pulls it from her hair. It bites into his hand and refuses to let go so he runs upstairs, blood pouring from his hand, and passes young Bob who asks “What’s wrong daddy?” Apparently the giant flailing bat tearing into his father’s flesh wasn’t enough of a clue.
The film also suffers a bit in the third act as the big reveal is exposed to be far less ethereal than expected. It’s not bad per se, but it all feels more than a little ridiculous in light of anything resembling reality.
Questionable acting and false suspense aside, this is an entertaining enough slice of horror that never bores or drags. Whether it be visions of a little dead girl, scenes of wonderfully graphic bloodletting or the appearance of a grisly killer complete with a pretty stellar prosthetic mask the movie will keep your eyes pleased. Fulci aficionados will have already seen it, but it’s recommended viewing for genre fans for its place in Italian horror cinema history. And that bat scene will appeal to anyone who ever wondered what a horror-themed Monty Python sketch would look like.
Arrow Video offers up a newly restored high definition transfer of Fulci’s thirty one year-old movie, and it doesn’t look a day over twenty nine. I kid. The transfer looks pretty fantastic with strong colors and sharp contrasts, and Arrow has packed it with interviews, featurettes and two commentaries.
- Audio Commentary with Catriona MacColl and Calum Waddell
- Audio Commentary with Silvia Collatina and Mike Baronas
- Back to the Cellar – An Interview with Giovanni Frezza [15:08]
- Cemetery Woman – An Interview with Catriona MacColl [29:21]
- Wax Mask: Finishing the Final Fulci – An Interview with Sergio Stivaletti [8:25]
- Freudstein’s Follies – An Interview with Gianetto De Rossi [10:15]
- Ladies of Italian Horror [24:05]
- HorrorHound 30th Anniversary Reunion Panel [42:19]
- Trailer Reel [63:42]
- The House By the Cemetery trailer and TV spot
- Deleted Scene [:27]
All of Fulci’s trademarks are present in The House By the Cemetery, but it remains a slightly lesser effort when compared to The City of the Living Dead or The Beyond. There’s plenty of gooey gore and loads of creepy shenanigans, but the narrative doesn’t hold together…even by Fulci standards. And that’s saying something.
Buy The House By the Cemetery on region-free Blu-ray from AmazonUK