It’s been blogged about a thousand times and reviewed to death, but I still feel that Lucio Fulci’s HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY deserves all of the love it can get. The film primarily concerns the Boyle family who are played by the likeable Fulci fan favorite Catriona MacColl, who has to be one of the best female screamers ever (consider the intro scream from THE GATES OF HELL), as Lucy, Paolo Malco as Norman, and Giovanni Frezza as little Bob (who it seems was dubbed by a woman, which ends up being just as awkward as it is creepy). These poor souls unknowingly mortgage their lives when they move into a quiet and isolated house in the woods next to a cemetery. The thought of a husband and wife moving into an isolated house with their creepy kid and into a deadly scenario may have THE SHINING written all over it, but the overall ordeal shares no similarities to that film.
There is a memorable and fairly iconic relation between the son and a nineteenth century ghost girl that haunts the area, named Mae. The encounters between these two kids possess a childlike innocence that blurs the motive for why Mae is contacting Bob from beyond. The end result of their friendship is confusing but so fascinating and endearing that it’s no wonder that former kid actors Giovanni Frezza and Silvia Collatina’s Facebook pages are constantly bombarded with friend requests by loving fans (myself included). We may not know them personally, we may not be actual friends, but we would still like to know how poor Bob is fairing after the traumatic events that transpired in the evil basement of that damned house. And who doesn’t have a desire to express admiration to Mae, the cool Gothic ghost girl, for saving Bob from a fate worse than death in a satisfying heartwarming ending that makes the viewer want to run off and buy Fulci’s other films (me 10 years ago) and ultimately become a hardcore lover of Italian Horror? And what great sports those two are for friending so many fans.
The plot of the film is setup by a confusing Lovecraftian backstory that involves a researcher, referred to as Mr. Peterson, driven insane by his findings in a New England mansion before slaughtering his mistress and hanging himself. Norman and his family move into the same house in Boston so he can continue Mr. Peterson’s research because this project, which is very vague in detail, is so important that it needs to be saved from going under. As Norman uncovers exactly what it was that drove his colleague to the deep end, he and his family end up under threat from something very evil and sadistic that resides in the basement and needs their dead corpses to survive. I say sadistic because the monster, known as Dr. Freudstein (Giovanni De Nava), doesn’t just kill for survival but really seems to enjoy making its kill. For example, pleasure moans can be heard from Freudstein when it violently stabs the landlord, Mrs. Gittleson (Dagmar Lassander), repeatedly with a fire place poker. Freudstein seems to savor the moment by inducing as much bloodletting as possible before finally ending it with a poke in the neck as blood spatters in a grand finale. All of this is the cruel and unnecessarily complex execution of Fulci’s entertaining gory death scenes that his horror films are primarily remembered for.
SIDE NOTE: Since this is a horror blog, naturally I’m going to be telling you about the gory stuff, but Fulci made great accomplishments with giallo (DON’T TORTURE A DUCKLING [pretty gory too]), action (FOUR OF THE APOCALYPSE), and comedy (I LADRI) films as well.
Nevertheless, I will in no way agree with anyone who says that gore is everything here. The music gives the film an exciting and Gothic feel, the child theme is a nice touch, and the whimpering child sounds that can be heard coming from the monster as it stalks its victims is strange and amusing. The monster makeup by Gianetto De Rossi is great and basically takes all the ingenuity of the zombie makeup seen in other Fulci films and focuses it all onto giving the basement monster a grotesque and macabre look that won’t make viewers regret waiting the greater part of the film’s runtime when it finally shows its face.
Also worth mentioning is the character of Ann the babysitter, played by Ania Pieroni, who is a highly suspicious and entertaining addition to the household, whose presence makes things both more interesting and more confusing. Pieroni, who I’d like to say, despite many jokes from film critics, has lovely dark eyebrows and is a knockout. I mean if you don’t agree with me at least check out this screen grab of her as the Mother of Tears in Dario Argento’s INFERNO, which I have a feeling is going to get reviewed on this blog very soon.
|Ania Pieroni not in HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY|
The script written by Dardano Sacchetti has its fair share of plot holes, but the macabre elements in the story are very satisfying. It should also be noted that Sacchetti was the script writer for THE BEYOND, which along with HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY is considered to be one of Fulci’s best, and it should be proof that a script doesn’t necessarily have to be coherent to have an impact. However, “Narrative incoherence” really sticks its maggot ridden head out the most when after Mrs. Gittleson‘s demise, Ann is on all fours the next day cleaning up the blood trail left behind while Lucy opens the door to wish Ann a good morning and doesn’t even seem to notice or care that it looks like a massacre just took place. This may be an instance of clumsy filmmaking, but let’s be optimistic and try to come up with a reasonable explanation… Maybe Lucy was so tired and groggy that morning that she just happened to not notice the blood, what with her medication she takes and all. As for Ann cleaning the blood, this might best be understood if one were to assume that she is unknowingly drawn to Dr. Freudstein, which makes sense if one were to recall when Norman caught her prying the boards off the basement door in the middle of the night. It could also be the film's way of throwing suspicion on Ann so we are caught off guard when later she endures multiple slashes to the neck resulting in her head falling off and tumbling down the basement stairs, while little Bob has to endure the traumatic visual.
Poor Bob… He and the Kid from Fulci’s other film THE GATES OF HELL, and maybe Joshua from TROLL 2, should form a support group for all children traumatized in Italian horror films. Anyone who has seen these films knows what I am talking about.
THE HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY does suffer from occasionally being slow as well, but when we’re talking vintage Euro-horror, when is slowness not an issue? Being able to tolerate slowness is what separates those who’ll dig the Hell out of this and those who won’t. A very common defense to slowness is that the ambiance that is prevalent in these films makes them worthwhile to endure, and classic euro-horror, as many know, excels in ambiance.
I would also like to mention that I love Norman’s beard, Hell I love the bearded Fulci characters in general. There is something so dignified, classy, and intellectual to these handsome characters whose charming beards always seem to land them a gruesome demise. After spending time in Fulci’s world, one would eventually learn that it is not wise to have a beard. This is especially true in Fulci’s MANHATTEN BABY.
Even though it isn’t the season for the beard, I would like to closeout with a Hall of Fame collage of the many bearded Fulci characters (+1 imposter), many of whom suffered crowd pleasing death scenes done with that touch that is undeniably Fulci.