Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Video Nasty #24 - House by the Cemetery

A major entry on the Video Nasties list, House by the Cemetery, is one of two Lucio Fulci films to appear on the DPP's roundup of offending titles. Among the campaigners to clean up the British Video Industry, the Italian director was very definitely persona non grata - by the early 80's his reputation as a maker of exceedingly violent films was firmly established. A print of his 1982 film The New York Ripper has been kicked out of the country before it could be shown to distributors. In November 1983 House By the Cemetery made it's first appearance on the DPP's hit list - it mattered little that the film available to the British public was a watered-down BBFC sanctioned version. Lucio Fulci was in lock down...


The story concerns Norman Boyle, a university researcher who leaves New York city with his wife Lucy and young son to live in New England, swapping their cramped apartment for a spacious old house in the country. However, the house was once owned by Dr. Freudstein, a 19th century scientist who was rumoured to perform grotesque inhuman experiments. Freudstein it seems discovered a way to conquer death and unbeknownst to the house's new owners, Freudstein's zombified body is very much alive and lurking in the basement awaiting human victims to replenish his deteriorating cells...


The third of Fulci's gothic chillers (or his fourth zombie film if you prefer), House by the Cemetery is not nearly as wayward as the preceding films, City of the Living Dead and The Beyond. By comparison, Cemetery's story is nailed down tight, but the film still has its fair share of fuzzy logic and inconsistencies. Best not to analyse the plot too closely and instead bask in the film's rich dark atmosphere. Sergio Salvati, Fulci's perennial cameraman from this era lends the 'scope visuals a distinctly cold and wintry touch appropriate enough for what is a rather moody film, set in a house of the damned, where every surface seems coated in an inch of dust (and the odd tombstone). The film's first half is relatively restrained, but following an exceedingly gruesome bat attack Fulci's customary brutality arrives in spectacular style, the haunted house turning into a slaughter house with poker stabbings, throat slashings and flesh rippings.1


Ostensibly, Fulci raids the coffers of recent horror films like The Amityville Horror and The Shining but Cemetery is a strangely reflective film of former Fulci glories - in one scene Norman plunges an axe through the door the cellar only for it to penetrate inches away from his son's head trapped on the other side - a scene reminiscent of City of the Living Dead. The head smashing-on-rocks moment in The Psychic is riffed on when Catriona McColl's is dragged down the basement staircase, her head bashing against the steps. The climax of the film where Dr. Freudstein's lumbering zombie finally emerges from the shadows is surely one of Fulci's finest moments, the strangely haunting conclusion has a parallel with the finale of The Beyond. Catriona MacColl in her last film for Fulci delivers another solid turn, but the film's most memorable performance, perhaps for the wrong reasons is Giovanni Frezza, playing little Bob Boyle with a genuine childlike innocence and wonder, his role almost ruined by the dubbing his voice into English using an adult actor affecting a child's voice.


Blue Underground's DVD, a port of the excellent 2001 Anchor Bay edition is for now the best way to see House by the Cemetery on home video. This title has been dogged by inferior editions throughout the years, public domain label Diamond Entertainment had their own DVD alongside the Anchor Bay, while at the time of writing Amazon are selling a dubious 3D DVD version, obviously one to avoid. The current 2007 Blue Underground DVD is a fine effort, featuring an excellent 2.35 anamorphic transfer, and a pleasing English dub. Extras are scant, a trailer, a TV spot and a slightly longer version of the bat scene (without sound). The good news is that Blue Underground will be releasing a new special edition of the film on DVD and Blu-Ray in September with brand new extras. Closer to home, House by the Cemetery is finally available uncut in the UK on the Arrow label. Transfer and audio wise, it's comparable with the Blue Underground disc, but includes an additional extra, "Fulci In The House: The Italian Master Of Splatter", a short 18min feature on director's great run of films in the late 70's, early '80's.

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Notes
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1. In the scene where Dagmar Lassander, playing the real estate agent is killed when a poker is plunged into her throat, an additional shot reveals a huge wound to her head. However this bit of violence is never seen. It looks suspiciously like a cut but in fact Fulci was unhappy with the effect and removed the scene.

7 comments:

  1. Great stuff Wes, I always found the first half of this a little dull but when it does get going it has some fantastic moments and atmosphere. I picked up the Arrow dvd but haven't got around to revisiting it yet, it just got bumped up the to watch list!

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  2. Oh absolutely, first half is slow. I might screen this film once a year and I'm always surprised how gory this one actually is. That poker stabbing scene is the height of techno-splatter, it looks completely realistic to me...

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  3. Excellent review! I've only seen House once, and several years ago now, but it has remained with me. Such a grim, bleak and atmospheric film. The scene where Freudstein is advancing towards the mother in the cellar is unbelievably tense and nightmarish. And all that gore! I find Fulci's work really unsettling and after viewing I usually feel like having a shower! Surely the sign of a horror director who really knows who to get under the skin of his audience.

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  4. Many thanks James... House by the Cemetery is one of those Fulci-as-auteur films, where the director's style and obsessions really emerge from the work, unlike say a gun-for-hire film like Massacre Time (although I'm sure Steve Thrower would disagree with me on that point)...

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  5. I agree, Wes. I haven't seen House for years and then only the cut version. Your review makes me want to rush out and get the Arrow release so that I have his 'Gates of Hell' trilogy complete - but the rest of Fulci I can live without.

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  6. I saw this on VHS as a part of an attempt to see every movie Joe Bob Briggs reviewed in his first two books. I reviewed it for a typed-on-paper review newsletter I inflicted on my friends in the early 90's. I remember citing the triple throat slitting and the dubbed dialogue where the husband tells his wife she'll just have to get used to the grave in the middle of the hallway. Crazy damn movie!

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  7. That gravestone in the house might be a deal breaker alrite when it comes to buying a house ! Crazy stuff indeed but a perfect example of the Italians grabbing a conventional haunted house story and running with it... and never coming back... One of Fulci's best films I think.

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