Monday, March 19, 2012

House by the Cemetery (1981)

Title: House by the Cemetery (1981)

Director: Lucio Fulci

Cast: Catriona McColl, Giovanni Frezza


This is the third and final film of the “Gates of Hell” trilogy, which is composed of City of the Living Dead (1980),  The Beyond (1981) and the film I will be reviewing today House by the Cemetery. The idea behind calling these three films the ‘Gates of Hell Trilogy' is to unite these similarly themed films that deal with magical books that open the Gates to Hell. The books presented to us in these films talk about a doomsday scenario where evil conquers the planet and humanity pays for their sins, not unlike the bible. An interesting fact is that House by the Cemetery has nothing to do with any of that. There are no magical books; there is no gate of hell and the earth isn’t in peril as in the previous two films. I guess symbolically speaking, the family in this film does open the door to hell when they decide to finally go down to the cellar of their new home, unleashing another kind of hell upon themselves, but that’s stretching it. What really unites all these three movies is actress Catriona McColl, who stars in all three of them as the main character.

In House by the Cemetery we meet the Boyle family as they are headed towards their new home in New England. The father, one Dr. Normal Boyle is moving there to continue the research of a colleague of his that used to live there but for some mysterious reason ended up committing suicide. The little boy in the family ‘Bob’ keeps getting these visions that warn him not to go to ‘Oak Mansion’. But of course, nobody listens to the little kid and so the family moves in anyways. Once they get there, they notice one odd thing about the house: the cellar door doesn’t open. For some reason it is absolutely shut down. Nobody pays much mind to this detail; they figure they’ll eventually get to it. No big hurry. Yet the cellar does hold a mystery to it. What is making all those weird noises in the middle of the night?

What House by the Cemetery does right is that it builds up the mystery surrounding the cellar. Just what is down there? If there’s one thing that Fulci did well in his films it’s the way he used ambiance and atmosphere. The house looks appropriately spooky, there are a lot of noises in the night, things move about the shadows, mysterious disembodied eyes peer at you from the velvet darkness. The house does have a cemetery near it, in accordance to the films title, heck we even have a tomb inside of the house! This is all great stuff, and the gore, boy the gore is awesome on this one. There are some truly grizzly deaths on display in House by the Cemetery! The gore is so plentiful and graphic on this one that it was heavily edited on many countries; as a result, there are various cuts of this film out there. The most complete one is the Anchorbay release which includes all of the gory goodness from the original cut of the film.

The problem for me with this movie is that a lot of the things that happen don’t really make sense, or happen simply for shock value, not because they have anything to do with the story whatsoever, this was a common thing in Fulci films. For example, one scene has a giant vampire bat attacking Dr. Boyle! The bat leaps out of the darkness and bites him on the hand. Apparently, these bats have one hell of a bite! When he is unsuccessful in getting the bat to let go of his hand, he gets a pair of scissors and stabs the bat to death, blood splurts everywhere and great, we have a shocking moment! But that’s it. That’s all it is. There’s no story development behind the bat. It tells us nothing! Great moment; but an empty one at that. Yeah, it’s exciting, it’s gory, and you probably won’t forget it, but moments later you are left wondering “why did that happen?” This will go on all the way to the films final frames. 

Another nonsensical scene has a terribly bloody murder committed on the living room floor, lot’s of blood gets spilled all over the place, a bloody carcass is carried all around the living room and kitchen floor leaving streaks of blood all over the house. The next morning, we see the nanny mopping up the blood as if it was nothing. The lady of the house doesn’t notice these buckets of blood spilled on the floor, she simply goes on with her business and makes herself some coffee. What the hell?! Wouldn’t the nanny find all the blood spilled a tad bit suspicious? I mean, suspicious enough to notify her employers? But no, nobody gives a damn, nobody notices. Its little details like these that take you out of the movie, suddenly, your suspension of disbelief is in peril. But this doesn’t surprise me coming from Fulci, many of his films have nonsensical elements about them, sometimes they come off as mysterious and ominous, other times they come off as lazy storytelling.

Ultimately though, the film works. It is not Fulci’s best film, but it certainly is one of his good ones. At times it feels like a haunted house story, a ghost story, and at others it simply feels like a monster movie. What I love the most about Fulci’s horror films is that he really tries his best to freak us out. Nothing might be happening on screen, but the mystery is in the music, the noises, the spooky lighting, the actress suddenly screaming her lungs off out of pure fright. It’s the little buttons that Fulci pushes in our psyche that makes it all work, and ultimately, that’s what I enjoy about a Fulci horror film.    

Rating:  3 ½ out of 5 


jervaise brooke hamster said...

I want to bugger Catriona MacColl (as the bird was in 1972 when the bird was 18, not as the bird is now obviously).

Bob Ignizio said...

Even by Fulci standards, this one has a pretty shoddy script. Still, as you said, there are enough memorable (if ridiculous) moments to warrant a viewing. Personally I'd rather watch 'Zombi 2', 'The Beyond' or 'City of the Living Dead' (heck, maybe even 'New York Ripper'), though.

Franco Macabro said...

Totally agree Bob, this one has some stand out moments that make it special, but all the ones you mentioned are superior. I'd place this one in fourth or fifth place amongst Fulci's best. Still, not a bad Fulci flick, at least it isnt boring like some of Fulci's films....I saw Touch of Death and was bored to tears by it.

I've yet to watch more Fulci though, I haven't seen Demonia or Aenigma yet, though I aint holding my breath, I havent heard great things about either of them.

Thanks for commenting Mr. Ignizio!

Shaun Anderson [The Celluloid Highway] said...

I might be in a minority here but I actually prefer this to THE BEYOND and it is far superior to the dreadful CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD. It is essentially a gothic haunted house narrative...but Fulci style! And he does some interesting things with this tired and predictable formula. Your previous commenter mentioned it had a shoddy script. Are the scripts for ZOMBI 2, THE BEYOND or CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD that much better? Anyway excellent review Franco...keep up the good work buddy!

Franco Macabro said...

To me all three of these Fulci films are pretty much the same in terms of script. The script isnt there to teach us anything profound about life, on these Fulci flicks the one and only purpose is to shock and horrify.

All three films have faults and imperfections. They all have what the ---?? moments, they're all about the supernatural, they all got zombies...they are all very Fulci.

What The Beyond has that sets it apart in my opinion is that it feels like Fulci was trying just a bit harder to make a truly good horror film, so many awesome moments on that one. The ending is so much more effective than in City fo the Living Dead where the gates of hell come off as a bit cheesy. The Beyond ends with this dreadful fact, I'll be re-watching that one this weekend. I think I shall be reviewing it soon.

House by the Cemetery was just as good as the others, it has it's great moments as well, but I place it third in the "Gates of Hell" trilogy. But this doesnt mean is a bad film, cause all three are pretty decent in my book.

I like how Fulci cameos in all of these movies...on House by the Cemetery he played a professor of some kind, on City of the Living Dead he plays a mortician if I remember correctly, cant remember if he cameos in The Beyond, I'll look for him next time I see it.

Thanks for commenting man!


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