Giovanni De Nava
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The House by the Cemetery (1981)
29th Jun 09
A doctor moves his family to a sleepy town in New England to continue research started by his predecessor who hanged himself. A scraggy old dude called Freudstein lives in the basement and likes to make an appearance every now and again to butcher anyone who enters...
Produced during the period many people - especially horror fans - consider to be Lucio Fulci's finest (1979-81), The House by the Cemetery is an entry that divides fans in quite a big way. It's a perfect example of the late director's willing disregard for logic, leaving many questions unanswered, but at the same time remains a great looking film which suspends you in a deliberately conceived dreamy world of mystery, darkness and shadows. And maggots, too of course. He loved the maggots.
The story follows Dr Norman Boyle (Paolo Malco) who relocates his wife Lucy (Catriona MacColl) and young son Bob (Giovanni Frezza) from New York to a sleepy town in New England, in order to continue the research of his colleague, Dr Peterson, who mysteriously hanged himself. The house they move to, as the title sort of suggests, is situated bang next to a cemetery, and although the locals like to refer to it as 'Oak Mansion', it will always been known as 'the Freudstein House'. Dr Freudstein, you see, lived there a long time ago, and due to his unorthodox medical persuasion, was officially banned from medical practice in 1879, but continued to use the basement ‘laboratory’ of the house to conduct crazy-ass experiments, like how to keep himself alive for eternity by using blood from living victims.
You'll notice some textbook creep factors, which work to the advantage of the overall atmosphere here, even of they don't make complete sense. Ann, the babysitter, is obviously in league with either Freudstein or Boyle, and wanders around the place looking suspect with her otherworldly eyes, and doing it rather well. Is it just me or is she hot, too? Another creep factor is the locals' belief that Dr Boyle had been to the town before, to visit Dr Peterson, although Boyle himself is strangely unaware of any previous visit. And of course mention must be made about this whole telepathic link between Bob and May, who appears to be residing in some kind of after life, and hanging out with the less nefarious side of the Freudstein marriage, Mrs Freudstein. Such supernatural elements make this very much a Fulci movie of the time, and at the same time make very little sense except to add layers of mystery and intrigue onto what is ostensibly a movie about a decrepit, undead nut job who feeds on anyone who dares enter his spooky-looking house.
That's not to suggest Freudstein simply feeds on his victims. No. Before using their blood to rejuvenate his maggoty fluids, he must of course kill them in a variety of twisted ways. What has he been doing down in that basement for the last 100 years, watching Lucio Fulci horror movies? It would certainly appear so, because his methods of human disposal comprise scissors through the head and mouth, multiple fire poker stabbing, throat ripping and the more traditional throat cutting, all presented here with trademark Fulci crunching sound effects and glorious slow motion in sickening detail. Yum.
There's no doubt about it, the gore on display here is top class stuff. It's just a shame that there's an impending boredom setting in before and after these set pieces, where characters tend to walk about the place quite a lot before anything actually happens. Thankfully, Water Rizatti’s threatening baroque score helps alleviate slumber during these scenes, which are no doubt intended to be packed full of suspense. Additional help comes in the form of master lens man Sergio Salvati, whose cinematography elevates this, and most of the other movies he shot for Fulci, above those shot by lesser cinematographers.
Sluggish pace aside, the casting is great here. MacColl screams her guts out just like she did from within that buried coffin in City of the Living Dead, while Paolo Malco is pretty solid as expert bat wrestler Dr Boyle, and the pair do have a chemistry together. The aforementioned creepy baby sitter, Ann, is played with evil gusto by none other than Ania Pieroni (Inferno, Tenebrae), who I still say is still hot, despite those robust eyebrows.
Gianpaolo Saccarola also pops in as the shifty librarian Daniel, and gets away with playing exactly the same character in The Beyond, who always looks like he’s feeling guilty about recent masturbating. And let us not forget Bob, whose name is called here more than any other in movie history. Young Giovanni Frezza had the misfortune to have his Italian voice dubbed by an extremely irritating actor, and when he first opens his mouth, you might think, 'What an unusual voice Bob has', but after 30 minutes have elapsed, you'll want Freudstein to get him with his big manky hand to put an end to that infernal racket. Which is a real shame, because physically, young Frezza (The New Barbarians, Demons, A Blade in the Dark) is otherwise perfect for the part of Bob. That's dodgy Italian dubbing for you I guess.
One could argue this to be one of Fulci’s finer horror films. While the atmosphere is laid on thicker than Carpenter’s smoke machines in The Fog, the building tension scenes tend to bore, but if you’re willing to stay with it, a bountiful reward of maggots will be bestowed upon you. But I still say it’s a real shame about Bob’s voice.
Versions The UK Arrow DVD release is fantastic and is, as far as I'm aware, uncut. The anamorphic print is the best i've ever seen and also sounds great. The main extra is a 15 minute featurette about Fulci, featuring interviews with the likes of Fangoria's Anthony Timpone.