House by the Cemetery

Directed by Lucio Fulci

Starring Catriona  MacColl, a house, and occasionally a zombie

Running Time 86 minutes

1981

Italy

                Once again, we revisit Fulci and his Gates of Hell trilogy in the last and possibly the worst in the film trio, House by the Cemetery. This is another Italian horror film directed by Lucio Fulci and released in 1981 and later in the United States in 1984. Just like the first two films in the trilogy, this one also stars Catriona MacColl aka “Katherine MacColl” and once again, she moves into a home and stumbles upon ghouls that want to kill her. It was no surprise that it bore a lame plot and the same over exaggerated acting as the first two films. The plot is so incoherent, the acting and character buildup so horrid, not to mention the poorly dubbed voices of the children (maybe the scariest part of the film) that it is easy to become annoyed, lose interest, and possibly even doze off. However, I was wrong when I mentioned in another blog that there was a real lack of gore in House by the Cemetery. There isn’t necessarily a lack of it per say, it just seems rather tame for a Fulci film. Sure, there’s a woman that gets murdered with a kitchen knife through the back of the head, another that gets stabbed through the throat with a poker, and a sketchy babysitter that gets decapitated as well as an innocent mannequin, but for Fulci the gore seems weirdly light and disappointing. Fulci isn’t known for incredibly intriguing and well composed plot lines but rather for his imagery and cinematic gruesomeness. Compared to the other films in the trilogy and indeed to Fulci horror films in general, House by the Cemetery is rather slow, monotonous, and uninteresting.

           Dr. Norman Boyle has a colleague that committed suicide and left behind unfinished research into an old house called “Oak Mansion” and the nefarious Dr. Freudstein that once lived there. Norman takes up his late colleague’s work and moves his wife, Lucy and his young son, Bob into the same mysterious house so that he can continue his colleague’s research. The house itself is rather bitchin’. It is a large Victorian style home in the country situated of course next to a cemetery and is quite spacious with a large front porch and rooms with huge stained-glass windows. However, the house also comes with a tomb in the hallway and a zombie creature thing in the basement that Fulci stubbornly refuses to show until the end of the film. Through Norman’s research and after several close ups of his eyes (a favorite Fulci move) Norman discovers that Dr. Freudstein had been a surgeon and performed horrifying human experiments inside the home Norman and his family have just moved into. The very one that his colleague had previously lived in before killing himself. After discovering that Freudstein is a reanimated corpse living in their basement the family attempts to get the hell out of there only to find, in true Fulci fashion that they have waited until it is too late.

          In addition to the lovely Catriona MacColl House by the Cemetery also stars Daniella Doria however brief and while you may not know her name you’ve seen her before if you’ve seen many of Fulci’s films. Doria was a favorite victim of Fulci and she appeared in The Black Cat, The New York Ripper, as well as two of the three films in the Gates of Hell trilogy. In City of the Living Dead we remember her as “bleeding eyeballs lady”, and in House by the Cemetery she’s the one that gets the kitchen knife through the back of the head. Dagmar Lassander who portrayed Mrs. Gittleson in House by the Cemetery can also be seen in The Black Cat alongside Daniella Doria. Carlo de Mejo stars in House by the Cemetery as “Mr. Wheatley” and can also be spotted in City of the Living Dead as “Gerry”, the psychiatrist with a teenage girlfriend.

 Perhaps the only likable aspect of House by the Cemetery is that while the previous two Gates of Hell films had Lovecraftian elements, this one obviously had some inspiration from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein; or The Modern Prometheus. There’s the mad doctor named “Freudstein” with a secret lab where he conducted freaky experiments, and the images Norman has of body parts reminiscent of the image of Victor creating his monster with the various parts of dead people. The zombie in the basement in House by the Cemetery is very much like Victor’s creature in that Victor had to make his monster unusually large for a human being and our zombie in Fulci’s film is also very large and unusually strong. Towards the end Norman gives off a very Victor-like vibe while trying to save the people he loves from the “creature”, and while Norman may not have physically created his monster as Victor had done, it was Norman’s decision to take on the Oak Mansion research that led his family there and put them in peril. But how heroic Norman was fighting that unrealistically huge and ridiculously squeaky bat with a pair of scissors! There was no way I could write this blog and not mention that ridiculous fucking bat.

Unfortunately, House by the Cemetery is really more aggravating than entertaining. The dubbed voices of the children, especially that of Bob is so distracting that all I could think about when he spoke was how terrible that seemingly forced high pitched voice of his was rather than what the kid was actually saying. The dubbing for Mae Freudstein, Bob’s mysterious little ghost friend is at the very least, laughable. Mae’s character in general doesn’t make much sense. If she’s trying to warn the family of impending doom then why would she appear only to Bob, the child, the one that is the most helpless in his family’s situation? Why not appear to the parents? That might have been helpful because even after Bob sees his babysitter’s decapitated head and tells his mother about it, she doesn’t believe him and expects him to go to sleep -that night- in that house-in the dark-alone- without any trouble. She doesn’t even bother to question as to where Ann is and why they haven’t seen her. The mother really bothered me. Earlier in the film, Lucy sees Ann mopping up blood in the kitchen and apparently thinks nothing of it. When she speaks to Norman about the encounter with Ann her biggest complaint strangely isn’t the bloody water that Ann had to have been ringing out of that towel through the entire scene but the fact that Ann isn’t very talkative. Speaking of Ann, what is the deal with her? Ann’s character is ominous, like she’s there perhaps to lure more victims for the basement monster or something. Norman even catchers her making a bunch of noise trying to break into the basement and oddly doesn’t ask her what she’s doing or why. He just calls her name and after some eyeball closeups, walks away like he could give a shit less. He’s not even the least bit suspicious but the audience certainly is and Ann is irritatingly killed off without any explanation for her strange behavior.

 The ending doesn’t explain anything either but rather raises more questions. You never really know what will happen in the end of a Fulci film only that the innocents (living ones) won’t escape and will suffer whatever fate by whatever evil they were vaguely warned against through the entire movie. House by the Cemetery ended no differently except for that of Bob. Bob is a bit of an anomaly here. After Norman gets his throat torn out Lucy and Bob attempt to escape the basement through a ladder that leads to the tomb. While Lucy doesn’t make it, Bob is saved at the last moment by Mae who appears out of nowhere and pulls Bob out of the basement. Bob is surprisingly jovial for a child that just witnessed his parents get murdered by a zombie. The movie ends with the ghost of Mary Freudstein all in Victorian dress showing up and telling Mae to remember her manners and walking away with the children one in each hand. I suppose my question here is, did Bob make it out? Did he perish in the basement and is now a ghost himself but is not aware of it? Is he alive but will somehow live on his own with an old lady ghost and her ghost daughter? I can’t rightfully say what happened with Bob but it might surprise you to know that the actor that played Bob, Giovanna Frezza grew up to be a physicist and has a black belt in Kung-Fu. While the ending to House by the Cemetery is definitely not what you’d expect and that is usually a good thing, here it’s just weird and makes no sense. There are better zombie films in the horror genre, some of them directed by Fulci but House by the Cemetery unfortunately was not one of them.   

Krista Funk

Managing editor: The Moratorium

Published by Tim

I grew up around the movie theater. Going to the movies was a weekly thing. Just out of high school, I managed a drive-in theater. Shortly after that I went on to manage a multiplex theater. When I wasn't at work, I was still at the theater taking in as much popcorn and visual stimulation as possible. I went on to manage a video store after a few years and that is where I gained full, or no, control of my movie addiction, and watched everything I could get my hands on. Many years have passed but my love for the odd, and obscure, movies, especially from the 1980's, never died. Now along with my friends, we bring this passion into another form, a podcast. And why not, we have been gathering together, usually in the kitchen, to do this exact thing for years, which is talking about movies.

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