Finding a new home isn’t always easy. Most of the time if it seems to good to be true, it most likely is. Sometimes there is mold damage or the foundation isn’t sturdy… or sometimes there is an evil doctor turned creature living in the basement that murders people for blood and body parts. That’s usually something they keep off the record, so it isn’t until you buy the home that you have to deal with that pest yourself or hire an exterminator, as the Boyle’s find out in Lucio Fulci’s The House by the Cemetery. As the tagline says, “Read the fine print. You may have just mortgaged your life!” which is one of my favorites of all time and sets up the events that you are in store for. Of course other taglines read, “Can anyone survive the demented marauding zombies in…” and “BEWARE THE DEMON FORCES OF THE… BLOOD BEASTS,” misdirecting and implying that there is more than one monster, but I guess it wouldn’t be a Fulci film if something weren’t mildly confusing.
Like most Fulci films, The House by the Cemetery’s plot isn’t the most logical, having a few glaring holes here and there and the ending of the film making little or no sense, but not as incomprehensible as some of his other work, say Manhattan Baby. Apparently in early releases of the VHS, some of the reels are edited out of order, making the story even more confusing. This was made in the early 80’s when Fulci was really serving up some well told, nasty horror flicks, sometimes so nasty the movie would earn a well deserved spot on the Video Nasties list. Alongside City of the Living Dead and The Beyond, The House by the Cemetery is considered to be the third in his unofficial “Gates of Hell Trilogy.” Since I already discussed the film in a Goon Reviews video, (WATCH IT HERE!) why would I be talking about it again? Because it’s that good. Read on.
The House by the Cemetery opens up quite literally in the very definition, as we see a house that is next to a cemetery. It’s a relieving feeling, knowing you can trust the film to be true to the title, unlike some others (I’m looking at you, I Drink Your Blood). A young couple has finished using the uninhabited property as a secluded place to boink. This scene like catching the tail end of a horror movie cliche, as we don’t see the sex act, but the young girl who vomited her guts out (literally) in City of the Living Dead calls out for her boyfriend about a thousand times before finding his mutilated body nailed to a door, then getting a knife driven through the back of her skull and out her mouth. As the unseen murderer that is made up of rotting body parts, as indicated by one of his hands, I can’t help but wonder… did Pieces copy that exact same stabbing scene, or did this film rip off Pieces? With Italian filmmakers, sometimes it’s hard to tell who ripped off who.
Enter the Boyles, who are moving to this Boston home from New York City, where every Italian movie seems to center. The man of the house, Dr. Norman Boyle, is continuing the research of his colleague who was working in the house when he mysteriously murdered his mistress and committed suicide, so obviously this is the dream home to bring your wife Lucy (played by Fulci regular Catroina MacColl), who has previously heard voices and hallucinated on meds and your effeminate son, Bob, who claims a girl in one of the photos of the house has been warning his family not to come. Clearly the ideal Norman Rockwell painted family.
But first, a little disclaimer about Bob.
Bob is going to freak you out, thanks to the magic of dubbing. He may look like a normal child, but just wait til he starts speaking and you hear one of the oddest voice acting choices for dubbing. Bob’s voice is something of a middle aged woman who hasn’t quite reached puberty yet. It will catch you off guard.
Even with all these flashing red warnings, the Boyle’s move in anyway, giving further material for the Wayans that “white people be tripping.” Within moments of moving and establishing that Lucy might be slightly off her rocker, the babysitter, Ann, arrives, played by that creepy staring chick with the thick eyebrows that is strangely attractive from Dario Argento’s Inferno. The actress decided to reach slightly outside of her acting safe zone of staring ominously past the camera and actually have a speaking role… while staring ominously past the camera.
As if the company the Boyle’s are keeping isn’t disturbing them enough, it doesn’t take long for the house to being making all kinds of Spencer’s Gifts haunted house CD noises, with the creaking floorboards and childish crying. These sounds drive Norman to pause his research and investigate to find, to his shocking horror, Ann trying to pry open the boarded up basement door. At like, two in the morning. Huh? Why would she be doing that at an ungodly hour? Maybe she got home from the bar and still had some leftover Red Bull and vodka energy.
And the next morning, it’s brushed off like it never happened. Bob meets this ghost girl from the photo, named Mae, who is not only a ghostly figure that warns Bob of the dangers to come, but also plays hide and seek with him! Norman goes about his research, beginning to uncover the odd disappearances of the townsfolk and more about his co-worker’s death, while Lucy finds a tombstone marked Jacob Tess Freudstein in the middle of their living area. Norman assures her that all the homes in the area have them and it’s nothing to worry about. And to prove she has nothing to worry about, he finally pries that damn cellar door open, after about a bajillion false delays and the Fulci trademark “close up on the eyes of people exchanging glances” shot. Upon investigating the basement, they realize there is nothing to be afraid of down there except BAAAAAAAT! The winged rat tangles itself in Lucy’s hair and bites Norman on the hand, which Norman then dispatches by stabbing it with a pair of scissors and the bat bleeds out of several pre-cut holes.
Well, that’s about enough of that! The Boyle’s immediately smash cut to the real estate place demanding to be re-housed, but are unfortunately they are told it would be a few days. A few days later (I think… or later that day?) when the Boyle’s are off doing… something, the real estate lady, Mrs. Gittelson, arrives to tell them about their new crib, but the monster living in the house likes his new tenants and stabs her to death with a fireplace poker and drags her into the basement. By now you’re thinking, “A Fulci film without an eyeball gouging? What the hell!?” Well, you may notice that as Mr. Gittelson is being dragged off, one of her eye’s is torn apart. Apparently, there was a shot of her death scene in which her eye gets ripped out of its socket, but was cut because Fulci felt it didn’t look authentic enough. Man, given the caliber of effects in Italian horror films, your effect must have really sucked if Fulci wanted to pass on an eyeball gouging.
The next morning, Ann is scrubbing away at the giant bloodstain that Lucy barely questions and then shrugs off. Ann stares at Lucy, unblinking and silent, as Lucy’s questions go unanswered and all she can say afterwards is, “that girl Ann is a real weirdo.” Understatement of the year. Norman is all like, “whatevs” and glosses over some background history on their resident in the tomb, Dr. Freudstein. Apparently, he was a mad scientist of sorts. This prompts Norman to get away from his family for awhile and head back to New York City. Norman bails on his family while Lucy goes shopping, leaving Ann with the increasingly annoying Bob, who she thinks she hears crying in the basement. Ah, she fell for an old horror movie cliche! There’s no way she’ll get “a head” that way… wink!
Arming himself with a toy gun and a teddy bear, Bob heads into the basement to save Ann (or what’s left of her), but is saved from a monster hiding in the shadows when his mother comes home. Bob tries to tell her about Ann’s rotting corpse in their basement that’s littered with body parts, but Lucy isn’t having any of that nonsense and sends Bob to bed. But Bob, now being convinced by his mother that Ann isn’t dead, sneaks down into the basement only to be confronted by the monstrous Dr. Freudstein, who looks like a half melted, rotting corpse with fresh new limbs, which turns out that’s what he does with his victims. Norman has just discovered this and rushed home to help Lucy rescue Bob and quickly get out all this exposition, that Freudstein needs new limbs and fresh blood to stay alive (um, don’t regular people need that too?). Norman hacks off Freudstein’s fresh new arm while breaching the door with an axe and freeing Bob from the mad doctor’s clutches, reuniting them all in the basement. But rather than immediately dashing out and escaping to somewhere safe or torching the place, they stay in the basement, listening to the child like cries of the doctor (now that I think of it, why does he cry like that?). Dr. Freudstein slowly approaches the family and getting prison shanked by Norman, which he could argue was in “self defense.” However, Freudstein is a hardcore fan (and probably the only fan) of the MacGruber movie and tears out Norman’s throat, spilling gallons of blood! Lucy and Bob try to run up the stairs under the tomb, attempting to shove the heavy slab of concrete blocking their only exit.
It’s actually a well paced, tense scene. The monster slowly approaches them, making his way up the stairs and just when you think they are going to make it, Dr. Freudstein grabs Lucy’s ankles and drags her down the stairs as we hear her scream in the darkness and then silence. Bob is now all alone and orphaned as he sees Freudstein make his way back up the stairs. Bob frantically tries to push open what he and a full grown, panicky women couldn’t open and as the doctor inches his way toward Bob, within his grasps. Suddenly, a pair of tiny hands rip open the tomb with Hulk like strength and free Bob, who is revealed to be Mae. Wait, what? Apparently Mae can summon “mother saving a trapped baby” strength and not only rip open a couple hundred pound slab on concrete, but yank Bob out of there so fast that if she let go, he would have shot into the atmosphere. But the confusion only begins there. Throughout the film, Mae is accompanied by an older woman whose face we never see, until now, when it’s revealed to be Freudstein’s wife, making her at least a hundred years old… so, are they ghosts? As the kids and Mrs. Freudstein wonder off, you can’t help but to be puzzled by the ending, but it’s not going sour the experience of the movie for you.
Of all the movies that could have been named Don’t Go in the Basement, this should have been it.The House by the Cemetery, while in traditional Fulci form by not being entirely coherent, is one of his more strongly structured stories. In exchange for that, it’s also not his bloodiest or nastiest… but it is in no way tame. The film is packed with plenty of stomach turning moments of brutality and gore, that is sure to make you toss up your lunch. Something that is often overlooked in these kinds of films is the beauty of the cinematography. While it may not be as artistic as his Italian counterpart Dario Argento, Fulci’s shots in this film are often open when outdoors, sometimes feeling colorless, which leaves with the feeling of dread and becoming more claustrophobic as we go further down into the house and into the basement where the reds start to run. Right from the opening shot of the fog rolling over the graves and over to the empty, dilapidated house, you feel at unease, but there is something gorgeous about what you are looking at.
This film is a staple for horror fans and a pillar for Italian horror flicks. For all the fun I had nit picking a few things here and there, it’s a without a doubt pretty solid horror film with, for the most part, pretty decent acting, dreary mood and atmosphere, splattered with all kinds of guts and gore making this a must have for fanatics of the macabre cinema.
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