Friday, 19 July 2013

The House by the Cemetery - review

1981 (Italy)

Contains mild spoilers.

Lucio Fulci's The House by the Cemetery is the third and final slice of his surrealist Lovecraftian blood splattered Gates of Hell trilogy; although it's only really a trilogy in name and in so much as it's another horror film with Fulci named as director, and I had high hopes. The Beyond is one my favourite films full of imagination, totally over the top deaths, ambiguity and style and I hate to say this up top but this pales somewhat in comparison.

The House by the Cemetery is the run down Oak Mansion, situated off the beaten track in New England. Professor Norman Boyle has received a commission to finish the work of his ex-colleague, Dr. Peterson, who murdered his mistress before committing suicide and is taking his wife Lucy (Catriona MacColl, who also appeared in both of Fulci's other films) and son Bob (Giovanni Frezzi) with him. Not long after arriving and after finding indoor tombs of a previous Freudstein family Norman is subject to a quite brilliant but utterly daft bat attack sequence after opening the nailed shut cellar door and they decide enough is enough and it's time to get out.

Before they have chance to get away though, Norman discovers that not only was Peterson looking into the late Dr Freudstein but that he'd discovered the late Victorian doctor was conducting horrendous and very illegal medical experiments in the basement just before his end and he rushes home just in time for an evening of carnage.

It's slow, full of suspense and tension, and just as much a thriller as a horror. In fact I'd argue if you added the true moments of horror all up they'd probably make up less than 5% of the film and it does suffer for this. The Beyond was chock full of deaths and extravagant iconic sequences and everything moved along with purpose. Here everything kind of plods along and there's far fewer actual scenes where I'd argue anything meaningful happens. It does feel Fulci had less time and money for this and looking at how quickly this came out after The Beyond I think we know the answer.

It still has all the Fulci slightly incoherent and yet cohesive, surrealist plot design that keeps everything scary and foreboding throughout. The characters are complicated and deep, the plot if anything is slightly tighter and more easily follow-able than its predecessors, the trademark video-nasty scenes are as good as we'd expect and you're left scratching your head in a good way. Fulci is still the master of mystery with unexplained psychic bonds and unanswered questions that gives each of his films an airy dream like feel and by now you know whether you love or loath him for it.

There is but one zombie, yes just one, and we really don't get to see much of him until near the end but he's well worth waiting for as he's one of most putrefying sinister reanimated chunks of flesh you're likely to ever see. Lacking any humanity he's a sadistic ghoul who uses fresh bodies to reinvigorate his blood (so perhaps he's not dead... tell you what, let's not go there...) He's not quite so ambiguous as the undead in The Beyond as we kind of understand his origin story but there's still much left to the imagination. As a beside my daughter on seeing his picture (call social security!) said he looked like the sandman; make of that what you will.

The Blu-ray transfer is sharp and the sound and picture are clean but whoever was responsible for the dub needs to hang their head in shame at Bob. I'm not sure whether they changed voice actor but it doesn't match at all and sticks out like a sore thumb. Not good, not good at all.

I hoped for more blood, more deaths, more zombies, more of everything but while it does have all the trademark atmosphere and daft sequences and it is scary it's in all honesty a shadow of its predecessor and I think this is born out in the fact I've mentioned it every other paragraph. Less ambitious and less intense it's still Fulci; it's just all too tempered and somehow lesser, which is a great shame, 6/10.


1 comment:

  1. Yeah the overdubbing on the voice acting is pretty obnoxiously off. Pound for pound still a decent movie, but obviously doesn't pack the punch that City and Beyond do.