The House by The Cemetery (1981)

Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #378

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Number of Views: Three
Release Date: 14 August 1981
Sub-Genre: Italian Splatter
Country of Origin: Italy
Running Time: 87 minutes
Director: Lucio Fulci
Producer: Fabrizio De Angelis
Screenplay: Lucio Fulci, Giorgio Mariuzzo, Dardano Sacchetti
Special Effects: Maurizio Trani, Gino De Rossi
Cinematography: Sergio Salvati
Score: Walter Rizzati
Editing: Vincenzo Tomassi
Studios: Fulvia Film
Distributors: Vestron Video, Blue Underground
Stars: Katriona MacColl, Paolo Malco, Ania Pieroni, Giovanni Frezza, Silvia Collatina, Dagmar Lassander, Giovanni De Nava, Daniela Doria, Gianpaolo Saccarola, Carlo De Mejo, Kenneth A. Olsen, Elmer Johnsson, Ranieri Ferrara, Teresa Rossi Passante

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Suggested Audio Candy

Walter Rizzati “Soundtrack Suite”

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If I ever earn enough to acquire my very own Gothic mansion the very first thing I shall do will be to barricade the cellar. There are two reasons for this and I blame both on the Italians. The first is Mario Bava’s Beyond The Door II aka Shock which I watched at the tender age of eleven and affected me on a subterranean level and the second is The House By The Cemetery by the Godfather of Gore himself, Lucio Fulci. Thanks to American Bob Clark’s Black Christmas I can state with vehemence that the attic too is off-limits. Kind of defeats the purpose of owning a Gothic mansion in the first place right? Fuck it, I’ll hang out in the billiard room.

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The House By The Cemetery suffered a particularly torrid time at the hands of those unscrupulous censors. The original cinema version was cut by 34 seconds prior to the UK’s Video Recordings Act 1984 when it was promptly banned and successfully prosecuted. Four years later it finally saw the light of day once more although not before a further four minutes were trimmed. Then in 1992 it was released a third time only this time the BBFC saw fit to remove a further three minutes, rendering the whole film totally incomprehensible. It wasn’t until 2009 that it finally became available in its full uncut glory. The real head-scratcher is that, in Keeper’s opinion, both The Beyond and City of The Living Dead are nastier films which shows just how inconsistent and shambolic the censorship system really was.

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Of all Fulci’s films from the period, The House By The Cemetery is undoubtedly one of the director’s least incongruous offerings and, after a typically visceral opening, settles into a rather sedate pace for the first forty-five minutes or so. Professor Norman Boyle (Paolo Malco), his wife Lucy (Katriona MacColl), and their troubled son Bob (Giovanni Frezza) move into an old mansion located suspiciously close to a cemetery while Norman concludes the research of a deceased colleague and it isn’t long before things take a turn for the ominous. Things that go bump in the night accompanied by children crying, unexplained puddles of blood, and plenty of dubious omens all suggest that their estate agent needs firing, while their au pair Anne (Ania Pieroni) is hardly the kind of babysitter you would wish to leave your only son with while you’re out on the daily grind.

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If the opening half hour is reminiscent of The Amityville Horror then, once Fulci kicks things up a gear, we shift safely in slasher territory. The cellar houses the remains of Victorian surgeon Dr. Freudstein (Giovanni De Nava) and he’s none too pleased by the new inhabitants. Moreover, he’s a rotting maggot-infested corpse with absolutely no social airs and graces and hell-bent on murder most horrid. It is initially alluded that Anne is, in some way, responsible for the escalating madness but, rather than fire the new babysitter for harboring suspect information about the house’s dark secret, the Boyles allow her to continue acting suspiciously and unblocking the basement door until she finally wanders down there and our red herring is removed from the equation. Fulci practises great restraint up until this point then simply cries “fanculo!” and busts out the Rosé as is customary. No complaints here.

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The final act is far closer to traditional Fulci fare and the basement plays host to all manner of splatter-heavy shenanigans as the true extent of the family’s plight becomes painfully evident. Where City of The Living Dead and The Beyond both possess numerous supernatural connotations, The House By The Cemetery becomes a flat-out race for survival against a far more earthy antagonist. The real unsung villain of the piece is the lower floor itself as every time we take a peek inside something hideous plays out. Had I mentioned the demented bats in the family belfry? Sorry, it must’ve slipped my mind. If they aren’t enough to encourage Norman to announce the cellar off-limits then perhaps the scattered surgical implements and suspect pathology slab in the center of the room should seal the deal. It’s a bad place, where shitty things happen, and Fulci concentrates the hysteria to within this single locale.

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Another key player here is the energetic score by Walter Rizzati with its Gothic charm and it underscores the madness exquisitely. Less effective soundbites come in the form of infant Bob. It was the done thing back then for the Italians to post-synch their audio and they picked a real doozy for the youngster, with his voice being provided by a grown woman curiously enough. Much is made of this bizarre voice over and admittedly it doesn’t sit right but therein lays the appeal. Suspending disbelief is essential when watching any of Fulci’s works and it lends an ethereal charm to proceedings which makes the film even more eccentric.

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The House By The Cemetery is often regarded as the true fan favorite of Fulci’s early eighties output where I would argue that it is perhaps the weakest entry in The Gates of Hell Trilogy. That’s not to say it isn’t awesome; on the contrary. Fulci’s then collaborators, fellow screenwriter Dardano Sacchetti, and gifted director of photography Sergio Salvati are both present and correct, and the fruits of the trio’s collective loins are always ripened. The trio shared an unspoken understanding and Fulci’s later films suffered as a result of the dissolution of said partnerships. Here their synergy is on full exhibit and we are soon made to forget any glaring inconsistencies once they do what they do best, that being courting madness. So you can take your sub-basement with its manky bats and shove it thank you very much. If you need me I’ll be playing billiards.

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Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 8/10

Grue Factor: 5/5

For the Grue-Guzzlers: I will likely never fully understand why this alone provoked the wrath of the censors, while The Beyond got away with a slapped wrist and, City of The Living Dead, merely an irritated finger wag. Having said that, there is still a plethora of reasons not to look in the basement. Throats are used as scratch cards, heads stabbed, decapitated bonnets topple down dusty stairs, bats are snuffed out most decisively, and fire pokers used to thoroughly perforate any busybodies who come snooping around to pad out any lulls. Sadly there isn’t a single eye-gouging despite Fulci’s primary intention to shoehorn one in. The effect apparently wasn’t considered believable enough but he makes up for it by encouraging us to wear our neck scarves for the foreseeable instead.

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Read The Beyond Appraisal

Read City of The Living Dead Appraisal

Read Zombi 2 Appraisal

Read Burial Ground: The Nights of Terror Appraisal

Richard Charles Stevens

Keeper of The Crimson Quill

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1 Comment

  1. …” their synergy is on full exhibit and we are soon made to forget any glaring inconsistencies once they do what they do best, that being courting madness. So you can take your sub-basement with its manky bats and shove it thank you very much. If you need me I’ll be playing billiards.”

    YES!!!! 😀

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