House by the Cemetery (1981) Review

Spoiler-free so you can read before you watch

House by the Cemetery (1981) Review

Horrorific content by TE Simmons on September 15th, 2021 | Movie Review | Hell, Back from the Dead, Gore, Giallo

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It’s about a young family relocating from the city to a gothic country home in New England where – fun fact – 19th century families often interred their departed loved ones “in-house” on account of the unyielding ground. 

House by the Cemetery was directed by the renowned Lucio Fulci (who also directed such animal-themed films as A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin, Don’t Torture a Duckling, and A Cat in the Brain) and stars Catriona MacColl, a ballerina turned actor (who also starred in Man Eaters) as Lucy Boyle, Paolo Malco (The New York Ripper) as her husband, Professor Norman Boyle, child actor Giovanni Frezza as their young son Bob, and Ania Pieroni (Inferno) as their babysitter.  

The unsettling feeling of allowing strangers to mill about inside a house could just be the springboard for an excursion into mild terror.

House by the Cemetery Review

House by the Cemetery is the third in Lucio Fulci’s “Gates of Hell” trilogy which includes City of the Living Dead and The Beyond. All three films feature Lovecraftian demon/zombie monsters and star Catriona MacColl

Alongside Herschell Gordon Lewis, Fulci has been unofficially crowned by some as a “Godfather of Gore” – a title which sticks better to Fulci than to Lewis, given his Italian heritage. 

Speaking of the gore, it’s a bit exaggerated. Films from the 1920s were bloodless. Films from the 1940s showed only discrete hints of blood. Then we progressed to Technicolor blood in the Hammer films. In 1980s, we would be sprayed with excessive quantities of hemoglobin – more than ordinary – to make a point of some sort. The plus-size blood in films like this one later gave rise to the stupendously satirical buckets of the stuff in films like Mel Brook’s Dracula: Dead and Loving It and Peter Jackson’s Dead Alive and a bat’s death in this film scene rivals Paul Reubens’ expiration-performance in the original Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The bloodshed borders on ridiculous.  

But House by the Cemetery is unnerving for reasons other than its gore. Italian cinema is bizarre and unfamiliar to many North Americans. The soundstage is especially foreign with its remarkably flat dubbing and its crazy synthesizer soundtrack. 

So, too, are the film’s explanations for its horror. American filmgoers expect to be told why (e.g., because the serial killer was an abused child; because the housing development was situated on an Indian gravesite, etc.). House by the Cemetery offers several threads, but it leaves most of them unknotted. We never learn how the babysitter fits into the story, nor why people have seen Professor Boyle in an area when he’s never visited. And why was a picture of the remote house hanging in the couple’s Boston apartment before they moved there? For Fulci, narrative logic must have been an oxymoron.

And yet, in spite of its ersatz actor voices, its silly gross-outs, and its unresolved hauntings, the film succeeds with its visual elegance. The editing is sophisticated and understated. The cinematography, the leaden lighting, and the darkened sets envelop the viewer. 

Worth Watching?

Certainly. House by the Cemetery is worth watching for its visual compositions. Its storytelling is incoherent, but not necessarily in a bad way.

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