Del reviews ‘House by the Cemetery’

Image courtesy of De Paolis In.Co.R. Studio.

“The House by the Cemetery” Starring Catriona MacColl, Paola Malco and Ania Pieroni. Directed by Lucio Fulci. 86 minutes. Not rated.

Del’s take

“The House by the Cemetery” is a film only a horror purist could love, and love it they do, in gushing online paeans that celebrate its blood-drenched genius. Written by legendary screenwriter Dardano Sacchetti and directed by the Godfather of Gore, Lucio Fulci, “House” is itself a paean to violence, splashing its audience with viscera, maggots, and other gory tropes of Italian horror cinema.

It is part of Fulci’s Gates of Hell trilogy, which also includes “City of the Living Dead” and “The Beyond” – entries in a catalog of horror movies, spaghetti westerns and comedies that make up the erstwhile communist agitator’s body of work. Fulci passed away in 1996 due to complications from diabetes after suffering a life nearly as tragic as his horror films, but he has developed a cult following over the years and many of his fans rate “The House by the Cemetery” one of his best works.

The story is about a young academic, Dr. Norman Boyle, who brings his wife and son to a small, rural town so that he may resume the work of a colleague, identified only as Dr. Petersen. Petersen was researching the notorious Dr. Freudstein, a 19th century medical practitioner who allegedly conducted forbidden experiments resulting in disfigurement, death and, shall we say, supernatural complications. During his investigation, Petersen inexplicably loses his mind, kills his girlfriend and hangs himself from the rafters of the town library. Now Dr. Boyle has arrived to finish Petersen’s work. He has even moved his family into the house that was previously occupied by Dr. Freudstein.

The Boyles are joined by Ann, ostensibly a babysitter for young Bob, the Boyles’ blindingly blonde-haired son. But she may be in league with the supernatural forces that rule the Freudstein house. Bob’s mother, Lucy, seems to sense something is off about Ann. In fact, she knows something is off about the entire house but she soldiers on, the loving if weary spouse of an obsessed academic.

The Boyles’ presence rekindles the ghostly inhabitant of Freudstein House and all manner of jump scares, sudden spooks and not-so-ethereal attacks commence, culminating in an inevitable showdown between man and boogeyman.

The film was released in 1980, which dates it. More substantially – and jarringly –  its Italian roots, and its Italian horror sensibility, establish a distance between movie and audience that “House by the Cemetery” may not be able to overcome in the United States. Its case is not helped by the oceans of blood and horrifically graphic violence that, even by today’s standards, will present a challenge to weak-stomached audience members. It could have been worse. According to lore, Fulci was mandated to slay at least some of his darlings to keep the movie at an R rating in the U.S.

More puzzling are the weird lapses in cognition experienced by the characters. For instance, in one scene a woman is brutally (and bloodily) murdered. Her body is dragged across the kitchen and down into the cellar, leaving a blood trail wide as an interstate highway. The next morning Ann, the suspicious au pair, sets about cleaning up the mess (without inquiring as to its cause, which to my mind casts her in league with the devil). Lucy walks into the kitchen, sees Ann down on the floor with her bucket and scrub brush, and asks her what she is doing. Ann says, “I made coffee,” and that answer seems satisfactory to Lucy, who turns and heads toward the stove. Blood trail? What blood trail? The movie is rife with such oversights.

Replete with overly dramatic acting, a musical score that will strike Americans as intrusively silly, and inexplicable gaps in storytelling, “House by the Cemetery” falls more into grindhouse mockery than art house storytelling.

For those reasons I won’t recommend it. I watched out of a sense of duty to Fulci and Sacchetti, but in retrospect, “House by the Cemetery” wasn’t very good.

If you are a horror purist or a collector of oddball cinema, you might enjoy the movie. Otherwise, try something a bit more modern, and a lot more consistent with reality.

“House by the Cemetery” is available on Shudder.

I rate it a D+.

Del Stone Jr. is a former journalist and author.