June 29, 2011

The House by the Cemetery (Review)


The House by the Cemetery (1981)

Director: Lucio Fulci

2.5 / 5 zedheads


Take it from me; The House by the Cemetery is a rough mess of a movie. Despite its accomplished gore effects, creepy visuals, and commitment to shock value, the film seems to do everything it can make its characters and story completely unwatchable. It's so off-putting at times that I have to entertain myself with silly thoughts about the movie just to stay interested. This time around, I found myself wondering, how exactly the real estate company would go about trying to sell the titular property in The House by the Cemetery. Something like this, maybe?

Tired of looking for your Little House on the Prairie but always ending up with the Last House on the Left? Then get away from the hustle and bustle of the city and experience true serenity at Oakwood Mansion, a quiet, rural, and luxurious turn-of-the century estate recently renovated to make room for the whole family. Outdoors, enjoy foggy morning walks in the serene cemetery adjacent the property. Indoors, enjoy premium features such as an authentic boarded up cellar, the largest and the nosiest rabid bats in all of New England, and antique gravestone flooring. Basement suite is already rented, but tenant is quiet and keeps to himself. Serious inquires only.
Looks quaint.
As you can tell by the above listing, this house by the cemetery has some charming qualities but ultimately ends up being a freaking hellhole. The same could be said about the movie itself!

The House by the Cemetery opens with two young people being brutally butchered in an empty house by a silent killer who is virtually unseen except for one rotting hand that comes into frame. Several months later, new killer fodder Norman and Lucy Boyle (Paolo Malco and Catriona MacColl) and their young son Bob (Giovanni Frezzi) move from New York into the estate. Apparently, the ghoulish murderer is also pretty good and cleaning up his mess because Norman and Lucy are none-the-wiser to the bloody violence that occurred there. The family has relocated so that Norman can finish the research of his ex-colleague, Dr. Peterson. In a dark twist, we find out that Dr. Peterson actually killed himself and his mistress while living in the very same house that Norman and Lucy now occupy. This house has one bloody track record.

Psycho meets Psoriasis
Before the move, Bob begins receiving telepathic warnings from a mysterious girl named Mae (Silvia Collatina) who cautions Bob to stay away from the place. Of course, his parents don't listen to him. Neither would you if you could hear is voice. I do not advocate child abuse nor have I have I ever physically harmed a child, but I could get amnesty for just one day to punch one kid in the face, I'd lay one right between Bob's eyes. He is one of the worst child characters I've ever had the displeasure of watching and hearing. Bob's dubbing is nothing short of infuriating. SWAT teams could amplify the sound of his voice to drive criminals out of their hideouts.

Don't tell me you wouldn't slap this kid when no one's looking.
Anyways, things go from weird to insane when Lucy starts to hear shuffling noises and the wailing sound of children in the walls. Meanwhile, when Norman, Bob, and Lucy are out of the house, visitors to the house end up murdered and disappeared. Soon, it becomes clear that there's something sinister in the boarded-up basement. But what connection does it have to a Dr. Freudstein, the original owner of the house and a turn-of-the-century surgeon disbarred for illegal medical research?

The House by the Cemetery is a movie that I've never been able to fully enjoy.  In fact, I've never met a Lucio Fulci film that sat well with me. While Fulci has produced several horror classics including Zombi 2 (review) and The Beyond (review), even these classic films are marred by technical limitations or sloppy scripts. At the same time, his trashy lesser efforts (such as The New York Ripper) are hard to dismiss because they often contain ballsy exploitation themes, bizarre ideas, or compelling technical achievements.The only way to truly evaluate The House by the Cemetery is to play a round of THE GOOD, THE BAD, and THE INFURIATING.

  • Accomplished gore effects
  • A unique-looking and menacing undead villain
  • Chilling sound design
  •  Fulci's signature blend of grindhouse Gothic horror
Even Mr. Clean's going to have a hard time getting out these wood stains.

  • Goofy dubbing
  • A pace that dips and drags
  • Scenes in which bad sound design and poor mechanical effects conspire to suck all the tension out of the movie. Take for instance this horribly long sequence with an impossibly loud and extremely fake looking bat

    • So many lose ends! When you get into Fulci's brand of Italian horror, you have to expect weirdness for weirdness's sake. Usually, however, the story threads or suggestions that  Fulci leaves untied tend to group together much more coherently when one sits down to interpret the film's metaphysical message (see: The Beyond). Not so in The House by the Cemetery. Here's just a few of the ideas raised by the film that are never concluded:
      • Many people in the town keep telling Mr. Boyle they remember him from the last time he was in town with a young girl. Norman Boyle denies ever being in town before. No explanation is given.
      • Ann, the babysitter supplied by the real estate agency, has no history or background but the film dwells on her and her startlingly creepy eyes as if she were crucial to the plot. She's in many scenes, and in one particularly awkward encounter we see her scrubbing up the blood stains of someone murdered in the house. As she's scrubbing, Lucy enters the room but makes no reference to the blood on the ground or why Ann is scrubbing it. She tries to engage Lucy in conversation, but the weirdo won't say anything to her. No explanation is given.
      • At the end of the film, Norman Boyle learns the truth about Dr. Freudstein and the real circumstances behind the deaths of his colleague and his mistress. He burns the evidence, and despite having so little time to absorb all the information comes bursting into the house in full on exposition mode, telling the audience everything they want to know. First, what possible reason does he have for burning the information? Second, how does he know so much so quickly? No explanation.
      • The undead killer in the basement is shown to be very strong, but very slow, yet is able to move around the house at incredible speeds and proves amazingly proficient ant cleaning up after the murders to leave no trace of the copious amounts of blood and gore shed in his wake. Especially when people are killed in the house while the Normans are out, the killer can't have that much time to completely dispose of the evidence No explanation. 
      • What's with all the quick glances? Fucili zooms in on people's eyes -- moving from one set of eyes eyes to another set of eyes -- as if to suggest some secret is being communicated in a glance. Yet, say it with me now: NO EXPLANATION!
    You looking at me? Why? Why are you looking at me?

    And that's The House by the Cemetery in a nutshell. Although it starts of as a livable premise, its construction, plot holes, non sequiturs, and dubbing make this house worthy of being condemned.