Well, I did something about that several weeks ago when I received House by the Cemetery in the mail from the fine folks at Netflix--whom I still love, even if this is the only one of the trilogy they currently offer. Now, there's nothing I love more than a good, down-and-dirty 1970s exploitation horror flick, and House by the Cemetery delivered the goods. I was mucho impressed, and pleased as I always am at discovering a horror gem for the first time. That happens less and less these days.
But there was something about the movie I immediately noticed, and after viewing it, I jumped on the internet, only to find that nearly no one else seems to have made much of it at all. But it hit me like a water-logged boxing glove, so I thought I'd share it and see who among you shares my opinion. Simply put, it seems very obvious to me that, as enjoyable as House by the Cemetery is, it's basically Lucio Fulci's attempt to ride on the coattails of The Shining.
Just as he had done in 1979 when he put out the misleadingly titled Zombi 2 to capitalize on the success of George Romero's Dawn of the Dead the previous year, so too, it appears to me, did he crank out HBTC in 1981, a year after Stanley Kubrick's adaptation of Stephen King's novel, as a direct reaction to it.
Let's take a look at this, shall we? Both films focus on families moving into houses that are in the possession of some kind of malevolent force. In both cases, the man is moving in for professional reasons, and has a very young son who is contacted/befriended by an otherworldy spirit. The parents are aware of this, but believe it only to be their sons' imaginary friend. Both stories focus on the father of the family, and his journey of discovery as to the nature of the house and its evil presence. Both also showcase a distraught, put-upon wife who grows more and more terrified as she witnesses bizarre events unfold in the house. The Shining ends with a time-paradox twist involving the father and the earlier period in which the disturbance originated. At the end of HBTC, the son finds himself transported somehow back to an earlier time as well.
Where King/Kubrick and Fulci deviate is that in The Shining the force is far less tangible, and eventually imposes an evil influence on the father, turning him into a killer, while in House by the Cemetery, the entity is much more corporeal in nature, dispatching of its hapless victims directly.
Essentially, HBTC is a haunted house story, with a decidedly Fulcian twist. That twist has to do with Fulci's fascination with the physical, and the horrors of the flesh. Whereas most ghost stories are atmospheric in nature, frightening viewers on a psychological level, Fulci's aesthetic requires that the antagonist be much more of a physical being, able to perpetrate acts of graphic violence to showcase his beloved gore effects for the purpose of causing revulsion. This makes the movie a rare hybrid of the haunted house story and splatter flick.
My observation of Fulci's aping of The Shining may be fairly obvious to some of you, but the fact remains that I've been able to find hardly any mention online of any observed connection between the two movies. Yet for me, it was one of the first things I noticed. The film marks such a departure for Fulci, content-wise, that one cannot help but conclude that he had beheld the enormous success of Kubrick's pic and felt that maybe the writing was on the wall, that horror was returning to its more gothic roots. And so he attempted to get on board the bandwagon, albeit not without leaving his own bloody handprints so no one forgot whose movie it was.
The result makes for a surprisingly entertaining movie, particularly for those with a good old-fashioned attention span, who appreciate having their patience rewarded with properly paced and placed payoffs. Despite the hack editing and flaws of logic inherent in any Fulci picture, it works on several levels, producing more purely atmospheric terror than Fulci was customarily known for, while also punctuating the proceedings with a healthy dose of gut-wrenching grue. Despite its derivative nature, Fulci somehow manages to make it into a fairly unique movie--a paradox if ever there was one.