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Thursday, September 17, 2009

Retro Review: The House by the Cemetery

"Anne? Mommy says you're not dead... Is that true?"

Let me make this perfectly clear. I LOVE Lucio Fulci. Not everyone does. This is an argument that can never be won one way or another. Some love him, some hate him. Over the years, he's become one of my all-time favorite horror directors. It's been said that his films resemble nothing so much as "fever dreams" or nightmares, and I find this to be very true. Especially in a film like this, which may very well be my favorite of his.

Only Zombi 2 equals The House by the Cemetery among Fulci's body of work, in my opinion, and it is my personal favorite amongst his revered "Lovecraftian" trilogy. It may be because it's the most conventional, linear and plot-oriented of the three, I don't know. I just get a major kick out of seeing Fulci take on the tried-and-true haunted house subgenre, and adding his gore-soaked fingerprint to it. As I've written before, this is his take-off on The Shining.

First off, the thing that grabs me is what may be the finest of all the scores for Fulci's films, and that's saying quite a bit. This one comes not from Fabio Frizzi, Fulci's usual collaborator, but rather Walter Rizzati.

The lovely Catriona MacColl returns yet again in this final installment of the trilogy, playing Lucy Boyle, wife of Dr. Norman Boyle, and mother of young Bob (odd name for a little boy, no?) Just as in the other two films (City of the Living Dead and The Beyond), MacColl is something of an anchor for the film, with her excellent performance conveying so much of the horror.

And what a monster we have in Dr. Freudstein (great name!!), the bizarre, ghoulish undead denizen of the Boyle's creepy-as-hell basement. A deranged scientist who has somehow managed to prolong his life indefinitely by consuming the blood of the living, he is a truly dread-inspiring creation. We experience all the terror and slowly building panic of the Boyle family, and little Bob in particular, as we learn the truth of what evil resides in this new home they are trying to settle into.

Despite this being supposedly the most linear of the trilogy, it certainly has its fair share of surreal Fulci-ness. There's the prolonged scene in the kitchen with the vampire bat. The freaky housekeeper mopping up blood, and not even being questioned by her employer as to how the blood got there. And that ending, which makes about as much sense as any of the other endings to Fulci's films. But I think what most people misunderstand about Fulci is that these are not signs of poor filmmaking--rather, this was Fulci's exact intention, to throw you off your guard and create this not-quite-right version of reality.

As with any Fulci flick, the gore is here on full display. Few brought the grue like Senior Fulci, and this movie is no exception: necks spouting blood, maggot-filled wounds, throats ripped out, and the usual eye trauma is all here for you weirdos to enjoy. And for some reason, I care more about the victims this time around than in most of Fulci's other movies, which makes it all the more difficult to sit through.

I'm always a sucker for a horror flick that puts children in peril--this will always elicit a visceral terror response from me. And in this respect, The House by the Cemetery pushes all the right buttons. Although reviled by some Fulci fans, little Giovanni Frezza in the role of Bob is the perfect cherubic target for the demonic horrors of Freudstein, and he does well portraying a child for whom the irrational fears of nearly every child are actually real.

I will say this with regards to Bob, and this goes for the entire movie--at least the American print. Unfortunately, to my knowledge, there is no American version in Italian with English subtitles, which would've been my preference. And so, the only version I've seen is the one dubbed in English. More specifically, dubbed very badly into English. So bad, that it does occasionally take something away from the film, particularly in the case of the grown woman they chose to record Frezza's lines. I really wish this wasn't the way I experienced the film, but even through the bad dubbing, the movie's excellence shines through. I urge you to be patient with this one major flaw.

One of the most underrated of the films of Lucio Fulci, The House by the Cemetery is well worth discovering for any fan of haunted house films, gore flicks, or Italian horror.

* Thanks once again to the lovely Marilyn Merlot for this week's Retro Review suggestion!


Unknown said...

Excellent write-up. I agree totally with all points, especially about the score. House by the Cemetery is one of Fulci's best and one the best horror films period. Not everyone's cup of tea for sure, but for the people who get it, it's a treasure.

B-Sol said...

It really is a gem.

Anonymous said...

I agree, great review. Yes, the english dub is terrible, but, it is definitely a film worth checking out!


I'm not a devotee of Fulci's work really but I have to say that this is a pretty damn impressive movie in my opinion and the good Dr. was a very creepy creation.

B-Sol said...

Al, I think this might be the most "accessible" of Fulci's films. Even people who don't like his style seem to enjoy it.

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