The House by the Cemetery

Read the fine print. You may have just mortgaged your life!

Year of Release: 1981
Also Known As: Quella villa accanto al cimitero
Genre: Horror
Rated: Not Rated
Running Time: 86 minutes (1:26)
Director: Lucio Fulci


Catriona MacColl ... Lucy Boyle
Paolo Malco ... Dr. Norman Boyle
Giovanni Frezza ... Bob Boyle
Ania Pieroni ... Ann, the Babysitter
Silvia Collatina ... Mae
Dagmar Lassander ... Laura Gittleson
Lucio Fulci ... Professor Muller (uncredited)

This is the eighth in a series of flicks I'm reviewin' in tribute to the ten guys that I feel made the biggest, and in some cases, most important contributions to the Horror genre, and this week we're headin' across the pond to Italy where one of the greatest Giallo directors of the '70s made the decision to abandon subtlety in favor of madness and became the most notorious filmmaker on the continent (who wasn't butchering live animals for sensationalism), Lucio "you won't be needing that eyeball where you're going" Fulci.


A young family moves from their cramped New York City apartment to a spacious new home in New England. But this is no ordinary house in the country: the previous owner was the deranged Dr. Freudstein, whose monstrous human experiments have left a legacy of bloody mayhem. Now, someone - or something - is alive in the basement, and home sweet home is about to become a horrific hell on earth.


The House by the Cemetery, remindin' us that if you find yourself drivin' 200 miles to prove someone isn't in your basement, you might be chickenshit.

And speakin' of fowl play, I'm really not much for gloatin' so I'll try to keep this short, but I just wanted to let everyone know that after extensive questioning of the local scrap metal kingpins followin' last week's betrayal at the hands of the city council, we were able to locate our missin' monkey bars and score a victory over totalitarianism.

I've also been asked to inform you that they've been permanently enshrined in a location befitting their stature and that you're all invited to bring your little yard monsters to the Grime Time to experience their timeless appeal in the event you need a few minutes respite from the hell you signed up for when you decided a temporary decoupling to go grab a rubber would ruin the moment. No need to thank us - we see ya in the supermarket barely holdin' onto the last fraying threads of sanity as you struggle against the barrage of irrational demands delivered via prepubescent falsetto, and while we understand that a person could never put a price on these fleeting moments of tranquility, we're bringing 'em to you for just one additional dollar per carload at the gate because at the Grime Time, your mental health is important to us.

Matter of fact, before we hadda table the discussion 'cause it looked like we were gonna hafta add a coupla sleazeball perverts to the local sex offender registry, Skunky Hernandez seemed open to the idea of clearin' out a section of sagebrush to accommodate additional playground equipment.

"Okay. We put sweengs behind concession stand ane teetare-tottare next to projection booth - what you theenk?" Skunky asked as he worked out a zoning plan on the back of a paper plate.

"I think the fact that someone agreed to cover you says a great deal about the intelligence of our insurance industry," I marveled.

"What wrong weeth thees?!" Skunky whined, sounding unusually hurt as he licked a glob of mustard offa his Dixie brand blueprint and presented his design for Skunkyland.

"First of all, teeter-totters are only for wimps who'll be helpin' their teachers grade papers after school in five years 'cause the social cost of bein' seen with 'em in public is too great for their peers to risk," I explained.

"And second, you put *anything* next to the projection booth that's designed to attract the presence of children and I'll project the GoPro video of your canine-powered sleigh adventure from Christmas 2020 for everyone to see," I threatened.

"You wouldn't," he winced.

"I would. And everyone'll know why you never got the deposit back on the suit rental," I pressed.

"Fine! Forget teetare-tottare. But what wrong weeth sweeng set by concession stand?" he puzzled.

"Uh, people tryna jump onto the roof, maybe?" I said.

"Come on. Geev keeds some credit - they ees not all bade," he insisted.

"I was talkin' about me, ya dink," I clarified.

I prolly woulda wasted the whole intermission explainin' the subtleties of playground design to Skunky had it not been for a coupla half-nekkid kids dartin' between sage bushes gigglin' like idiots and pausin' periodically to goose each other. I wasn't gonna say anything even though they really shoulda been doin' that in the backseat of barely functional motor vehicle like God intended, but Skunky's from a different generation and he has no qualms about judgin' people when they're in the throes of teenage stupidity.

"Mebbie when we get full setup there be less of thet," he grumbled disapprovingly.

"Skunky, they're teenagers - they're not gonna stop doin' the nasty 'cause they've suddenly gained access to a merry-go-round," I chuckled.

"You sure they ees teenagers?" he squinted, tryna salvage a tiny portion of his argument.

"Yes, I'm sure. That's Gilmer Crenshaw and... oh hell, I forget 'er name. See 'er at the Gutter Bowl now and then," I assured 'im.

"Where they goeen?" he pondered.

"Dunno. Someplace private - Sage Maze, prolly," I shrugged.

"They just passed eentrance," he rebutted.

"Who cares where they go as long as no six-year-olds follow 'em and... ooooooh shit," I epiphanized.

"What?!" he squeaked, his baseline summer pit stain levels beginning to expand exponentially.

"The bomb shelter. The one we found calvin' last winter... with all the..." I rambled.

"Rats!" he squealed, completing my thought.

The next few minutes are kind of a blur, but I remember beatin' cheeks back to the projection booth to find Billy Hilliard halfway through a hot dog, while Skunky spilled enough semi-coherent details in his search for Tetnis to pique the interest of a dozen tipsy millworkers who took off with us unsure of what they might see, but confident it'd be more interestin' than watchin' the moths spiral down from the bug zapper.

By the time we were within visual range of the bomb shelter I was sure it was too late 'cause I could hear screams pourin' out into the night followed by cries of "right there!" and "here it comes!" Only when we came chargin' through the doorway, well...

"Oh my GOD! Where's my shirt?!" Mystie Forsythe shrieked.

"Mr. Hernandez! Um... we weren't doin' nothin'! Just... neckin', that's it, I swear!" Gilmer lied.

"Ha! TOLD YOU she was not teenager!" Skunky beamed, his priorities noticeably askew.

"Holy Christ Mystie, he's half your age," Dale Whelchel grimaced.

"Damn... way to go, Gilmer!" Skink Taylor cheered.

"You owe me a hah vog," Billy griped.

"I guess this's the part where all you guys act like you wouldna done the same thing at his age, right?" Tetnis chastened, seemingly bored by the situation.

The 30 seconds of silence that followed was filled with a lotta shoelace inspection, the checking of watches, and eventually, knowing shrugs, and the whole thing prolly woulda petered out, so to speak, if not for the explosion of unfiltered teenage hormones that followed.

"Don't listen to them, Mystie. These past three weeks've been totally bitchin', and I don't care what anyone thinks! Will you marry me?" Gilmer pleaded.

"You two get dressed and clear outta here, got it?" Tetnis instructed, his words slightly muffled by the webbing of the palm plastered firmly to his face.

Mystie nodded and started whisperin' somethin' to Gilmer but none of us stuck around to find out what it was 'cause we'd all been young and dumb at one time or another and it seemed rude to hang around just to watch the guy blubber like a baby once she'd explained the situation to 'im. Actually, I take that back. One of us required a little encouragement to get his hinder outta there.

"Come on, Skunky, we got bigger fish to fry," I said, motioning for Billy to help me drag 'im outta there.

"Wait! I wanna hear answer!" he grumbled.

"The answer's 'no' you chunkhead," I barked.

"How you know?! And what feesh?!" he demanded.

"Oh, I dunno, like, maybe... where'n hell'd all those rats go?!" I snarled.

"Oh... sheet," he croaked.

Normally there's no finer way to spend an evenin' than at the Grime Time with a coupla flicks and a basket of heavy-duty artery cloggin' cuisine, but when you're spendin' it jumpin' outta your shorts every time somebody slams the outhouse door or bangs their shin on a tailgate tryna find their way around in the dark because of a battalion of mutant packrats are on the loose it does lose a bit of its luster. Billy and I spent mosta the second feature swingin' tire tools at shadows anytime the screen went dark, which, thankfully, was only every three or four minutes since nobody in this movie ever figures out not to go in the basement no matter how many other people go down there and get slimed to death by an oozing Italian maggot monster.

I dunno how this one fell into the public domain but it seems like somebody in the copyright office in Rome musta been gettin' tanked on chianti on the regular since the American cuts of Deep Red, Phenomena (Creepers), and Tenebrae (Unsane) all fell into the public domain as well. But I guess turnabout's fair play considerin' how often they'd slap a "part 2" on any movie with a tenuous thematic link to somethin' we'd made recently and send it out as an official sequel. You won't hear any complaints outta me though 'cause The House by the Cemetery is not only one of Fulci's better flicks, but also the grossest movie we get to show at the Grime Time. And while you might assume that it doesn't offer much in the way of higher education just because the guys who made it don't always get the scenes in the right order, I'd like to challenge that assertion right now with a few observations guaranteed to help you in your everyday lives... provided those lives exist within the confines of a mental health facility, anyway.

First, children grow up fast these days - so don't be alarmed if yours suddenly bypasses puberty and starts emoting like a drama major tryna change a flat tire. Second, investigative journalism is a viable alternative to rabies vaccinations following a mutant bat attack. And third, the only thing you can't get at Woolworths is a clue.

The movie begins in the titular location with a topless co-ed gettin' dressed following disappointus aardvarkus, only while she's preparin' to give her date the "it's not you, it's me" speech so she can ditch 'im for a guy named Gash with a Trans Am and a lip ring, she finds the sap tacked to a door moments before a Buck knife penetrates the back of 'er skull and causes 'er to forget all the state capitols except Baton Rouge while she's dragged into the basement like a piece of disused exercise equipment. Next thing, a researcher (Norman) and his family (wife Lucy and son Bob) move into the house so Norm can try to figure out what made the previous researcher (Peterson) go insane and hang 'imself like a piece of mistletoe at a New Year's Eve party. Mosta the locals think the house is cursed, but if you ignore the voice of the 22-year-old figure skater comin' outta Bob every time he tries tellin' Lucy about the invisible girl (Mae) tryna make 'em leave, the noises like rats fightin' inside a hollowed out cigar store Indian, and everyone they encounter talkin' about the last time they saw Norm in a place he's never been before, it's a pretty idyllic setting to settle down and raise a family. 'Course then Lucy finds a grave marker in the parlor hidden underneath a Persian rug and blows it all outta proportion until Norm comes home and gives 'er a coupla non-habit-forming mood enhancers and reminds 'er that she agreed to stay through sickness, health, and the discovery of undisclosed tombs in the floorboards of creepy old Victorian mansions left vacant by the demise of stressed-out historians.

Lucy's ashamed of 'erself and promises to stop havin' so many feelins while Norm's tryna provide a better future for her and their weird little Tykes of the Reich fashion model offspring, 'cept then they go down into the basement and Bela Lugosi lands on Lucy's head and makes 'er do the Batusi until Norm peels it off and stabs the thing to death with a pair of scissors and leaves a terrible mess for the crew of CSI: Transylvania. By this point Lucy's tired of livin' upstairs from the Cryptkeeper, so she and Norm go to the realtor's office and ask for a transfer to someplace with a lower incidence of goliath bat attacks. Unfortunately, nobody's home when the real estate lady drops by to take 'em on a tour of a property recently freed up by the group suicide of a U.F.O. cult, and she ends up steppin' on the tomb of the unknown moldier which opens up and traps 'er ankle long enough for the cellar dweller to climb outta the basement and foreclose on 'er. Then the housekeeper (Ann) starts spongin' up the six gallons of bat plasma off the linoleum and Lucy goes to see how Norm's research is goin' while 'er uppers're still holdin' and Norm explains that Peterson basically dropped everything to investigate the house's previous owner (Dr. Freudstein) after goin' through the guy's notes and becoming intrigued by the notion that there was an act deemed medically questionable enough to cost you your license in an era where leeches were considered a miracle cure. By the end Peterson was so cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs that he believed Freudstein's presence was still hangin' around makin' housecalls, so Norm decides to drive to New York to look for Freudstein's headstone and a liquor store that sells hooch by the pallet, only while he's gone Ann hears a noise like a 9-year-old who opened up their Christmas gift and found a pair of corduroy jeans inside an Intellivision box comin' from the basement and by the time she figures out what's goin' on she looks like she just got 'er neck shaved by Ray Charles.

Bob hears 'er screams and rallies Curious George to his side for a rescue attempt but when he enters the basement Ann's head comes rollin' down the stairs like a booby trap in an Indiana Jones movie and he barely gets outta there before a gnarly arm can drag 'im back downstairs and pinch his cheeks until every capillary in his cherubic little face bursts. When Lucy returns from Woolworth's with a carton of Virginia Slims and an industrial strength stress ball Bob tries tellin' mom that the babysitter's dead, and although their search comes up empty they're in good company after Norm's encounter with a surly caretaker reveals that Freudstein isn't buried where he's supposed to be and that cemetery staff get really uncomfortable when you hover over the graves of strangers for too long with both hands in your pockets. Meanwhile, Bob's still weepy 'cause nobody believes 'im about his invisible girlfriend or the wine bottle spare Ann's head picked up when it went bowlin' down the stairs, so he decides to go back into the basement to prove it really happened and finds a set of glowin' red eyeballs starin' back at 'im in the dark just as the door swings shut and traps 'im like a hornet in a jelly jar. I'm gonna go ahead and stop here even though it's hard to spoil the ending when ya don't understand it, but if you find yourself scoffin' at the thought of any harm comin' to an 8-year-old kid, I'd like to congratulate you on your first excursion into the world of Italian cinema. This one's in the public domain too, so if you wanna see what happens, here's a link for ya.

And so concludes Fulci's "Gates of Hell Trilogy," which is another sequence of films made by the same guy with thematic similarities that people try to tie together because it sounds cool. The first one was City of the Living Dead in 1980, followed by The Beyond in '81, and although those two flicks do include the titular gates, The House by the Cemetery does not. Strangely, it either fell into the public domain or never left it due to a copyright error, and while I'm not clear on the exact circumstances surrounding that situation, it may have something to do with the original VHS tape being released with two of the film reels being transposed. 'Course if it weren't for the people comin' back to life after they'd been turned into cellar salami you still might not realize anything's wrong 'cause it's tough to follow at times even when properly assembled. One thing that does become clear, though, is that slowing down the plot doesn't necessarily bring clarity because City of the Living Dead moves at breakneck speed and doesn't make a lotta sense, while The House by the Cemetery is reasonably paced and makes even less.

Some problems can be attributed to run-of-the-mill illogical horror film behavior, but others are much simpler and less forgivable, with at least one editing error still persisting even once the reels are placed in their correct order. Because the story is so erratic and unfocused I really can't tell if any other scenes are out of sequence, but if Catriona MacColl's disinterest in the housekeeper mopping up blood right after the realtor gets massacred seems strange to you it's because the scene with the realtor got spliced between the bat attack and its aftermath. This gives the impression that the housekeeper is cleaning up the realtor's blood rather than the bat's and it seems pretty weird that no one's bothered by it until you put that together. Fortunately, horror fans' love for Fulci's take-no-prisoners gore effects and unique style often allow us to look past inconsistencies in the story, although it doesn't hurt to have a character whose bizarre dubbing is so enraging that it actually provides cover for some of the flick's other problems because folks're too simply too pissed off to notice them. Ah, Bob - the cause of, and solution to, all of House by the Cemetery's problems.

You might think that after an evisceration like that there's no way this movie's makin' it out with a passing score. But there's a reason I've chosen Fulci as one of my top ten most influential genre directors, and in 1981 we're talkin' peak Fulci. It ain't so much what he does as how he does it, so let's take a closer look and find out if there's enough blood, mood, and Italian angst to keep it afloat in this sea of confusion.

The plot is deeply unfocused and short on exposition. During the establishing shots, there's a sequence where the ghostly girl watches a department store mannequin resembling the housekeeper losing its head, prophecizing later events, but when they flashback to a shot of the mannequin later on as they introduce the housekeeper it almost gives the impression that she IS the mannequin come to life. On its own, I'd acknowledge that as simply jumping to the wrong conclusion, except moments later Mae tries to convince Bob to stay away from the house and leaves her doll behind, which kinda gives you the idea that maybe she is, or inhabits it after Bob brings it home with him. This doesn't seem to be the case in either instance, but you could get that impression given the visual choices being made.

Another loose end involves the people making mention of the family's return to Boston when to their knowledge they have never been there. This is never resolved, though one could speculate that Fulci was borrowing from the story of the Amityville Horror wherein George Lutz bore a resemblance to Ronnie DeFeo, who had lived in the infamous house prior to the Lutzes and murdered his family. You start to wonder if the entire family is dead and stuck in a time loop, but if that's the case you'll never find out because Lucio ain't tellin'. Then the realtor gets gored through the giblets with a fire poker and leaves a huge blood trail while she's dragged into the basement; meaning either the cellar dweller is breakin' out the Spic and Span while no one's lookin', or that scene was intended to appear much later in the film when the house was dark and the mess potentially easier to miss. The ending is also unclear, although it would probably be fine as a "you decide" kinda conclusion if there weren't so many other unresolved questions leading up to it. You just become so cynical to the point that it's difficult to accept an inconclusive ending as deliberate and deep, rather than just another plot hole. So yeah, it's a mess to say the least.

The acting is, as always, difficult to judge due to the language barrier, but Catriona MacColl is able to overcome this hindrance through expression alone, and I think this is her best performance of the three films in the "series," which should probably be called the Catriona MacColl Trilogy beins she is something that all three flicks really do have in common. Most of the dubbing is surprisingly good as well, as it typically displays the correct inflection and emotion required for the given scene, and Silvia Collatina also deserves a nod as the creepy little doe-eyed specter, Mae.

The one exception, and it's an exception that will be the first thing nearly everyone talks about when discussing The House by the Cemetery, is the dubbing of Bob. Giovanni Frezza, who played Bob, looks to be giving a decent enough performance as best as one can judge from a purely visual perspective. At least, that is my assessment. Unfortunately, we're talkin' about an 8-year-old kid being dubbed by an adult tasked with the duty of depicting a terrified child, and whatever you may think about the attempt it must be stated that this is not something the average translator is capable of, and the result may be the worst piece of dubbing in the history of Italian cinema. It's so distracting whenever that character is on screen that you can't focus on anything else, and the dubbing single-handedly destroys any sense of ambiance that might have existed before he opens his trap. This is further aggravated by language translation and one-size-fits-all dialogue that draws no distinction between the diction of a child and an adult. So by the time the process is complete, you've got a child dubbed by an adult who's reading something written by an adult, for an adult, that's been translated imperfectly from Italian to English, and that has a strange, muffled quality to it as though it had been done over the phone. People absolutely loathe this character, as illustrated by a recent airing on The Last Drive-In that got the hashtag #FuckBob trending on Twitter. It's like goin' to a strip club where they show Army hygiene films on a 72" screen behind the dancers.

Here's who matters and why (besides Fulci who musta enjoyed savin' a coupla bucks by takin' on a small role for himself mosta the time): Catriona MacColl (The Beyond, City of the Living Dead, Horsehead, Chimeres, The Theatre Bizarre, House of Voices, Afraid of the Dark, Hawk the Slayer), Paolo Malco (The New York Ripper, The Ogre, You'll Die at Midnight, Escape from the Bronx, The Scorpion with Two Tails, Watch Me When I Kill), Ania Pieroni (Fraccia vs. Dracula, Tenebrae, Inferno), Giovanni Frezza (Demons, A Blade in the Dark, Warriors of the Wasteland, Manhattan Baby), Silvia Collatina (Murder-Rock, The Great Alligator), Dagma Lassander (Devil Fish, Hatchet for the Honeymoon, The Black Cat 1981, Werewolf Woman), Giovanni De Nava (The Beyond, Murder-Rock), Daniela Doria ( The New York Ripper, City of the Living Dead, The Black Cat 1981), Giampaolo Saccarola (Tenebre, You'll Die at Midnight, The Beyond), Carlo De Mejo (H.P. Lovecraft: Two Left Arms, Guardian of Hell, City of the Living Dead, Contamination, The Dead Are Alive, Manhattan Baby, The Other Hell), Teresa Rossi Passante (Inferno, The Chosen), Pino Colizzi (The Beyond, Omicron).

The special effects vary, and although they're less nasty than we've come to expect from Fulci, they're still nastier than anything American filmmakers were puttin' on the screen at the time 'cause he'd just release the movie unrated and be done with it. As far as the specifics, we get a mangled fornicator tacked to a door (fine), a gnarly deformed hand (good), some excellent (if exaggerated) arterial spray, a great triple throat slashing, a giant bat (alright in the dark but pretty pitiful when it's brought into the light), a severed head (decent), leftovers on the doctor's operatin' table (fair), glowing basement eyes (incredibly cheesy), throat-ripping (very good), and the thing in the cellar whose face is a bit on the papier mache side, but whose gooey maggot drippins are thoroughly disgusting. Not quite on par with Fulci's big three (Zombi, The Beyond, and City of the Living Dead), but still pretty memorable.

The shooting locations are great, with Fulci pulling his usual bait-and-switch by filming a few days' worth of exteriors in the United States and then moving to a studio in Rome to complete the production. The titular house and its state of decay is particularly photogenic both in terms of the exteriors filmed in Scituate, Massachusetts, and the interior sets constructed at the Incir De Paolis Studios in Italy. The Ellis Estate House is still standing in Scituate and remains much the same as it appeared in the movie with the exception of new siding and roofing, and I cannot overemphasize just how important the setting is to the overall success of the film because it has a creepy, yet natural aesthetic that gives off the perfect vibe without having to put a lot of work into spookifying it and risking the loss of authenticity. Other locations include the New York Historical Society (Fulci's cameo takes place here) and the Concord Public Library in Massachusetts, and because nearly all the exteriors were shot in the States it passes for an American movie (at least visually) better than anything Fulci had directed up to this point. A perfect score for the locations even before factoring in Sergio Salvati's top-notch cinematography - really nice.

The soundtrack is very atmospheric and comprised primarily of synthesizer, piano, keyboards, and a xylophone, or glockenspiel (I dunno exactly - one of those percussion instruments you hadda play for the music program in school when you were 10 so your parents could tell all their friends what a promising young person you were becoming) and the combination/arrangement sends the creep factor through the roof. Fulci's regular composer, Fabio Frizzi, musta been busy with another project because he hired Walter Rizzati this time around, and after closer review, I gotta say, this soundtrack for The House by the Cemetery is better than Frizzi's City of the Living Dead, and as good as his score for The Beyond. Not quite on the same level as Zombi 2, but it's very, very good nonetheless, and if you're comparing each of those films' stand out tracks, The House by the Cemetery's opening and closing score (titled "I Remember") is the winner - coming in at #23 on my list of the Top 100 Horror Scores of the 1980s. Most Italian horror soundtracks have at least one or two pieces that're loud, frenetic, and intended to generate excitement, but House stays cool and functions entirely in a support capacity that, in conjunction with the fantastic shooting locations and cinematography, builds a tremendous atmosphere for a movie that desperately needs it. I know I said City of the Living Dead was better in that review, but I'm revising that statement.

Overall, the special effects, shooting locations, and soundtrack come very close to compensating for the muddled plot and the cinematic scourge that is Bob, but ultimately, the hole's just a little too deep to dig out of. The House by the Cemetery is indeed the weakest link in the "Gates of Hell Trilogy," but it's still one of Fulci's top five flicks, and, importantly, bears all the earmarks of his distinct style that withered away in his twilight years as his health began to fail. Good gore, good score, but good God, that Bob. Check it out anyway.

Rating: 59%