Sunday, May 13, 2012

Movie Review: The House by the Cemetery (1981)

Oh, Lucio Fulci, where have you been all my horror-loving life? Terrible dubbing actors aside, The House by the Cemetery is just aces in my book. I'm still a little confused on the whole "what is giallo and what is not" thing, and whether or not this movie can be considered one, I have to say that this is one Italian horror film that actually has a mostly coherent plot, some kick-ass gore, and a truly disgusting looking killer.

Norman and Lucy Boyle and their young son Bob leave hectic New York City temporarily so Norman can do some research on the strange death of a colleague. They are put up in a rundown mansion by a cemetery which houses a most unwelcome guest in the basement - a slaughtering maniac who needs human flesh to keep himself alive.

Can I get one thing out of the way first? "Bob" is not a good name for a child. I mean, if his full name was Robert, wouldn't it be more fitting for him to be a Bobby or a Robbie when he is still a kid? You don't generally become a Bob until you're much older, so this was kinda weird.

Anyway, I like this movie! It may seem a bit disjointed because it's a strange combination of a haunted house/ghost story, a slasher, and possibly a zombie film at the same time. I thought it all mixed together quite well myself, for if the story ever got boring, there was usually a great gore sequence to kick things up a notch. We don't get to know anything about the characters - why Bob is randomly psychic with a ghost kid named Mae for one thing - but, like I usually say about a lot of these movies, who cares?! There's some totally awesome and realistic gore and that is what makes this movie special to me.

Almost right off the bat, we're given an inkling of coolness to come when a girl and her boyfriend are killed in the house after having a mattress party. The guy comes through the doorway so messed up that I don't even know what happened to him and the girl gets stabbed in the back of the head with the knife point sticking out of her mouth. Pretty good, but it gets better. Ann the babysitter (whom for most of the movie looked like she was on the killer's side but I guess not so much) gets one of the best and most realistic throat-slashings I've ever seen. The knife goes one way across her throat, then the other way, and both ways it's AMAZING. Love it.

No doubt the best death is that of little Mrs. Gittelson who decides to stop by the house at exactly the wrong time. Gittelson is deliberately and slowly stabbed three times with a fire poker - twice in the chest and once in the neck. It is the aftermath of the latter wound that probably caused the movie to be so heavily cut in earlier releases. There is an extensive lingering shot on her neck wound as arterial blood spurts and sprays out of it.  Cooooooooool. Also just as realistic looking as Ann's death.

Another thing about blood in this movie. Two words: maggot blood. Maggot blood coming out of Dr. Freudstein when he's stabbed. A little bit vomit-inducing.

The only gore sequence that wasn't all that great was the overlong killing of the bat that attacks Norman and Lucy in the basement. Seriously, how difficult is it to get a bat off your hand? You use the other hand, grab it, and kill the dang thing. But apparently that doesn't work for Norman as he has to run all the way up the stairs with the bat on his hand, flail around a bit, and then stab it a few times. Just a totally unnecessarily long scene that is so random and not in the least bit important to the story. I guess Fulci wanted to include it because he could.

Another strange Fulci choice: the insane amount of close-ups, especially on people's eyes. Whenever Ann and Norman are in the same room together, it's like a showdown at the OK Corral because all their communication is done through them looking at each other and Fulci zooming in on their eyes. There's also a few weird close-ups on random objects to dictate their importance. Zoom in on the girl's ring! The same ring appears in the basement later on! Zoom in on the bar where Peterson hung himself! I don't really know why this is important! Odd style choice. Not saying I hated it though, because it was rather amusing.

Again, despite the freaking horrible acting by the people doing to dubbed voices, The House by the Cemetery was hella fantastic and I will definitely be adding more Fulci films to my must-see list.


  1. Well, I'm glad you found some Fulci in your life! This is not a giallo, because those films involve mysterious human killers (in black gloves) whereas this one has a known quantity hiding out in the cellar. This flick is some entertaining though, huh? The gore is indeed zesty - with that triple throat slitting really standing out! Looking forward to more Fulci reviews!

  2. Dr. Freudstein. Dr. Freudstein.

    How anyone does a whole review and just glosses over that silly name is beyond me.

    Other than that, the Twist Ending. Oh my God, the Twist Ending. Have you seen anything so gloriously-nonsensical?

    Seriously, if you don't see this film for the odd plot or crazy gore, see it for the Ending. I defy you to explain it.

  3. I would kill to have the name 'Freudstein'! Great review!

  4. I Loved that you loved this movie :) THBTC is one of my alltime favorites. It's a mess no doubgt, but the atmosphere, the gore and the music... it's all just mindblowingly awesome.

    Agree with Craig, no Giallo, mainly because there's some supernatural stuff in it - but who cares? THBTC is a kick-ass Italo-horror-flick. Hope you'll see more Fulci stuff soon!
    Highly recommended: The Beyond / Lizard In A Woman's Skin / New York Ripper / Don't Torture A Duckling / City Of The Living Dead / The Black Cat / A Cat In The Brain... stop me!! ;)

  5. lemme give you some highlights on what I know about distinguishing giallo from slashers, House by the Cemetery being one of the latter.

    Giallo is generally Italian thrillers; while majority of giallo titles are concentrating on murder mysteries, titles such as Death walks on High Heels and my all time fave The Perfume of a Lady in Black may sometimes focus more on other subjects such as psychosis and even petty crimes such as jewel heists.

    The murders are not the biggest strength a giallo have, but rather, it's the mystery and narrative. Such example is Knife of Ice(1972) which may had started the story's flow on a murder, and there were a couple of more later, the overall result was more on the identity of the killer, rather than surviving the sprees, which nearly all slashers had in common.

    Some says that another attribute of a giallo is colored lightings and score, though maybe true in some cases, it doesn't necessarily meant that every giallo has to have these kind of elements to make them what they are. The lightings and the score may be used to uplift the artistic imagery of the giallo genre as an alternative.

    So to summarize everything, giallo is more of a thriller with horror elements added in the side. It's mere focus on plot and artistry sets it apart from bodycount hungry slashers who's mere purpose in more on delivering creative deaths and sensationalized imagery.

    if I can recommend some giallo flicks, it will be Perfume of a Lady in Black and Knife of Ice. There's also Black Swan, I Know who Killed me, Dressed to Kill, Sisters and Don't Look Now, they're neo-gialli, titles that are made outside Italy that can also be coutned as gialli.

    1. yeah, I'm a nerd. help! DX

    2. Black Swan a giallo? A bit far-fetched.
      Don't Look Now a neo-gialli? No way, it's a British-Italian 70s co-production, and therefore it's definitely a classic giallo.

      Yes, I'm a nerd too :D

  6. 'Black Swan' is Giallo in the sense that it was trying to be a Brian DePalma film and DePalma made 'Dressed to Kill.' That's about it. It's a good movie, but it's not Giallo.

    I'd qualify 'Don't Look Now' as Giallo too, although it's tone is a bit different due to the British influence.

    You want good Giallo- Dario Argento. 'Nuff said.

  7. @Craig: Fulci has indeed made my horror life much richer now! Really looking forward to seeing more of his stuff - and of course, more authentic giallo films!

    @Al: You telling me I have to point out something that obvious? Dr. Freudstein.... it had to have been a joke or something.
    As for the ending... um, I'm not really sure. I guess since Bob's parents were dead, Mae and Mary kinda made him a part of their ghost family? Yes? No? Could be.

    @Maynard: Way ahead of you, blog buddy! All those movies are already in my queue!

    @Kaijinu: Thanks, that actually helps me a lot! I think I'll be better at identifying one from now on. So they're kinda arty, whodunit mysteries that look pretty?

    Yup, more Argento is on my list too. And Don't Look Now? I need to watch that again. Looks like I got a lot of work ahead of me!

    1. yes, artsy thrillers with enough plot twists and red herrings to make your head turn ala Linda Blair XDD

  8. Oooh! I love these types of movies! Hello Netflix! :D

  9. Holy cow, Lucio Fulci is great. I am so glad you reviewed this!

  10. Fulci seems to do those eye close ups in all his movies, usually entirely gratuitously.But if the eyes start to leak blood...well you probably won't want to look away, but I did.