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.
Catriona MacColl (CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD), Paolo Malco (THE NEW YORK RIPPER), Ania Pieroni (TENEBRE) and Dagmar Lassander (FORBIDDEN PHOTOS OF A LADY ABOVE SUSPICION) star in this outrageous Italian shocker from Lucio Fulci, 'The Godfather of Gore.' Considered to be one of the master's last great films, THE HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY is presented complete and uncut, featuring a mind-blowing onslaught of throat-ripping, skull-knifing, maggot-spewing and more!
Though I feel my knowledge of cinema is pretty well rounded -- covering a wide range of genres, movements, and eras -- there is one rather large segment of the motion picture world that I must profess a pretty glaring lack of experience in -- horror. Sure, I like many films in the genre and its various subsets (Evil Dead 2 is a favorite) but by and large it's probably the area where I'm least well versed. While some viewers have a certain enthusiasm for severed limbs and creatively dismembered corpses, I've never really had much affection for the cinematically gruesome, and thus haven't ever sought out many films that adhere to the style. This is particularly true of Italian gore-fests, including the works of the "Godfather of Gore" himself, Lucio Fulci. In fact, 'The House by the Cemetery' is my first foray into the blood-soaked, maggot infested, crimson waters of the director's macabre art form. Filled with grisly violence, unintentional humor, and nonsensical plotting, the film is a fairly silly but occasionally artful and disturbing exercise in horrifying mayhem.
The setup is simple. The Boyle family, consisting of Norman (Paolo Marco), Lucy (Catriona MacColl), and their young son Bob (Giovanni Frezza), move from New York into a large, old house in New England. Unfortunately, the home's previous resident happens to be an insane scientist named Dr. Freudstein (real subtle), who has now become a deranged and disfigured monster. Eventually, Freudstein wreaks havoc on the family and attempts to off them in increasingly horrific ways. There's also a subplot involving an incredibly creepy little girl (Silvia Collatina), but honestly, none of it really makes a whole hell of a lot of sense. In fact, the script is downright nonsensical, unoriginal, and at times kind of stupid, filled with thin, cardboard cutout characters and incoherent story telling. People speak in plot related bullet points telling us exactly what we need to know, but oddly it doesn't make the ridiculous story any clearer. There are many instances where performances and actions come across as unintentionally funny and there is no real character development to speak of. Of course, I understand that this is all just part of the fun and appeal of films like this, but it still doesn't completely justify the movie's lack of narrative competence. Thankfully, though, plot really isn't the focus, and the main emphasis is on the actual killing, which is, as one might expect, pretty gruesome.
The film starts off in classic gore-fest fashion with some obligatory nudity and a particularly graphic murder involving a knife that goes straight through a young woman's head and right out of her mouth. This essentially sets the stage for what's to follow and fans of bloody carnage should be pleased with the brutal effects, creepy makeup, and explicit kills throughout. We get everything from slashed throats and killer bats to maggot gutted monsters and beheadings, all presented in an over-the-top and graphic manner. Fulci actually employs a fairly artful hand in many of these homicidal set pieces and their quieter build ups. In fact, long stretches of the movie don't feature any violence at all, relying on more traditional moody atmosphere and tension. Frequent close-ups of character's eyes, elegant compositions with dreamy color palettes, killer POV shots, classically on the nose music cues, and slow motion images of gushing pools of blood all help to add some stylistic flourish to the mayhem. Where other director's would cut away, Fulci instead stays suspended, elaborating on the disturbing carnage which turns the gore itself into the real centerpiece of the film, drawing out the violence into a kind of morbid artistry. Well, sort of, anyway. While I can recognize the talent and skill behind the bloody chaos, for the most part it all just seems like a meaningless exercise in violent excess.
While the movie is filled with many horrific sequences and disturbing images, its most terrifying aspect actually has nothing to do with death and bloodshed. No, the true horror here is not Dr. Freudstein at all, it's Bob's absolutely atrocious and unrelentingly annoying dubbed in voice. Seemingly culled from the very bowels of hell itself, the character's voice sounds so horrible and out of place that it will likely haunt your dreams for years to come. Every time he opens his mouth it's like the opening of the Ark of the Covenant from 'Raiders of the Lost Ark,' as demonic ghouls are freed with a desire to melt your flesh. I tightly closed my eyes and covered my ears, praying that the ghostly apparitions would spare me, and for now it seems I've survived the ordeal. Though I don't usually wish child characters harm, I often found myself actually rooting for the monster to catch up with young Bob, if for no other reason than to shut his incessant, irritating mouth. Now, I didn't necessarily wish the character death per say, but a devastating injury to his vocal chords would have definitely been appreciated.
I actually had some fun with 'The House by the Cemetery,' especially early on, but it unfortunately didn't last. Even ignoring the laughably poor scripting, there is still a lack of creativity in the plot and even the kills themselves. Sure they're gory but… that's about it. Admittedly, as I stated earlier, I'm not much of a fan of films like this, but I can still appreciate a good, tense, and entertaining horror flick. As my first introduction to Fulci's particular brand of gruesome terror, 'The House by the Cemetery' has left me underwhelmed. Big fans of gory carnage should definitely check this out, but others will likely find little appealing about this classic entry into Italian horror. If you do watch the film, however, I must strongly recommend that you mute the sound every time Bob opens his mouth. That is, if you value your sanity.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Blue Underground brings 'The House by the Cemetery' to Blu-ray on a BD-50 disc housed in a standard case. After some warnings and logos the disc transitions to a standard menu.
The movie is provided with a 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer in the 2.35:1 aspect ratio. Fulci brings a certain kind of macabre artistry to the film's gory style, and that visual creativity is preserved nicely in this video presentation.
The print is in good shape with a few specks here and there. A light to moderate layer of grain is visible throughout. With that said, the grain does have an occasionally static quality and textures can also look slightly blurry in motion in a few isolated incidents. Thankfully, this really doesn't detract much from the video, and with the exception of a few soft shots, detail is actually quite strong with pleasing clarity and depth. Fulci uses an interesting, almost dreamlike palette of pastel hues, and colors are nicely saturated giving all that blood and gore some gruesome pop. Black levels are solid and contrast is fine.
With surprisingly good clarity and colors, 'The House by the Cemetery' looks quite good on Blu-ray. Unfortunately, some static grain is apparent from time to time, but while a bit odd and certainly not ideal, I didn't really find it to hinder the presentation significantly.
The audio is presented in an English DTS-HD MA 2.0 track and an Italian Dolby Digital mono track with optional English SDH, French and Spanish subtitles. This is a solid but unimpressive mix that does a decent job of complementing the visuals with an eerie score and appropriately screeching effects.
Speech is clean and crisp with no crackles. Separation across the two channels of audio is OK but unremarkable, offering some directional effects when appropriate. Dynamic range is mostly good, with even the shrillest screeches and screams coming through without distortion. With that said, the film's score does carry a slightly strained quality at times that lacks substantial depth. Various effects throughout bolster the gruesome visuals with equally stomach churning sounds, but fidelity is only average. Bass has some marginal presence in a few of the more tense moments and balance between dialogue, effects, and music is fine.
The audio is perfectly acceptable and works well with the visual presentation. Though not terribly immersive, this is a seemingly accurate aural representation of the movie.
Blue Underground has put together a nice assortment of extras, including some retrospective interviews with the cast and crew. All of the special features are presented in 1080p with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound and hardcoded English subtitles (for the Italian portions only) unless noted otherwise.
'The House by the Cemetery' is a gruesome, occasionally tense, but mostly nonsensical and unoriginal work of Italian horror. Though gory and sporadically entertaining, there just isn't enough creativity to outweigh the laughable plot and thin characterizations. Despite some technical issues, video quality is solid, and though unremarkable, audio gets the job done just fine. Supplements are informative and provide a welcome retrospective look at the film. With its gruesome content and specific audience, this is a release that will only appeal to big Italian horror and Fulci fans.