Lucio Fulci’s ‘The House By The Cemetery’ (1981) is really gross!
The film tells the “story” of the Boyles, a family who rent a house where the father’s ex-colleague, Dr Peterson, hung himself after killing his girlfriend. It seems Dr Peterson was doing research into a certain Dr Freudstein (how did you come up with THAT name, Lucio?!), an insane Victorian doctor who performed unnatural experiments. Oh, and Dr Freudstein’s body is buried inside the house so, you know, nothing to be at all concerned with here!
Bob, the Boyle’s young son, has visions of a little girl warning him to stay away from the house but, being a horror film, little Bob completely ignores this. Strange events start to afflict the family and it isn’t long (well, about forty five mins run-time) until they figure out something is not quite right. And it seems that anyone who visits the house is brutally murdered! Has Dr Freudstein returned? Did he ever go away initially? Or is someone else using his name for their own agenda? And why is there only one head-stone in the cemetery this house is, supposedly, next to?
This film is typical Fucli in that it’s grungy, nasty and barely makes sense. It’s also a blatant mash-up of Kubrick’s ‘The Shining’ (1980) and Jack Clayton’s ‘The Innocents’ (1961) except Fulci does manage to put a somewhat original twist on it all and boy, does he milk that Freudian theme (if the house is the mind then its cellar is the subconscious). So as opposed to Kubrick Fulci doesn’t project the son’s shadow side onto the father hence turning a parental figure into a monster. No, it seems as though Dr Freudstein represents the child’s monstrous side manifest, one that the child must be reborn into to have full realisation. It’s the parents that are the ones that need to worry here and the Henry James quote at the end helps ram that home – are all children little monsters?
So despite having almost no original ingredients it certain has its own unique flavour. It’s also nasty as hell and highlights the aspects Fulci had that set him apart from the other Italian horror directors. So there are no “set-pieces” or elaborate moments of bravura camera moves signalling something is going to happen. With Fulci it just does happen, gruesomely, adding to the shock. The moments of violence burst, seemingly, out of nowhere usually coming on the heels of a scene that could be classed as “dull”. It adds an interesting contrast but also helps keep us on our toes as nothing is explicitly flagged up. The deaths are nicely unexpected and very, very gross. It’s not often I go “Ewwwwwww!!” during a film but I did here… a number of times.
Having said that, I still find I really have to meet Fulci half-way with his movies as they always seem on the verge of collapsing into shit (which is also part of the thrill of watching them and almost as nerve-wracking as the monsters). So if you have a low tolerance for almost incomprehensible storytelling, bad dubbing, annoying kids, cheesy music and even cheesier shifts in tone then you might struggle with this one. If, however, the thought of ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ (1974) mixed with ‘The Shining’, Freudian analysis, a shit load of gore and one of the most outrageous bat attacks in horror cinema sounds like your cup of tea then I heartily recommend a visit to ‘The House By The Cemetery’.