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House by the Cemetery

Big McLargehuge
Directed by: 
Lucio Fulci
Catriona MacColl
Paolo Malco
Giovanni Frezza

 I had to watch this movie twice before determining whether or not to review it for the Hall of Shame or simply put it in the review archive. Half way through the second viewing I decided it would land here because no matter how stylish the direction, if a script is as asinine as House by the Cemetery, then the movie is crap.
Now I will probably take some flak from Fulci fans for including the work of this auteur here, but ask yourself before composing that spittle flecked e-mail, did you enjoy this movie?
I know I didn’t, and I put almost none of the blame on Lucio Fulci. Why? Well with anything creative as soon as you add more people to the creative process the original vision gets muddled, thus with House by the Cemetery we have not one, but four writers all trying to get their ideas on screen.
That makes for an incomprehensible mess that not even Fulci can salvage. Now, normally I reserve a space at the end of the review for the cast and wish some horrible death upon them. With this film I will make an additional entry into the war crimes records for the four writers of this film.
Now appearing at The Hague: Elisa Briganti, Lucio Fulci, Giorgio Mariuzzo, Dardano
Sacchetti. Well, Fulci can’t really testify as he’s dead, but the rest of them are still alive and may have access to word processing software.
There are two good terms to use when discussing Italian cinema in virtually any non-mainstream genre, these two terms are derivative and cheap.
House By the Cemetery hits both of these terms like I hit a jumbo cheese and mushroom pizza, that is, with mouth open and teeth bared. Virtually all of the film is shot on three sets, all in Italy somewhere but pretending to be inside a rambling New Englander in Suburban Boston. The exterior shots were filmed somewhere in New England, though neither I nor The Head Cheeze could decide just what witch burnin’ puritanical inhospitable burg it was shot in.
We know it is New England because we live in New England, and only New England has the chain known as “Stop and Shop” whose logo features prominently in several scenes. Also, the architectural style known as “New England” is rather hard to miss.
And that’s the cheap part. The derivative part comes when you will recognize parts of several other popular horror movies thrown into the story for no reason other than to cross market House by the Cemetery with your fond memories of The Amityville Horror, The Omen, the Haunting, Halloween and even, eee gadz, Frankenstein.
Anyway, rather than depress you with tales of the North East architecture and better movies let’s begin at the beginning.
Two nameless people are getting ready for some hanky panky in the set that is supposed to be the New Englander. As with ANY MOVIE where the potential for sex occurs in the first two minutes, save for hardcore pornography (and to be fair even those wait for the credits to end), the participants have an appointment with the afterlife commencing immediately.
They are both killed. The girl has a knife shoved through her head after finding her amorous boyfriend pinned to a door by a pair of scissors. Now, here is where Fulci’s obsession with inanimate objects manifests itself first. We get the shot of the guy but he pans down and zooms in to the scissors.
Why? Will the scissors tell us something? Do they have a perspective on the carnage that must be brought to the screen? No, of course not. I guess Lucio was thinking about getting his hair cut or something.
Next we get a zoom shot of a mood ring. If you don’t remember those allow me to refresh. Mood rings were popular novelty jewelry in the late 70s. They were purported to give a visual indicator of the wearer’s mood by virtue of the color a giant oval shaped stone set on a band of gold plated white metal. What really happened was the contents of the stone would react to body temperature. So when you were pissed, and probably warmer than normal, the stone would be red.
It’s so clever. I think mood rings lasted about as long as Pet Rocks as far as fad life expectancy goes.
Anyway Fulci zooms into the mood ring.
Cut to an extreme closeup of a young red-haired girl’s face with the house in the background. There is some windy noise and she looks at one of the windows just as some other girl’s head is lopped off. To me this other girl looked like a character that will be introduced later, Ann the babysitter (Ania Pieroni), but it could just be my eyes playing tricks.
Cut to the red hair girl, her name incidentally is Mae (Silvia Collantina) peering out from the curtains.
We then start meeting our cast of characters. Bob, (Giovanni Frezza) a boy of about 8 with a haircut shared by Nicholas from the old “Eight is Enough” television show, his mother Lucy (Catriona MacColl) and her husband and Bob’s father, Dr. Normal Boyle (Paolo Malco).
Careful viewers will note that Norman has exactly one all-purpose facial expression: blank. Paolo Malco is a low rent James Fanciscus, which is pretty bad considering James Franciscus is a low rent Doug McClure, who is in turn a low rent George Peppard, who himself is a low rent Charlton (shoot them all damn it) Heston.
Doctor of what? I have no idea. He could be a tree surgeon for all this movie cares. He never says.
Bob is staring at an old black and white photo of the house with Mae waving out at him. Lucy enters the room, they are obviously packing, and Bob asks why the girl doesn’t want them to go to the house in the picture. Lucy being the kind and caring mother we anticipate in Italian horror cinema points out that Bob is seeing things and that there is no girl in the picture.
Voila’ there isn’t a girl in the picture anymore.
As with virtually all Spaghetti cinema House by the Cemetery had all of its vocal tracks added in post production. That way the film doesn’t sound like a Toastmasters meeting featuring Chef Boy-Ar-Dee and the Fish Juggling Muppet from The Muppet Show. Yes, what I am saying is this film is dubbed though originally shot in English.
Got that?
Now, why am I bringing all of this up? Simple. Bob’s voice, the voice of an eight year old boy, is obviously dubbed by a fully grown female human woman attempting to be an eight year olf boy. In fact, had I a better ear, I would venture to suggest that the same woman did the voice for both Bob and Mae, possible also of Anne the babysitter and Laura Gittleson the real estate agent.
The thing with Bob’s voice bugged me all the way through the film.
Okay, so why are Norman, Lucy, and Bob going to the Freudstein house? Why, so Normal can continue a dead collegue’s work. What work? I have no idea, but it has something to do with deciphering the old notebooks of “long dead” Dr. Freudstein. Rather than have the notebooks mailed to him like any normal person would do, he packs up his family and heads to the Freudstein house.
There is a scene with a real estate agent and I am not sure if they bought the house or rented it. See, script problems! One the way to the house Lucy and Normal check out a local store and leave Bob safely sitting the back of the family station wagon. He sees Mae on the lawn across the street and they have a short conversation about not going to the house. Mae is clutching a one-armed doll. They are standing about two hundred yards apart yet still mange to converse normally.
Gotta love post production sound.
Lucy and Normal return to the car and find that Bob is missing, then they find him across the street clutching Mae’s doll.
This suitably freaks out Lucy who wonders why Bob always brings “these dirty things (i.e. the doll) home.” Careful viewers will note that the doll stays atop a box that she is unpacking for no reason. Now, I’ve packed a couple of times and moved a couple of times and I would have at least put the doll off to the side.
But then, I am not a master of Italian horror, so what do I know?
Norman notices that the cellar door is nailed shut and locked. He points this out to Lucy then the conversation changes to something else entirely. He makes no effort to even open the door let alone question why it is locked.
Gee, can you guess that the cellar plays an important part in the movie?
Anyway this is where most folks will notice some strange abnormalities about the interior of the house.
One, the layout in no way matches the house show in exterior shots.
Two, the entire heating system of this 15 room New Englander appears to be a two-stick Franklin stove in the kitchen (where there is no cooking stove or refrigerator).
Three, there is no cooking stove or refrigerator in the kitchen
Four, every single surface is covered in grime (Try Pine Sol... sheesh)
Five, every door in the house has about a three-inch gap at the bottom (the walls wiggle too when doors are closed)
Six, The entire place has brown hardwood floors.
We get some more of Fulci’s obsession with things that don’t do anything, a long close up of a porcelain doorknob and a shot of Fiddle-Faddle (which appears twice... I guess with no cooking stove you have to improvise).
There is a knock at the door. Meet Ann the babysitter. Why is she here? Well, Mrs. Gittleson the real estate agent apparently sent her. Lucy, upon seeing Ann, has a flashback to an event at which she was not present, that of the cutting off of Ann’s head, but remains suitably calm.
Ann will now take sole guardianship of Bob for the rest of the movie.
Cut to Bob playing outside in the graveyard beside the house, the proverbial House by the Cemetery, where he is racing with Mae. They stop at Mrs. Freudstein’s grave as Bob is called in for a nice helping of Fiddle Faddle. He bids adieu to Mae and runs inside.
Now, Fulci sets Ann the babysitter up as something more than a simple babysitter what, with the whole flashback thing, but Lucy never thinks to ask why Mrs. Gittleson thought to send her over as in the scene when they got the keys to the place a babysitter for Bob was never mentioned.
This trick was used well in Omen. Here it is wasted.
Incidentally, Ann has the thickest eyebrows I have ever seen on a homo-sapient woman. I mean these things look like Wooly Bear Caterpillars crawling around on her forehead. For crying out loud, she must be part Neanderthal!
Norman and Lucy head into town leaving Ann in charge of Bob. While strolling through the quaint New Englandiness they notice Mrs. Gittleson who ignores Lucy’s hello. Lucy suggests that she purposely tried to ignore her. Lucy promises a nice candle light dinner for her and Norman as he heads off into the Library.
Norma tells Lucy to “take the car.”
Okay, cut to Norman at the library where we are introduced to the “spring loaded gay guy”, librarian Daniel Douglas (Gianpaolo Saccarola). Daniel will spring into the movie whenever the plot grinds to a halt and offer some worthless exposition about Norman’s colleague.
I suggest he is gay solely on the extremely effeminate quality of his voice.
The other librarian, who has no name in the movie, explains that Norman’s predecessor grew increasingly distant and jealous of “Barbara” during the last months before he died.
Since we have no idea who Barbara is, and were never introduced to this predecessor, who incidentally is named Petersen, yet is not the same Petersen (Dirch Passer) of Reptilicus, and I for one say THANK GOD.
This librarian also inquires as to the welfare of Norman’s daughter who was here with him a few months ago. Norman explains that he has a son (frankly I can understand the gender misappropriation) and that he has never been here before.
Faster than you can say script edit, this whole thread vanishes from the movie.
Daniel then points out the library railing where Petersen hanged himself and we get a reaction shot from that same railing.
Okay, Norman gets his hands on the notebooks and diligently starts looking at them.
Bob is playing in the cemetery again and stumbles upon Mary Freudstein’s grave. Mae appears and tells him that she isn’t buried there.
Cut to Norman staring at some official looking papers that are narrated for us in his voice. Apparently Dr. Freudstein lost his license to practice medicine.
Big whoop.
Cut back to the house where Lucy hears strange noises while Bob plays outside with Mae.
She is mopping one square foot of the floor, the only square foot with a rug on it, and uncovers the lid to a concrete crypt.
The lid reads, “Jacob Tess Freudstein.”
Suddenly sounds like scary monster rumblings echo through the house. Lucy, goes to the kitchen and has a shit-fit of majestic proportions. Cut to Norman driving up to the house. I guess Lucy felt like a walk...
Anyway, he comes in (where everyone watching should yell in their best faux-Cuban accent “Lucy, I’m Hooooooome!”) finds Lucy collapsed and sobbing beside the gravestone.
Cut to the next morning where Lucy awakens to find Norman opening the drapes. She apparently feels much better because she immediately begins discounting the sounds she heard, yet still complains that it is damn creepy to have a crypt in the hallway.
Norman, being a doctor and all, says (and I ain’t making this up kids), “all of these old houses have crypts in them. The ground freezes during the winter and families have to bury grandpa indoors.”
Exactly where in New England does this take place? And, if that’s the case WHY IS THERE A CEMETERY RIGHT NEXT TO THE HOUSE!!!
Enter Bob and Ann both sporting plastic tennis rackets. Norman announces that he is about to solve the mystery of the cellar door while Bob blabs on and on about his girlfriend and that she sends greetings to everyone in the house.
Lucy asks Ann if she saw this mystery girl but she says no.
Then we get a shot of concerned parent eyeball tennis as Norman looks at Ann, Ann looks at Lucy, Lucy looks first at Ann then at Norman... repeat three times.
But, all is forgotten once Norman starts working on the door lock. He forces the lock open with a skeleton key and a knife (for leverage) and starts down the stairs with Lucy, Ann, and Bob in tow.
The whole group is attacked by a battery powered bat toy which latches itself onto Norman’s hand. He battles with the bat for a really, really long time until finally, stabbing it to death (without damaging his own hand in the process).
Wouldn’t it have been easier to feel around for the off switch?
Lucy says she wants to find another house and we cut to Norman and Lucy back at the real estate office discussing new living accommodations with Mrs. Gittleson’s flunky. He promises to ask her to stop by tonight and discuss the matter then mutters, “that Freudstein house.”
Cut to Mae. She is in her toy room looking out the window and has a short conversation with her mother (at least I think... she is never shown in full frame) who asks why Mae is looking out the window again.
Mae stared at the camera and whispers, “don’t go in.”
Cut to Mrs. Gittleson. She arrives but no one is there, not even Ann. That’s okay, she still has a key and lets herself inside. While walking around the set... er... I mean, house, her foot cracks through the top of the crypt and she is momentarily trapped.
Cut to killers-eye view as someone or something approaches her, then without even a struggle from Mrs. Gittleson, stabs her to death in gruesome fashion with a sharp and pointy thing.
What it was I have no idea.
Cut to the next morning as Ann is cleaning Mrs. Gittleson’s blood off of the floor. Lucy shows up in her bathrobe and asks what Ann is doing. She looks directly at the blood, then at Ann.
Ann says, “I made some coffee.”
Lucy shrugs off the fifty five gallons of blood on the floor and pours some java. Nothing says getting over a homicide or ignoring your own eye site like morning coffee.
Cut to someone’s eye view of a coffee set on a tray being navigated through the hallway. This is another Fulci things-that-do-nothing fetish shot. The door opens and we see Norman putting on his socks.
The coffee tray, in the hands of Lucy, is held at her waist. Now, assuming we were meant to see the coffee tray moving through the hall from Lucy’s eyes, then she must have a rogue eyeball somewhere around her navel.
Norman offers some expository dialogue about Petersen and how he went cuckoo and then drops the bomb that he has to go back to New York to get Petersen’s other notes.
Cut to Norman now walking around in the Cemetery (but not the one next TO HIS OWN HOUSE!) inquiring about the long dead wife of Dr. Freudstein. He learns that although the town records say she is buried here, she aint. That’s because she is actually buried in the living room of Dr. Freudstein’s house.
Bob and Mae play in the cemetery. Bob explains that he is supposed to be taking a nap and that his mother will be home from the store soon and that he will get in trouble if he stays outside. He promises to sneak back out and join Mae “under the oak.”
As he runs inside Mae whispers, “I don’t want you to go in there.”
Doesn’t matter, he goes in anyway.
Cut to Norman back at the library. I venture to guess that he is gathering things for his impromptu trip back to New York. We are treated to a visit from the spring-loaded gay librarian who seems just as shocked to see Norman as Norman is to see him.
Apparently the library is open on Sunday, because both characters acknowledge that it is in fact, Sunday. Why? Who cares!
Cut back to Bob playing with his remote control race car. He follows it into the kitchen and notices that the cellar door is wide open. Cut to Ann walking around the house for no apparent reason. She decides to check on Bob and notices that the cellar door is indeed wide open.
Cut to Norman discovering a cassette tape and player beneath a pile of papers in the library. The tape is labeled “Petersen - Private” but he plays it anyway. We are treated to a few minutes of lunatic ranting and some shots of gore in the basement of the Freudstein house.
You’d think someone would notice the smell of several butchered bodies... but no. Not in this movie.
Cut back to Ann who goes downstairs.
Something starts to follow her and we switch to monster’s-eye-view. Ann rushes back up the steps but the door closes and locks. She starts banging on it and yelping for Bob to come and open the door.
Cut to Bob in his room. He grabs a (I am not kidding here...) a stuffed Curious George doll and a pink cap gun then rushes off to the kitchen. It doesn’t matter because in the interval, the monster catches up with Ann and stabs her to death then cuts off her head.
Ann puts up zero resistance.
Why even have Ann in this movie? She is initially set up as the scary nanny from “The Omen” then killed like Camper 3 in “Friday the 13th part 2”?
Cut again to Lucy walking home with groceries. She comes in and finds Bob whimpering in his room, then being the astute mom of Italian Horror Cinema, WALKS BOB BACK DOWNSTAIRS TO THE CELLAR! Ostensibly this is to prove that he has an overactive imagination.
By now the blood is all cleaned up, by whom we have no idea.
They scout the basement for a few seconds then return to the set... er... upper floors of the house.
Cut to nighttime as Bob is put to bed only to spring back up and go back to the cellar. Why does he do this? I have no idea, and neither will you. He is, of course, chased back upstairs by scary monster man.
Mom, roused from her sleep by Bob’s adult woman-like screams, struggles with the door until Norman (apparently a heavier sleeper) helps bust the door open.
They all go downstairs!
We FINALLY meet the monster. It is Dr. Freudstein, who as Norman tells us, has learned the secret of immortality by taking the flesh of living victims.
Norman stabs Freudstein and maggots drip out of the wound. Norman then cuts Freudstein’s hand off. Amazed by his own masculine awesomeness, Norman then gives up fighting and lets Freudstein rip our his throat Roadhouse style.
Lucy and Bob climb “the other stairs” that were never mentioned in the movie. They arrive at the lid of the crypt but Bob is too big to fit through the crack that Mrs. Gittleson’s foot was stuck in.
Lucy is grabbed and dragged down the steps to her death as Bob tries desperately to squeeze through the crack.
Suddenly a hand reaches down and pulls him to safety just as Dr. Freudstein reaches him.
Cut to Mae and her mother on the topside of the crypt lid with Bob.
They walk off, hand in hand, into what appears to be yellow mist.
End movie.
Okay. Now, those of you who stuck with the review this long will probably be wondering why it is in the Hall of Shame. I can sum it up with this analogy.
If you give me a pound of dog shit wrapped in a gold plated box, adorned with silk, and tied by a diamond studded silk bow. It’s still a pound of dog shit.
If Fulci had taken the time to actually WRITE the script rather than pass it back and forth between his cadre of writers this movie might have been a classic. Instead we get the atmosphere of a classic surrounding the script of a Z-grade movie.
This DVD was released by Diamond Home Video and for the 7 bucks I paid for it delivers a pristine copy of House by the Cemetery in letter boxed format. There ain’t an artifact in this whole DVD. The colors are all fantastic and the soundtrack, bad dubbing and annoying synth music aside, is crystal clear.
It contains two extras. One is a promo for other Diamond releases, the other is a two paragraph bio of Lucio Fulci. There are four, yes only four, chapter stops.
This one is fun to watch with friends, if only for the fact that the dialogue is so uniformly dreadful and therefore easy to poke fun at. You could also make a fun drinking game where every time a derivative plot thread is introduced (i.e. Ann) and not resolved well or at all (i.e. Ann... AGAIN) you take a shot.
I recommend Hemlock.