Blu-ray Review: The House By The Cemetery / Director: Lucio Fulci / Screenplay: Lucio Fulci / Starring: Catriona MacColl, Paolo Malco, Ania Pieroni / Release Date: May 21st
As his best, Italian maestro Lucio Fulci brought a disturbing, flyblown fleshiness to the horror genre. Watching him, you can practically smell those zombies rotting in the heat, and feel the clamminess of the sepulcher on your skin. But he also had a penchant for dreamy symbolism and portents of another world beyond the veil. The House by the Cemetery (1981) has too much of the second and not enough of the first to rank among his finest work, but it is still, like most of his oeuvre, bizarrely memorable.
Upon the mysterious death of an academic named Peterson, Norman and Lucy Boyle (Paolo Malco and Catriona MacColl) move to a small New England town where the husband, another academic, intends to continue the dead man's investigations into suicide. They settle into a creepy old house (“Most of the old houses around here have tombs in them,” Norman says reassuringly when Lucy uncovers a dusty crypt in the hallway,) but are soon being victimized by a strange presence in the basement. Norman and Lucy's son Bob, meanwhile, receives dire warnings from a mysterious red-haired girl in Victorian costume.
Shades of The Shining and The Amityville Horror, but Fulci makes rather a botched job of what is supposed to be a slow-burning tale of mounting tension. The script scatters loose ends and red herrings like a dog shedding fur – why is Norman so shifty-eyed? Why is Lucy popping pills? Is there something going on between Norman and the babysitter, Ann? And has he really been to the town before, as everyone seems to think? The dramatic set-pieces falter thanks to a certain haziness (the basement door has a habit of slamming and then creaking open again for no very good reason other than Fulci's whim,) while Norman and Lucy react to each new crisis with a dreamlike torpor which will have you longing to take a knife to them yourselves.
Fulci fanatics will dignify all this with the claim that everything is deeply symbolic and not to be taken at face value – the basement is a gateway to Hell and the Boyles, perhaps, souls in purgatory. But sceptics will feel that Fulci simply lacked the self-discipline to orchestrate plausible chills in a minor key. (To be fair, this movie's immediate predecessor, The Beyond, blurs dream and reality rather more successfully, as well as serving up dollops of soupy gore.) Luckily, the director gets back to what he does best with a Grand Guignol finale boasting enough body parts for half a dozen Frankenstein's monsters. This exemplary release from Arrow Video offers a fine transfer and hours of extras to chew over.
Reversible artwork sleeve / Double-sided fold-out artwork poster / Collector’s booklet / New HD restoration from the original uncut negative / Commentary with Catriona MacColl, moderated by Calum Waddell / Commentary with co-star Silvia Collatina, moderated by Mike Baronas of Paura Productions / Introduction to the film by star Giovanni Frezza / Back to the Cellar: Interview with star Giovanni Frezza / Cemetery Woman: Interview with star Catriona MacColl / Freudstein's Follies: Interview with special effects artist Giannetto De Rossi / Wax Mask Finishing the Final Fulci: Interview with Sergio Stivaletti about his completion of Wax Mask after Fulci’s passing / Women of Italian Horror: Featuring Silvia Collatina (The House by the Cemetery), Stefania Casini (Suspiria/ Bloodstained Shadow) and Barbara Magnolfi (Suspiria/ The Sister Of Ursula) / Onstage Q&A Cast Reunion: Live from the Horrorhound convention: Featuring Catriona MacColl, Giovanni Frezza, Silvia Collatina, Carlo DeMejo and Dagmar Lassander / Italian Trailer Compilation / Deleted scene / Original House by the Cemetery Trailers and TV Spot