Researcher Norman Boyle moves from New York City to Boston with his wife Nancy and their young son Bob. En route to their new home, Bob has a run in with a mysterious young girl named Mae, who warns them to not move in. After several bizarre occurrences take place, they learn a surgeon named Doctor Freudstein, who performed heinous medical experiment on unwilling victims, once resided in their house. Soon their world becomes turned upside down, and it seems the doctor might not be gone.
The films of Lucio Fulci need little to no introduction. From Giallo, Horror, Fantasy, to the Spaghetti Western, he had the ability to navigate multiple sub genres, and his unbridled imagination and operatic use of violence has since become legendary. The House by the Cemetery, released in 1981, is the final instalment in his gates of hell trilogy, and one of his most recognisable works. Highly revered by fans of the genre, it’s the fitting conclusion to a group of films that cemented his reputation as the ‘godfather of gore.’ Like much of his output, it appears to be inexplicably plucked from a subconscious well in tune with the macabre.
The House by the Cemetery is by far one of Fulci’s most unique and cohesive outings. Although much of the story is all too familiar, with several motifs found films such as The Amityville Horror and The Shining, its distinction as a surreal work is unquestionable. The haunted house setting has been used countless times, results varying from ghoulish to the utterly absurd. Luckily, this particular entry successfully combines Fulci’s distinctive visual style with an atmospheric approach that appears to be ripped straight from the pages of an H.P. Lovecraft novella. With its New England location and an evil that possesses a perpetual existence, it calls back to one of the author’s most notable works, The Dreams In The Witch House. Although not a direct adaptation of the story in question, the influence is certainly noticeable. While many Italian filmmakers found inspiration from Edgar Allen Poe, as did Fulci in both The Black Cat and The Beyond, here he seems to have formed a kinship with Providence’s most recognisable author.
Undoubtedly, the films greatest strength is coalescing atmosphere, gore, and suspense, and placing emphasis on the mysterious. Not revealing Freudstein until the end, Fulci allows everything to reach a fevered crescendo in the final act. Playing out more like a ghost story instead a splatter film, and balancing everything equally. In some respects, the director utilises some of the elements found in his earlier Giallo works. There’s a murder sequence in the beginning where the knife of a faceless assailant does in a young woman. The killer and with his blade is one of the primary staples of the Giallo sub genre.
Transcending general expectations, it’s only hindered by a few moments of ridiculousness and poor dubbing. It’s always worth a watch, it’s the perfect escape from reality into the depths of the unknown.
Review By: Jerome Reuter (@JeromeReuter)