House by the Cemetery is a film I have a very bi-polar relationship with. It’s cult following among horror fans is something I’ve tried to understand and I’m not sure if I actually like this film or if I’ve brainwashed myself into it. This film is conclusion to the unofficial Gates of Hell trilogy, and stars once more leading lady Catriona MacColl as Lucy Boyle, wife of Norman (Paolo Malco, The Sinful Nuns of St. Valentine, The New York Ripper) and mother of Bob (Giovanni Frezzi, Manhattan Baby, The New Barbarians). The three move into the old Oak Manor so that Norman can investigate the suicide of his friend and colleague who we saw stabbed with a pair of scissors at the opening of the film but whose death was ruled a suicide because people in Fulci movies have strong mental impairments. In the basement of the house resides the undead Dr. Freudstien (clever!) who kills people and uses their corpses to regenerate his own failing body.
Bob starts seeing a ghost girl named Mae who warns him to stay away from the house, but Bob is a bit touched in the head to say the least, and doesn’t listen to her. Our lack of affection for Bob is defined by the horrible dubbed voice they use. My fiancee nailed what is wrong with the performance; it’s like they used a grown woman and told her to imitate how she feels a small boy talks. The result is the vocal equivalent of nails on a chalkboard.
Things become even more strange and complicated when the babysitter named Ann (Ania Pieroni, Inferno, Tenebrae) shows up and inexplicably starts removing the wooden planks that kept the cellar door from being opened. This awakens Norman who sees her tearing up his own house, shurgs it off, and goes back to bed. Meaningful glances are exchanged between the two, which leads the audience to believe an adulteress affair is in the works, as well as the implication she has ties to the monstrous Dr. Freudstien living in the basement. The tension of Ann’s relationships to all involved and potential danger to the family are ramped up as she cleans up dead bodies left laying around by Freudstien as well as giving bitch stares to Lucy when asked questions. The enigma of Ann and questions of what she’s up linger until she’s brutally murdered by Fruedstien in the basement while searching for Bob. It turned out she didn’t have any ulterior motive; she’s just slow. At this point, all the red herrings are revealed as non-sequiturs. It’s difficult enough to take this film seriously with the atrocious dubbed voice-work for Bob; and now the script has played it’s hand, and revealed itself to be a joke.
House of the Cemetery was scripted by Dardano Sachetti, who wrote the majority of our favorite Italian horror films all the way from The Cat o’ Nine Tails to Bay of Blood, to Demons, as well as The Beyond. I’ve no idea why Sachetti set up the entire arch involving Ann to be entire meaningless. Thankfully, House by the Cemetery is shot by the always professional Sergio Salvati. House by the Cemetery is very well filmed, though there are a few editing errors, mainly in relationship to shots meant to imply the relationships between Ann and the Manor’s residents. I really love the look of this house, and Sergio does a great job of laying out it’s architecture, so we have a good grasp of it’s layout.
Notably absent from this outing is Fabio Frizzi’s amazing score work. Walter Rizatti takes the helm of the musical score, and while not the best soundtrack, it’s serviceable, and a bit catchy. Even if it does sometimes sound like the output of a keyboard after you press the “DEMO” button.
As with all of Fulci’s output in the horror genre, the gore and atmosphere are amped up to eleven; and this what cements this film as a cult legend. If Fulci and Sachetti would have had the characters not act like they all suffered from severe head injuries, and had the story not committed suicide, this could have been a great film. I will give them kudos for the rather sad denouement of the film, which almost works. I love the story and ambiance of the film. The strength of the ambiance and the amazing cinematography help lift the film out of the rather depressing downward sprial of an incoherent plot, and elevate it to a solid C+. House by the Cemetery is the film equivalent of a local haunted house; some of it is really stupid, you’ll laugh at some of the fake grue, cringe at some of the grosser elements, and (hopefully) come out having been entertained.
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