The House by the Cemetery (1981)

house by the cemetery poster

It is almost October which means it is almost Halloween which means I’ll be watching a lot of horror movies. I should be creating a list for my #31DaysofHorror and #Hooptober hashtags (more on that later) but for today I just watched an old Italian horror. Lucio Fulci was an Italian director who made lots of films in lots of genres but is mostly known today for a series of Giallo and Horror films, most of which included high levels of graphic violence (he is sometimes called the “Godfather of Gore”.)

The House by the Cemetery is not his best work, nor his worst, but it is a pretty good example of what he is about. The story is hard to follow and mostly nonsense. The screenwriter, Dardano Sacchetti, says he was inspired by Henry James and Fulci says he wanted to make a Lovercraftian story. I’ve not read anything by any of those authors so I can’t comment on that, but I can say little of what’s on the screen makes much sense.

The story involves an intellectual, Norman Boyle (Paolo Malco) who moves from New York City to a small town in New England. He takes his wife Lucy (Catriona MacColl) and young son Bob (Giovanni Frezza) with him. He’s there to continue the research of his mentor Dr. Peterson, who previously went a little crazy and killed his mistress and then offed himself. All of this was done in the titular house by the cemetery, the house Norman and his family are moving into.

It is a creepy old horror movie house – big and dilapidated, filled with shadowy corners and a scary basement. It is not only located next to a cemetery but also on top of one. Or at least when they pull back a rug they find a tombstone in the middle of one of the rooms. Norman says that lots of homes bury their loved ones inside their houses because it gets cold up there in the winter and the ground is too hard. Sure Norman, whatever you say. There are lots of cold places in this world and I don’t think any of them keep grandma’s corpse in the basement.

People keep telling Norman that they’ve seen him before, that he must have been up in that town a few months prior. Norman keeps denying this. The librarian is a creepy dude who seems to know more than he lets on. A babysitter (Ania Pieroni) shows up and is found trying to get into the locked basement. Then she gets brutally murdered down there. Bob befriends a young girl who no one else can see and who may actually be a ghost.

None of these things are connected very well. It feels like several scenes are missing. Or the screenwriter got drunk and forgot to write a few pages. But it doesn’t really matter. Nobody watches a Fulci film for a great story. They watch it for the gore and this film gives you plenty.

It is the type of film that not only includes a dungeon filled with bodies chopped into pieces but that quick zooms into the viscera and lingers on the gore. In the very first scene a woman gets a knife stabbed through her skull. If you enjoy handcrafted gore effects, and I certainly do, then Lucio Fulci is your man, and The House by the Cemetery is not a bad place to start.

It isn’t just blood and guts though, that make this worth watching. The story is a bit bewildering but Fulcio does a nice job of creating an eerie atmosphere and keeping things just enough off balance that your left feeling on edge for most of the film’s runtime.

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