Last night I went to Alamo Drafthouse for Terror Tuesdays. Over the past month, it has become a home away from home. I’m happy to say that I will be covering next months round of Terror Tuesdays and Weird Wednesdays. With such gems as George Romero’s Monkeyshines, Dario Argento’s Demons, Alejandro Jodorowsky’s Santa Sangre and many more, it is sure to be an exciting month of reparatory cinema. Come on down for some (or all) of the screenings!
Anyway, as I was saying, last night I was at Alamo, this time for Lucio Fulci’s HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY. Lucio Fulci along with Mario Bava and Dario Argento are what I’d refer to as The Founding Fathers of Italian horror, most of them having started with giallo films and then each moving in their own very distinct directions. Lucio Fulci is one of The Godfathers of Gore. His ultra-bloody special effects gained him notoriety in America and Europe, and he had three films on the infamous U.K. “Video Nasty” list. Zombi, The Beyond, and the film I saw last night HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY.
HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY or Quella Villa Accanto al Cimitero in its native Italian is the third installment in the Gates of Hell trilogy, which also contains City of The Living Dead and The Beyond. The plot to this film is not going to win any points for originality but if you love a good haunted house story then this film will be your jam.
The Boyle family is moving from the city to the “country” of Western Massachusetts. The mother Lucy (Catriona MacColl) is an uptight frightened deer-in-headlights who is not too keen on leaving the city, which is understandable under the circumstances. Norman (Paolo Malco) needs to finish some research that his former colleague was conducting until he committed suicide and apparently murdered his mistress. Their son, Bob (Giovanni Frezza) is being told by a girl in an old photograph not to move to the house. Of course no one believes him. It doesn’t take too long after they move in for the house to start being creepy. It comes with an almost impossible to enter cellar, continuous crying noises, and a real life tomb of one Dr. Fruedstein in the parlor. Bob is still talking to the girl from the photograph, Mae (Silvia Collatina) who only he can see. Naturally, a lot of people die in this movie and eventually we are introduced to the infamous figure of Dr. Fruedstein, who is essentially both Doctor Frankenstein and His Monster.
Our host for the evening, writer and film programmer David Savage, said “I think House By The Cemetery really displays Lucio Fulci’s love of American literary horror fiction like none of his other films. There are elements of Henry James...Edgar Allan Poe and his obsessions with entombment...but I think most of all this movie shows his love of American horror author H.P. Lovecraft, who he (Fulci) admitted was one of his favorite authors while writing the screenplay.” He then went on to say he felt that this film was influenced heavily by the Lovecraft story Herbert West, Reanimator. I can see the parallels with Herbert West… for sure and the film ends with the pointedly hilarious Henry James quote “No one will ever know whether the children are monsters or the monsters are children”. There is some debate, which makes it all the more hilarious, that Fulci fabricated this quote.
By today’s torture-porn standards, the gore in this movie at times can seem a little cartoonish but there are definitely some stomach turning moments if you have issues with blood. The acting is typical of dubbed Italian horror, over the top, lots of screams and gasps, but I love that sort of stuff. The cinematography is excellent, with lots of close-ups, POV shots, and dark corners containing God-knows-what. The score by composer Walter Rizzati, is spooky synth gold.
In case you ever want to try to find the actual house from the film it is in Sitchuit, Massachusetts and is now an arts instruction institute, although you won’t see the tomb of Dr. Fruedstein there, as the interior shots took place in Rome, Italy. Before I go I have one more thought and let me know if you agree. Doesn’t Dr. Fruedstein remind you an awful lot of Dr. Satan from House of A Thousand Corpses? I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s what inspired Mr. Zombie’s creepy subhuman character. That goes to a bigger point to say that the contributions from the early Italian horror directors are very important to any horror films that have followed. A lot of modern tropes were born there and THE HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY is but one example in Lucio Fulci’s canon that people would emulate for years to come.