The House by the Cemetery BluRay review
From The Grindhouse Cinema Database
Even though I am a bit late to reviewing this great release, since a newer edition is now out that even boasts a 4K UHD BluRay disc, it's still worth diving into the brilliant home video release of Lucio Fulci's 1981 horror flick The House by the Cemetery that Blue Underground put out at the beginning of this year.
The movie centers on Dr. Norman Boyle (Paolo Malco) and his wife Lucy (Catriona MacColl, credited as Katherine MacColl), the parents of little Bobby (Giovanni Frezza) who move to the cursed Freudstein mansion right by an old cemetery. Little Bobby warns his mum that some creepy girl in an old photo warned him not to come, but she does not take him seriously. Norman is a researcher who has to pick up where another colleague left off in that little town, ostensibly to ensure grant money. Somewhat reluctantly they all pack up and move there. Also moving in is Anne (Ania Pieroni), the babysitter. Something is odd about the house, starting with the realtor (Dargmar Lassander) avoiding the couple after the signed the deed. Norman is about to find out through his research into the Freundsteins, while Lucy is about to find out rummaging around the old house, and Bobby of course with his creepy girlfriend who may or may not be real..... things are about to get very ugly when they open the door to the basement.
Don't go in the house Bob!
Alright so this movie doesn't fuck around. And yes, I had never seen it before. But no wonder. Boobs and gore within the first minute. Just to set the mood, or to get everyone out of the theater who thought this would be a bit of a creepy date movie. Nope, this one is a full on nasty, not sure if it is one of Fulci's more rougher ones, but it certainly is among those with a high degree of notoriety. It was banned in Germany until 2014 and today it's still unrated. While in some movies Fulci restrains himself more to atmospheric horror (for example his famous The Psychic is a rather tame affair), here when there is blood, there is tons of it, where there is a gruesome scene it is drawn out, where there's violence it is brutal.
Let's look at the players first though. The dub is fine in, but the kids' dubbing voices are annoying as hell because they were obviously dubbed by much older people pretending to have higher pitched children's voices. MacColl should be familiar to most folks from her role in Fulci's much superior but less scary and artsier The Beyond, but she is still out making movies actually. Pieroni didn't make a lot of flix, but those eyes should be familiar - she was in Dario Argento's Inferno and Tenebre. The cast here does a rather decent job, but the main character is certainly the old house and the creepy sounds and its terrible secrets.
Fulci wraps a few doses of hard core over the top gore into a usual atmospheric haunted house setup, but he just pulls all stops. There is a scene where someone gets slashed, but for Fulci it isn't enough to show one take of someone get slashed, no the person needs to get slashed and stabbed multiple times so the head comes off, and rolls down the stairs. It's full frontal Italian horror and gore, and even though I think he overplays his hand (my main gripe about the film), it stays scary and creepy as hell until the very end. Why overplay his hand? I think by setting such a high bar from the first minute of the film, he set himself up for failure towards the end. The climax certainly isn't as well crafted a peak horror moment as I had hoped.
All in all, The House by the Cemetery is easily a top Fulci, boasts plenty of gore and scare moments, is sufficiently artsy (especially some of the shots as they are set up and the production design - plus some inventive sound design also) and has a captivating lead. It suffers a bit in the script department and the climax might seem a bit of a letdown. Also, from today's perspective it remains a bit ridiculous how some characters are maimed and they don't fight back or anything, it's all a bit like slow motion. Anyways, a highly recommended classic and on this disc, it looks and sounds friggin' fantastic.
The BluRay boasts a a fantastic looking visual transfer, based on the 2019 4K restoration from the uncensored original camera negative (the disc clocks in at 86:22mins). the high contrast, colorful and sharp 2.40:1 1080p picture should be quite a revelation if all you can remember is a 90s VHS tape or so. It preservers a lot of grain and detail but there is a degree of noise reduction that makes for a visible pattern on the screen if you look too closely. There are three audio options to chose from: the original mono tracks of both the English as well as the Italian dubs in DTS-HD MA, as well as a 5.1 upmix of the English dub (which I tested). These sound absolutely fine, provide for good comprehension of the dialogue and make for an eerie experience with the dominant music and the sound effects, such as creaky floors that will give you goosebumps. The 5.1 track offers little in the way of surround sound though, but an air of stereo effects especially when it comes to the house, which is almost like a character in the movie of course. You can chose from English SDH, French, Spanish or an English for the Italian audio subtitles. The disc is all region, but one of my players did have a technical issue playing it, I couldn't quite put my finger on the issue though.
On the feature disc there is a new audio commentary by Fulci connoisseur Troy Howarth, the author of Splintered Visions: Lucio Fulci and His Films, as well as deleted scenes, trailers and TV spots and still galleries. The commentary is entertaining and informative and, as his commentaries usually are, is super detailed without being too geeky and Troy is an enthusiast and able to transport that knowledge as the action unfolds on the screen. Actually there is just one deleted scene, and it is of the bat attack, in a form that was not found on any release but was included on the negative, albeit without sound. See for yourself, it is just a short take. Then there is the international trailer, the US trailer and the TV spot. There are two poster and still galleries with a lot of material.
The extras disc there's a lot more material. First up is "Meet the Boyles" which is a 14min interview with MacColl and Malco from 2011. It's a great conversation with the two, and I found myself looking up Malco which didn't ring a bell, but he is of course in other Fulci films such as The New York Ripper. You learn a lot about Fulci in this. "Children of the Night" (12mins) is an interview with Giovanni Frezza and Silvia Collatina, the two childhood actors (back then) in the movie. Rather insightful, and of course Giovanni apologizes for the voice he dubbed him with. This one is also from 2011. "Tales of Laura Gittleson" (that is the realtor) is a 9min interview with Dagmar Lassander. Her last credit was in 2016 after a three decade break from acting actually. She rose to fame as a femme fatale character in the late 60s and can be seen in any number of films, for example The Forbidden Photos of A Lady Above Suspicion and Hatchet For The Honeymoon. It's a nice interview with the German star. "My Time with Terror" (9min) interviews Carlo De Mejo, who plays a tiny supporting role here actually. You may know him from Manhattan Baby, also a later day Fulci, but here you might miss him if you blink. "A Haunted House Story" runs 14mins and is an interview with the writers Dardano Sacchetti and Elisa Briganti (subtitled). Obviously for 80s yardsticks this was quite a smart storytelling with lots of psychology, flashbacks, surreal things and all that, but I am not a fan of the script too much. There is another separate interview on there with co-writer Giorgio Mariuzzo (15mins), but it is less about the script and more about his memories of working with Fulci. He also co-wrote The Beyond. "Too build a better Death Trap" is a set of interviews with cinematographer Sergio Salvati, Makeup Artist Maurizio Trani, Effects artist Gino de Rossi and the actor Giovanni de Nava. It runs 22 Minutes and should be especially interested for all you gore hounds. The effects were top of the line back then and gruesome on a whole new level. So far all of these were from 2011, but then there is a 30 Minute Q+A with MacCall from 2014 filmed at the spaghetti film festival. The acoustics isn't that great but BU subtitled those audience remarks that are hard to hear. It's quite an interesting half hour to spend, even though - or maybe because - a lot of these questions have come up time and time again regarding her work on Fulci movies, and she is in a great mood and vividly remembers these days. "Calling Dr. Freudstein" then is a 20min interview with Stephen Thrower, the author of Beyond Terror: The Films of Lucio Fulci. I like this one a lot, and in a way it should actually be the very first extra on the disc as it prepares you much better for all the names and interviews. He is just full of useful info and has so much knowledge on the subject, it is always a joy to listen to him introduce a movie or a director's work.
The third disc is an audio CD of the soundtrack by Walter Rizzati. Now, I think the score for this is pretty damn good and fitting, but it's in my humble opinion not especially noteworthy or unique at all. The booklet with a new essay by Michael Gingold should prepare you well for any trivia that comes up in any of the extras described above. The cover has reversible artwork, a 3D lenticular cover case was only provided on the first pressing.
All in all a highly recommended film - and disc. Obviously do look into the even later edition for the UHD experience, but Fulci fans will definitely not be disappointed here.
- Buy now: From Amazon.com or make the switch right away to the newer edition that offers a 4K presentation
Screenshots via BluRay.com
Sebastian, co-founder and admin of the Grindhouse Cinema Database (GCDb). He also started The Spaghetti Western Database (SWDb), The Quentin Tarantino Archives, The Robert Rodriguez Archives, Nischenkino and Furious Cinema. Outside of movies, he works on the intersection of technology and policy. He lives in Berlin, Germany.