Short Ends and Leader

Fulci-fied!, Part 2: The House by the Cemetery (Blu-ray)

(The House by the Cemetery) is a poetic pile of human offal, a gorgeous Gothic draped in the dreams of an insane cannibal.

The House by the Cemetery

Director: Lucio Fulci
Cast: Catriona MacColl,, Paolo Malco,, Giovanni Frezza,, Silvia Collatina,, Dagmar Lassander,, Giovanni De Nava
Rated: Unrated
Studio: Blue Underground
Year: 1981
US date: 2011-10-25
UK date: 2011-10-25

For about four years -- 1979 to 1983 -- no one could touch Lucio Fulci. While fellow Italian filmmaker Dario Argento was yet to start his downward slide and son of Mario, Lamberto Bava, was rising in the ranks, the Mafioso of the Macabre was busy churning out a series of gore epics unmatched in the memory of horror. With Zombie, he reestablished his commercial chops. From then on, he crafted the masterful The Beyond, the nauseating City of the Living Dead, the splatter crime drama The New York Ripper, and the demonic ghost story Manhattan Baby. By the time of his tepid peplum, Conquest, he was already struggling to maintain his place in the pantheon of terror.

That doesn't mean he was incapable of maintaining his then present position. Case in point, the blood spattered sensation The House by the Cemetery. A sincerely weird combination of slasher film and supernatural/science screed, it's one of Fulci's least famous, but oddly enough, most brutal. Knives are thrust through heads, while similar devices slice through the flesh of necks with repellent cruelty. The main mystery revolves around the identity of the killer, especially when you consider that nothing else will be explained. Indeed, Fulci obviously found the whole research subplot boring. He abandons it often, never concluding what everyone was investigating when the murders started up. Instead, we get a tiny tot whose as ingratiating as he is irritating, his invisible girl companion, and a whole lot of vile vein draining.

After learning of the death of his colleague, Dr. Peterson, Norman Boyle (Paolo Malco) and his wife Lucy (Catriona MacColl) decide to take up residence in his rented New England home, the better to continue the dead man's secret research. They also bring along their precious blond son, Bob (Giovanni Frezzi) for the stay. Initially, our tyke is not too keen on being uprooted. He has visions of a small redheaded girl warning him against going to this secluded location. She claims he is in danger. Naturally, Bob's pleas fall on deaf ears. Once in the rotting Victorian manse, Lucy starts to experience weird noises and odd sensations. The presence of a sinister babysitter (Ania Pieroni) doesn't help matters. Of course, what no one knows is that a shadowy figure with an arm full of scar tissue is living in the cellar, and carving up victims with horrific abandon -- and the Boyles appear to be next.

Part ghost story, part hulking horror with a thirst for blood, The House by the Cemetery is Fulci at his most fabulous. It's a poetic pile of human offal, a gorgeous Gothic draped in the dreams of an insane cannibal. With its simple premise and complicated realization of same, unnerving atmosphere and rivers of grue, we get a forgotten jewel from the maestro of messy menace. As a director, Fulci doesn't dawdle. He gives us a sensational opening, a few scenes of set-up, and then it's straight into his unholy house of horrors. Riffing on the old dark mansion conceit, he creates a genuine atmosphere of dread while never letting up on the gore. Indeed, while the killings are scattered more irregularly throughout the film, their vibrant red impact -- almost always realized in slow motion excess - are stunning.

But there is more to Fulci than ample arterial spray. He clearly understands the genre and its needs (at least, circa the early '80s) and adds enough post-modern tweaks to take advantage of such knowledge. Bob, for all his doe-eyed earnestness, is a clear audience substitute, a voice and pair of bright blue peepers that we get to see everything through. Several times, our tiny hero does things that would have the standard sitting audience screaming for some common sense. Luckily, we require such pre-adolescent derring-do in order to experience what Fulci has for us. Using a child as bait is taboo enough, but The House by the Cemetery makes it very clear that Bob and his family are doomed. How fate decides to take them will be the movie's main reveal.

Simultaneously, Fulci must find a way to outdo his previous canon of carnage. He starts out with a butcher knife through the front (and back) of a pretty gal's skull...and then he really goes gonzo. There's a nasty bat attack, a gruesome neck bite, and perhaps the stellar set-piece of the lot, a carve up of a character's neck that looks as painful and disgusting as it would be in real life. Fulci was always upfront about giving his F/X artists free reign. It may have cost him considerable commercial respect (Britain is still messing with his movies some 30-plus years later), but it fits perfectly into his world of pain. For this filmmaker, horror is synonymous with harm and cruel consequence. Victims don't just suffer - they are tortured as part of the terror.

Of course, fans looking for logic simply need to step back and let the sadistic savant do his usual stuff. Fulci is famous for his cinematic non-sequitors and while not as bad as The Beyond, The House by the Cemetery can be a real brain buster. The research seems to center on a blood-based cure for mortality, or the man who discovered it, or a location that is haunted by a nasty presence from the past, which might still be connected to the experiments. Characters can die off with relative ease, and there's always plenty of time for clean-up...and of course, no one ever witnesses anything. This is a world where houses become illogical mazes of danger, where no one ever turns on a light or calls the police before investigating the horrific screams coming from the cellar.

Not that anyone would respond to such a cry for outside help. Indeed, Fulci's films work so well because they contain an insularity that few efforts can match. His worlds are recognizable and yet completely foreign to the ways of reality. Anything can happen, and when it does, death is always somewhere in the mix. We don't really care what happens to the characters. Instead, our concern is over the amount of violence we will have to experience in order to see things set right. Toward the end of his life, Fulci relied more and more on gore to get his points across. It rendered his movies memorable if not wholly redeemable. But for those four years, nothing could compare to his cruel touch. The House by the Cemetery is an often overlooked example of his jaded genius.


In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.