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THE HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY

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Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Katherine MacColl, Paolo Malco, Giovanni Frezza, Silvia Collatina, Giovanni De Nava
Director:  Lucio Fulci
Audio:  Dolby Surround
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio:  Anchor Bay
Features:  Trailers, TV Spot, Stills Gallery, Talent Bios
Length:  87 Minutes
Release Date:  June 12, 2001

“Ann?…Mommy says you’re not really dead…”

Film **1/2

Horror films fascinated me as a child…not that I was allowed to see them, mind you.  Working in my family’s video store, I stole away to the horror section every moment I could; the images on the covers were fascinating to my young mind.  And if all horror movies were off limits, the ones that were direly marked so were the ones by Lucio Fulci.  Not that my parents had a clue who the hell Fulci was any more than I did, but his films always had the most horrific cover art.  Videos like Seven Doors of Death (aka The Beyond), Zombie, and House by the Cemetery…I just knew that a world of nightmares beckoned me.  Someday…

Now, thanks to Anchor Bay, many of the Italian master of gore’s legendary films are making their way to DVD.  Under the banner of the Lucio Fulci collection, horror fans are finally getting their appeasements proper.  House by the Cemetery is presented in its unrated and uncut form, and looks great.  All of which are long overdue:  previous VHS versions of the film suffered horrifically from poor print quality, non-widescreen presentations, and sometimes as much as seven minutes edited out of the film.  One version even reportedly hit video with the reels out of order, rendering the film incomprehensible!

Fulci began filming House right on top of completing the editing for The Beyond, and brought back his lovely leading lady from that film, Katherine (or Catriona) MacColl.  Again exploring the possibilities of normal people dwelling in an aging structure with evil secrets, Fulci may have slyly fooled his audience into expecting the presence of an army of zombies just by his title.  There is only one here, but he is quite effective, and dispatches his victims in entertainingly gruesome ways.

When Lucy and Norman Boyle (MacColl and Malco) take up residence in a picturesque and quiet New England house with their little son Bob (Frezza), they have no idea what they’re getting into.  Young Bob is warned by the spirit of a little girl, Mae (Collatina) to stay away from the house.  The parents, of course, don’t listen.  As the children share conversations across great distances, and Bob begins to learn more and more about the nature of the house and its former resident, one Dr. Freudstein (De Nava), horrifying events begin to unfold.  Turns out, Freudstein is a zombie who sustains himself with human flesh, and he dwells in the basement waiting for victims.

Norman is following up on a colleague’s research, and begins to understand that his deceased friend was onto the secret of the house.  But will it be in time to save his family from a grisly fate?

There are plenty of distinct Fulci touches here, starting with the gore…while not over-abundant, it’s certainly imaginative and effective, with at least one scene just about guaranteed to make you see you last meal again.  There are also his strange, unexplained juxtapositions of events, such as when Freudstein savagely kills a realtor, and the next morning, the babysitter is quietly mopping up the blood while telling the apparently unaware Lucy that she made coffee.  It doesn’t quite make sense, but Fulci films are frequently ornamented with such touches.

The film has some notable flaws.   Most of Fulci’s films were sans live soundtracks with dialogue dubbed in afterwards, and whoever did the voice of Bob was hideous, completely undermining what otherwise could be considered a strong juvenile performance.  The picture also strives for, but ultimately lacks, the dreamy, unsettling quality of The Beyond.   Fulci’s house offers great atmosphere, to be sure, but some of the attempts at extra effect, such as the sounds of sobbing children coming from nowhere, don’t quite work.

Needless to say, House by the Cemetery, like all Fulci films, are not for all audiences.  The squeamish should stay away, as well as anyone who can’t stand to see children in peril.  No character is immune in a Fulci picture.  I can only hope that young Giovanni Frezza managed to grow up normally after starring in this movie…had it been me, the therapy bills would have been outrageous.

Video ***1/2

As mentioned, Anchor Bay once again delivers the goods for their horror fans.  House by the Cemetery is presented in anamorphic widescreen with a beautiful, crisp clean transfer.  No other previous home video version comes close…in fact, I had no idea such a good looking disc was even possible for this movie!  Colors are natural and vibrant throughout, and detail remains sharp and pure whether the scenes are bright or shadowy.  There is no grain to mar the image, and even age indicators like dust or spots on the print are remarkably few and far between.  If you’re a Fulci fan, prepare to be amazed by the quality of this disc!

Audio **1/2

The stereo surround mix offered here is perfectly good, if not spectacular.  Considering the new 5.1 remastered audio for The Beyond was one of the boldest and best of its kind, I was a little disappointed to find that effort unemployed here.   Nevertheless, there are no real complaints.   The memorable synthesizer score by Walter Rizzati sounds terrific, and dialogue, though obviously post-dubbed, is clean and well presented.  There is no noticeable noise or distortions, and dynamic range is quite good (a necessary commodity for a horror film).  The rear stage is underutilized though, with only very sparing waking moments.

Features **

The disc includes both the American and international trailers (the American one is quite a hoot), plus a TV spot.  There is a stills gallery containing both photos and promotional materials from around the world, plus talent files.  In addition, the disc boasts a very cool set of animated menus that take you through the house when you make selections!

Summary:

Anchor Bay strikes gold again with House by the Cemetery.  Though arguably not Fulci’s best, fans of the horror maestro will be more than thrilled with this gorgeous new anamorphic widescreen offering.