There are few movies that have been affected quite as badly as a result of the UK’s video nasty furore than The House By The Cemetery. In 1984 when certification kicked in and movies started to become banned when our government was trying to turn us into a nanny state House By The Cemetery was one of the first to go. Ironically in 1993 after nearly ten years in the wilderness it was one of the first of the former video Nasties to get a release, then by the now defunct S. Gold & Sons sub label Vipco (S. Gold & Sons are also now defunct but were former pioneers in the home entertainment industry). While it secured its release there was a considerable amount of time edited from the movie. As DVD took off and Vipco planned a DVD release of the movie they then presented it before the BBFC (British Board Of Film Classification) again where it was agreed that they could release a slightly lengthened version. But it took till 2009, twenty five years since the movie was banned, for the movie to at last be seen in an uncut form in the United Kingdom.
House By The Cemetery is a movie from the infamously titled Godfather Of Gore Lucio Fulci, made during his heyday of 1979-1981 where his “Zombie” horror movies changed the way western culture looked at Zombies. I always feel referring to House By The Cemetery as a zombie movie does it an injustice because the movies killer is not strictly dead, a pretty rudimentary part of being a zombie in my book. None the less this is a movie that has great affection in my eyes, because although I had briefly skated round the genre of the Italian horror/thriller movie, it was after seeing this film that I became a fan of Italian horror forever.
Beginning in New York a young family are on the verge of making a move to Boston where Norman (Paolo Malco) is planning to continue the work of a colleague who seemingly turned insane and killed himself and his family. Wife Lucy (Katherine (or Catriona) MacColl) and son Bob (Giovanni Frezza) in toe, they arrive at Oak Mansion a remote house by a now disused graveyard. While Norman gets straight to work its Lucy’s responsibility to turn this old wreck of a house into a home. While Norman turns up very little Lucy is thrown straight into making discoveries, whilst cleaning the living area she discovers a tombstone with the name Jacob Tess Freudstein on it, a name that’s an essential part of Norman’s investigations. With creepy vocal noises half roaring half child crying, a disturbing looking babysitter, the impression that Norman knows a lot more than he’s letting on, and a bizarre but striking young girl by the name of May; The House By The Cemetery has all the essential factors to make a completely chilling horror movie.
I won’t tell you any lies the acting is not the best, director Fulci believing that the storytelling is more essential than the actors roles, this is in no means helped by the dubbing of all the characters into English; especially when either the dubbing artist or the Italian to English translator cannot identify the difference between a doctor or a baker “You really should be taking those tablets your baker prescribed” states Malco at a moment of high tension. But put aside these two facts and you have potentially the framework of one of the most cleverly crafted horror movies of the 1980’s. Fulci spends a great amount of the movies 85-85 minute running time building the tension, leaking out little snippets of information, or showing you just enough to keep you enthralled. Rather beautifully the movies killer although fairly obvious from the movies offset is not shown to the audience until the final moments of the film, and pretty is not a word you would use to describe it.
The Hostel movies got a lot of acclaim for their rather bloody and in your face gruesomeness; well House By The Cemetery does a similar job, the big difference being that Fulci’s classic was twenty five years earlier in back 1981. As you enter the killer’s lair properly for the first time, you’re treated to the remains of a variety of cannibalised victims, not cannibalised for food however, but for their organs and other essentials that a 200 year old killer might require. YUK!
Many of Lucio Fulci’s movies even through his better times are slightly disjointed leaving you with a “what just went on there?” style thought, City Of The Living Dead (another Fulci movie from the same era) being a classic example, but House By The Cemetery avoids these trappings, your fully aware of what’s just taken place but the burning question as the credits begin to roll is what happens next? If you allow your mind to think about it, there is a good sequel there because all the doors are left open, leaving the viewer with a deep feeling of helplessness. It was exactly this sort of after thought that drew me towards the Italian horror genre.
If you’re not a particularly strong stomached horror movie viewer this is one you might want to slowly wean yourself into. There are some pretty jumpy moments mixed in with the grotesque gore. And while the movies first death might leave you chuckling the combination of gore and tension as it begins to build up can be too much for some to bear.