{2jtab: Movie Review}

The House by the Cemetery - Blu-ray Review


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4 stars

There couldn’t possibly be a creepier basement in the history of Horror films.  Dark, dank, and dangerous, the basement in 1981’s House by the Cemetery is a fright fan’s best worst nightmare.  The corners are tight, the door always slams shut (then locks), the shadows are alive with dead things, and heads roll down the stairs.  It’s also one boy’s escape from (or descent into) the paranoia that arrives after being trapped in a mysterious house that wouldn’t be out of place in the gothic trappings of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein or Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw.  It’s a tight canvas full of violent images and fear-inducing sequences; a fine example of an artist in full control of his art.

Italian director of rock and schlock Lucio Fulci may not be known as provider of the smoothest of narratives, but – when it comes to gore and engaging sequences – his B-movie mind definitely rises to an A-level grade.  House by the Cemetery has been victim of too many dismissals.  It’s full of characteristically dumb characters; it’s too violent for most audiences, and lacks any sort of coherency in a script that wears Kubrick’s The Shining influences on its sleeve.  I agree with the dissenters on several points, but there is no one – not even our beloved George A. Romero – who can direct the actual mind-thrashing experience of horror like Fulci can.

Opening inside said vacant house, a young woman discovers her boyfriend’s mangled body and a mere seconds later also discovers what it feels like to have a knife plunged into the back of her head.  An unseen figure drags her corpse across the floor and down to the basement.

Several months later, Norman (Paolo Malco) and Lucy Boyle (Catriona MacColl) move their young son, Bob (Giovanni Frezzi), into the house as their new residence.  He’s unsure of the move.  A mysterious little girl (Silvia Collatina) – first seen in an old photo of the house – keeps warning Bob, through random visits, not to enter the house.  Never, never, never go down into the basement.

At the house, Norman and Lucy discover doors nailed shut.  Uninvited, but accepted by the family a young woman arrives one day.  She introduces herself simply as Anne the babysitter (Ania Pieroni).  This leads to Norman spending more time away from the family and at the library where he studies death reports and disappearances in the New England area.  Soon enough, he discovers that the house once belonged to Dr. Freudstein  (Giovanni De Nava), a turn-of-the-century surgeon, and the basement housed his many illegal and bloody experiments in his search for eternal life.

And the basement calls to all.  Anne loses her head.  Bob gets trapped.  Lucy gets pulled down its stairs.  All sacrificed for Dr. Freudstein’s ongoing experiments.  Turns out, in order to live forever you must keep on killing…in the basement.  Written by Elisa Briganti, Giorgio Mariuzzo, Dardano Sacchetti, with input from Fulci himself, House by the Cemetery contains one of the longest bat attacks and most interesting endings in the genre.  Here, we see the past meet the present as Bob and the little girl and Mrs. Freudstein wander from the house and into a nameless sort of existence.

Focus on the images.  This is why this film remains relevant.  Poe used diction to create setting and atmosphere, Fulci uses images and pushes those images to create a sort of twisted and immediate atmosphere that cannot be avoided.  There’s a heaviness to the picture, a sadness that needs no explanation.  It’s a dead house this family moves into, a dead house that thrives on the living in order to maintain its existence.  Twisted, right?  Yet, Fulci doesn’t let the narrative drive the picture forward.  It’s the horrific images, the mood he directs to get to the final image.

Fulci is a gore hound.  He’s obsessed with the graphic nature of violent deaths.  House by the Cemetery is filled with decapitations, throat slashings, and buckets of blood.  Some will be put off by the many expressions of violence.  For Fulci, the camera’s focus was always toward the internalization of the violent aspects.  Look away if you dare, the prolonged goretastic effects will still be on display when you turn your head back to the screen.

House by the Cemetery is uncomfortable.  It isn’t driven by familiar forces.  The acting is all over the place and the script can’t and doesn’t try to bring everything together into a tight little bundle that makes any amount of sense.  Still, it manages to be eerie as hell in quite a few powerful sequences; moments that see a half-rotting man dragging another victim across the floor of the basement in slow motion.  Intellectual?  No.  Visceral and immediate?  Yes.

In my estimation, no director of horror has allowed the trance, the hallucinatory harrowing experience of terror, the legitimate – as Poe said – “dropping off of the veil” to transport the viewer into the actual moment of terror like Fulci.  No one and House by the Cemetery is the perfect example of Fulci at his hallucinatory best.

{2jtab: Film Details}

Piranha 3D - Movie ReviewMPAA Rating: This title has not been rated by the MPAA.
: Lucio Fulci
: Lucio Fulci
Cast: Catriona MacColl; Paolo Malco; Ania Pieroni; Giovanni Frezza; Silvia Collatina
Genre: Horror | Foreign
Read the fine print. You may have just mortgaged your life!
Memorable Movie Quote: "Ann? Mommy says you're not dead. Is that true?"
Almi Pictures
Official Site:
Theatrical Release Date:
March 1, 1984
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date:
October 24, 2011

Synopsis: A deranged killer lives in the basement of an old mansion and pops out occasionally to commit grisly murders that include be-headings, ripped throats, and stabbings with a fireplace poker. The killer needs fresh body parts to rejuvenate his cells. He also has maggots for blood.

{2jtab: Blu-ray Review}

The House by the Cemetery - Blu-ray Review

Component Grades

Blu-ray Disc
4 stars

4 stars

Blu-ray Experience
4 stars


Blu-ray Details:

Available on Blu-ray - October 24, 2011
Screen Formats: 2.40:1
: English SDH, French, Spanish
English: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0; Italian: Dolby Digital Mono
50GB Blu-ray Disc; Single disc (1 BD)
Playback: Region-Free

The 1080p transfer from Blue Underground is terrific.  Fine detail is revelatory throughout and, even the darkest of scenes in the basement, all shadows remain within their lines.  Everything is as clear as a bell.  Colors are sharp, the gore effects are bloody, and only a scant collection of hairs on the print.  All in all, a very fine piece of restoration from a company that remains devoted to all things horror.  The sound, provided here by a moody DTS-HD MA 2.0 losses soundtrack, is the release’s only fault.  At times, it is a bit shrilly and scratchy (more toward the beginning), but settles into a center-focused groove that doesn’t detract from the overall impact of the film.



  • None

Special Features:

Loaded with some decent interviews and some behind-the-scenes look at the gore effects, the supplemental materials for a film from 1981 are pretty good.  We get new interviews from the stars of the picture and get their recollections on the Fulci’s filming process, interviews with the screenwriters who confirm Fulci’s desire to string images together rather than tell a coherent story, and a strong interview with Cinematographer Sergio Salvati, Special Make-up Effects Artist Maurizio Trani, and Special Effects Artist Gino De Rossi.  The release contains one deleted scene featuring the aftermath of the extended bat attack and has some pretty interesting photos in its gallery of death.

  • Meet the Boyles (15 min)
  • Children of the Night (13 min)
  • Tales of Laura Gittleson (9 min)
  • My Time with Terror (10 min)
  • A Haunted House Story (15 min)
  • To Build a Better Death Trap (22 min)
  • Deleted Scene (1 min)
  • Trailers
  • TV Spot
  • Poster & Still Gallery

{2jtab: Trailer}