House by the Cemetery (Quella villa accanto al cimitero) (4K UHD)

Director: Lucio Fulci
Screenplay: Lucio Fulci, Giorgio Mariuzzo, Dardano Sacchetti (story by Elisa Briganti)
Stars: Catriona MacColl (Lucy Boyle), Paolo Malco (Dr. Norman Boyle), Ania Pieroni (Ann), Giovanni Frezza (Bob Boyle), Silvia Collatina (Mae), Dagmar Lassander (Laura Gittleson), Giovanni De Nava (Dr. Jacob Tess Freudstein), Daniela Doria (First female victim), Gianpaolo Saccarola (Daniel Douglas, the librarian), Carlo De Mejo (Mr. Wheatley), Kenneth A. Olsen (Harold), Elmer Johnsson (Cemetary Caretaker), Ranieri Ferrara (Steven), Teresa Rossi Passante (Mary Freudstein)
MPAA Rating: NR
Year of Release: 1981
Country: Italy
The House by the Cemetery 4K
The House by the Cemetery

Lucio Fulci’s The House by the Cemetery (Quella villa accanto al cimitero) was released near the end of a particularly prolific period for the Italian director, who had, after several decades of directing projects in a wide variety of genres including comedies, Westerns, and thrillers, found his true calling with gory supernatural horror films, of which he made five in the two years between 1979 and 1981. Fulci proved to be particularly attuned to the art of the gratuitous gross-out, and his most popular films are the ones that threaten to show you something gruesome and then show it, and show it some more, and then show it some more. The attention he lavishes on the grisliest of images has endeared him to gorehounds around the world while also making him a pariah among more discerning horror fans, who consider him a hack, and a target for censor groups, particularly the British Director of Public Prosecutions, which included several of his films on their various “video nasty” lists in the early 1980s (a distinction that I imagine Fulci viewed as an honor).

Not surprisingly, The House by the Cemetery was included on those lists, although the violence inflicted on the various characters throughout the film (which includes gouging, stabbing, throat ripping, dismemberment, and decapitation) is nothing compared to the violence that Fulci inflicts on storytelling and logic. Even for someone who understands and appreciates that horror films, especially of the Italian variety, often subvert logic and reason in favor of shock tactics and a nightmarish aura that by its very nature refuses to play by classical narrative standards, The House by the Cemetery is a frequently frustrating morass that sets up potential situations and fails to follow through, presents otherwise normal characters behaving with a complete lack of rationality, and leaves gaping plot holes. Despite having three credited screenwriters (Fulci, Giorgio Mariuzzo, and Dardano Sacchetti, working from a story by Zombie scribe Elisa Briganti), literally nothing adds up; it is as if the writers divvied up the story and then wrote their parts in isolation, not knowing what anyone else was doing, and then tried to paste them together.

The plot involves a young family moving from Boston to a remote corner of New England. The father, Norman Boyle (Paolo Malco), is a professor who is taking a six-month research trip to finish the work started by his mentor, who apparently killed his mistress and then committed suicide. Norman’s wife, Lucy (Catriona MacColl, who appeared in three of Fulci’s horror films during this period), is a fragile sort who takes pills to calm her nerves. Their 8-year-old son, Bob (Giovanni Frezza), is a precocious kid who might be either psychic or psychotic since he sees and hears a little girl named Mae (Silvia Collatina) who no one else can see. Bob first sees Mae in a picture of the titular house, which is hanging in the family’s Boston apartment (why that picture is there is never explained). Mae warns Bob not to come, thus reinforcing our assumption that old, rambling, Victorian houses in desolate woods next to ancient cemeteries are usually bad news.

Fulci makes this clear in the film’s opening scene, where two young lovers are slaughtered in the house by an unseen assailant who apparently resides in the cellar. When the Boyles arrive and move in, there are intimations that something is not right, including the repeated, but indistinct sound of children crying and the arrival of Ann (Ania Pieroni), a babysitter with striking eyes and an unusual demeanor who is constantly looking at Norman with mysterious stares (Fulci cuts back and forth between extreme close-ups of their eyes with such regularity that an optometrist could probably perform an exam on them). After a half hour of atmospherics involving locked cellar doors, a tombstone being discovered under a rug in the front hallway, and insinuations of supernatural mystery that never add up to anything (repeated suggestions that people around town have seen Norman before are quickly forgotten), Fulci gets down to the business of killing as many characters as possible, winding his way to a climactic (and claustrophobic) stand-off in the basement between the Boyle family and the house’s murderous occupant.

The climax is one of the film’s better sequences, as it combines Fulci’s penchant for the gross with genuine suspense and tension that is often lacking in other parts of the film. He also manages to pull together an ambiguous coda that intrigues, rather than frustrates, with its open-endedness. Much of the rest of the film, however, simply rambles through the motions and gives the impression of a project that was never quite finished. One might expect some dangling questions, but not for virtually every plot point; similarly, a bit of bizarre character behavior is certainly part of the terrain, but not inexplicable scenes like the one in which Lucy comes downstairs and finds Ann mopping up massive smears and puddles of blood in the kitchen and doesn’t think to ask what happened (she is easily distracted by Ann’s declaration that she has made coffee).

Some of the film’s weakness also derives from the technical qualities of the production, specifically the starkly artificial English-language dubbing of Bob and Mae’s voices, which were done by an adult mimicking (badly) a child’s voice. This has the effect of estranging both characters (but particularly Bob, who is already an almost alien-like child actor) when they should be the emotional center of the film. The fact that Fulci ends with a made-up quote attributed to Henry James (whose The Turn of the Screw clearly had some influence here) questioning whether children are monsters or monsters children suggests that perhaps it wasn’t so much a technical failing as it was an intentional form of audience alienation. Either way, it makes for a generally unpleasant experience, even for those who appreciate the darker corners of European horror.

The House by the Cemetery Limited Edition 3-Disc Blu-Ray Set

Aspect Ratio2.40:1
  • English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround
  • English DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 monaural
  • Italian DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 monaural
  • SubtitlesEnglish, French, Spanish
  • Audio commentary by Italian horror scholar Troy Howarth
  • “Meet the Boyles”: interviews with actors Catriona MacColl and Paolo Malco
  • “Children of the Night”: interviews with actors Giovanni Frezza and Silvia Collatina
  • “Tales of Laura Gittleson”: interview with actor Dagmar Lassander
  • “My Time With Terror”: interview with actor Carlo De Mejo
  • “A Haunted House Story”: interviews with co-writers Dardano Sacchetti and Elisa Briganti
  • “To Build a Better Death Trap”: interviews with cinematographer Sergio Salvati, special make-up effects artist Maurizio Trani, special effects artist Gino De Rossi, and actor Giovanni De Nava
  • “House Quake”: interview with co-writer Giorgio Mariuzzo
  • Q&A session with actress Catriona MacColl from the 2014 Spaghetti Cinema Festival
  • “Calling Dr. Freudstein”: interview with Fulci scholar Stephen Thrower
  • Deleted scene
  • Theatrical trailers
  • TV spot
  • Poster & still gallery
  • Insert booklet with essay by Michael Gringold
  • DistributorBlue Underground
    Release DateJanuary 21, 2020

    The transfer on Blue Underground’s new 4K release of House by the Cemetery is the same one we saw on their Blu-ray released earlier this year, which was an impressive replacement for their 2011 Blu-ray, but now we get the full, 4K image. As Troy Howarth says in his audio commentary, the film “has never looked better.” The image, which was transferred from the original, uncut camera negative, is generally brighter and stronger in terms of detail, with better contrast and stronger black levels. The increased resolution is quite apparent, especially in the textures and fine detail. Film grain is even more apparent in this transfer, giving the image a more thoroughly filmlike presentation. I imagine that some digital restoration was done because the image is very clean, with virtually no signs of age or damage. The color palette tends to lean more toward the teal range on this transfer, whereas the previous disc had a slightly colder, more grayish-bluish palette. This release also adds a new DTS-HD 5.1-channel remix of the original English-language monaural soundtrack (that English mono soundtrack is also included, along with an Italian mono track). The six-channel remix opens up the soundtrack quite well without being pushy, giving us some nice atmospherics in the surround channels and decidedly more space and weight for Walter Rizzati’s over-the-top musical score. Of course, one much mention that all of the soundtracks, whether English or Italian, were dubbed in postproduction, and the dialogue sounds generally hideous to anyone who likes some semblance of naturalism in the way people speak.
    All of the supplements that appeared on the previous Blu-ray editions are included here. From the 2020 Blu-ray, we get an audio commentary by Italian horror scholar Troy Howarth, author of Splintered Visions: Lucio Fulci and His Films and a regular contributor to Blue Underground releases (he previously recorded commentaries for Two Evil Eyes and The Stendahl Syndrome). Howarth’s commentary is lively, informative, and fun to listen to. He speaks fast and doesn’t mince words, such as when he refers to Fulci as an “equal-opportunity sadist” and a “misanthrope.” On the second Blu-ray disc (where most of the supplements are housed), we get three new supplements: “House Quake,” a 15-minute interview with co-writer Giorgio Mariuzzo; a half-hour Q&A session with actress Catriona MacColl from the 2014 Spaghetti Cinema Festival; and “Calling Dr. Freudstein,” a 20-minute interview with Stephen Thrower, author of Beyond Terror: The Films of Lucio Fulci, which also includes footage of a number of the film’s locations in Massachusetts, including the titular house. And the three-disc package also includes a CD with the complete motion picture soundtrack (which is becoming a regular and much appreciated feature of Blue Underground’s limited edition releases).

    From the earlier discs we get “Meet the Boyles,” which features interviews with MacColl and Paolo Malco, while in “Children of the Night” we hear from now-grown child actors Giovanni Frezza and Silvia Collatina (Frezza immediately apologizes for his horrible English-language dubbing). “Tales of Laura Gittleson” features an interview with actor Dagmar Lassander, and “My Time With Terror” features actor Carlo De Mejo. In terms of the production crew, we get “A Haunted House Story,” which interviews co-writers Dardano Sacchetti and Elisa Briganti (neither of whom, amazingly, makes any reference to how terrible and illogical their script is, as least as interpreted in the film), while “To Build a Better Death Trap” focuses on the special effects wizardry in the film via interviews with cinematographer Sergio Salvati, special make-up effects artist Maurizio Trani, special effects artist Gino De Rossi, and actor Giovanni De Nava (who played Dr. Freudstein). There is also a brief deleted scene that would have come immediately after the bat attack (unfortunately, the sound element has been lost, if there ever was one), several theatrical trailers, a TV spot, and a poster and still gallery.The package also includes a nicely designed insert booklet with a lengthy, informative essay by Michael Gingold.

    Copyright ©2020 James Kendrick

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    Overall Rating: (1.5)

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