EZMM 2022 Day 3: The House by the Cemetery (1981)

It’s that time of year again! Time to celebrate the Resurrection with a weeklong plunge into all things zombie! Here’s the history: In 2008, Dr. Girlfriend and I decided to spend a week or so each year marathoning through zombie films that we’d never seen before, and I would blog short reviews. And simple as that, the Easter Zombie Movie Marathon was born.

For the curious, here are links to 20082009 (a bad year), 201020112012 (when we left the blog behind), 20132014201520162017201820192020, and 2021.

The House by the Cemetery, or Quella villa accanto al cimitero (1981)

Directed by Lucio Fulci

Story by Elisa Briganti

Screenplay by Lucio Fulci, Dardano Sacchetti, and Giorgio Mariuzzo

According to writer Roberto Curti, after making The Beyond, Fulci wanted to make a film tribute to Lovecraft “without the film being based on one of his stories but written as if it existed within the universe.” The initial draft of the screenplay, by Sacchetti, was based on his own upbringing with a helping of Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw added. Fulci found the screenplay derivative and revised it with Mariuzzo, with an end result that really ended up landing nowhere near either Lovecraft or James.

So much so, that I’m honestly confused as to how this film is considered a continuation of the Fulci’s Gates of Hell series. There is no gate to hell, there aren’t really any zombies, the gore is kept to a minimum (although when it shows up, it is a grotesque delight) and the film feels more like a poor man’s The Shining than anything close to the two previous films.

I’m not sure where to begin with this one.

We open with some titties, followed by a bloody double murder, so that’s awesome. Unfortunately, from this point on, we’re more in the realm of a very traditional ghost story, rather than a nihilistic zombie apocalypse. Aside from the fact that Catriona MacColl returns to star in this film, there is literally no thematic connection to City of the Living Dead or The Beyond aside from the fact that our protagonists are moving into a large new house with a shady history.

Yes, they move into the house of Dr. Freudstein.

It’s pronounced Froid-steen.

Norman Boyle (Paolo Malco) and his wife Lucy (MacColl) and their remarkably annoying son, Bobby (Giovanni Frezza) – who shall be hereafter referred to as Bobby Duke (aka Babadook) move into the Freudstein house, where Norman’s associate had been researching suicide or something never made clear but had then supposedly murdered his mistress and hanged himself.

We know, however, that it was a mysterious shadowy figure who murdered them, thanks to those opening scenes.

Thrown into this mix is a little girl named Mae (Silvia Collatina) – who is obviously a ghost to anyone paying any attention – a nanny named Ann (Ania Pieroni), who we first see as a beheaded mannequin (??) – who shall be hereafter referred to as Ann-e-Quin – and the idea that Lucy is on pills for a nervous condition but said pills can sometimes cause hallucinations.

You can just go ahead and forget that last bit about the pills. It’s never brought up again and doesn’t impact the narrative in any way whatsoever.

Ultimately, what we’ve got is a hodge-podge of references to other, better stories, and an attempt to cash in on the popularity of The Shining rather than further explore the surrealistic concepts around a world where there is no god or devil, only ancient dark forces with no concern for humanity at all.

The House by the Cemetery fails on just about every level as a continuation of the Gates of Hell series and fails on most levels as a traditional haunted house story. There’s a sort-of zombie, so I guess it fits the marathon theme, even if that zombie is a withered old dude named Freudstein who murders people to regenerate himself, despite not actually regenerating at all.

The music by Walter Rizzati echoes the score for the previous two films, but veers full on into self-parody at times, and I’m convinced that it was the inspiration for Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace. In fact, this film may have been the source from which that genius bit of satire was born.

The only real positives I took away from this one was that Fulci’s direction was a touch more mature, allowing Vincenzo Tomassi’s editing to really help add to the fundamental quality of the production. Because, despite my complaints, The House by the Cemetery is maybe the best made film of the trilogy, from just a functional level.

There are also a couple of bloody kills that aren’t too bad, plus one crazy-ass bat attack that turns into a blood-drenched nightmare but doesn’t really add anything to the story. The inclusion of a childlike whimpering and crying to the overall soundscape whenever something freaky is going on is also very effective, if a bit on the nose.

The House by the Cemetery was released by Anchor Bay on uncut DVD in 2001, and then by Blue Underground in both a bare-bones Blu-ray and a 3-Disc Limited Edition Blu-ray in 2020 with a new 4K restoration, new audio commentaries, classic interviews and features, a collectable booklet about the making of the film, plus a soundtrack CD.

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