Blue Underground // 1981 // 86 Minutes // Unrated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Tom Becker // October 28th, 2011
You may have just mortgaged your life!
"Don't go inside! Not inside!"
The Boyle family -- father Norman (Paolo Malco, The New York Ripper), mother Lucy (Catriona MacColl, City of the Living Dead), and young son Bob (Giovanni Frezza, Warriors of the Wasteland) -- are moving from New York to an old house in New England. Norman is a professor who's going to be doing some research, picking up from a colleague who used to live in the house. The colleague murdered his mistress and then killed himself at this same humble abode, but the Boyles are moving in anyway.
Even before leaving the Big Apple, Bob is apprehensive. He has visions of a little girl warning him not to come. When the family arrives in New England, Bob meets the little girl, Mae (Silvia Collatina, Murder Rock), though no one else can see her. Then, a mysterious woman named Ann (Ania Pieroni, Inferno) shows up, claiming to have been hired by the real estate agent to babysit Bob.
The family settles in, and they soon notice...well, odd things, noises mainly, coming from the basement. As Norman investigates, he learns the house was originally owned by a doctor and his family -- the Freudsteins! And Dr. Freudstein -- as his name might suggest -- wasn't exactly an angel of mercy.
There's evil afoot, and Norman is hellbent on finding it -- but will the evil find him and his charming family first?
The House by the Cemetery is pretty typical Lucio Fulci: long on extravagant gore effects, short on cohesive plot and logic. While that's not much of a liability in the director's justifiably celebrated zombie films, it's problematic here. Fulci was certainly capable of directing an intriguing screenplay, as evidenced by Don't Torture a Duckling, Lizard in a Woman's Skin, and Perversion Story. Here, we get all the trappings of a haunted house story -- including a score by Walter Rizzati that would be right at home in a Fright Fest ad -- but somehow, it just doesn't come together in a really satisfying way.
Haunted house tales tend to be more effective if we have some idea who (or what) is doing the haunting. Unfortunately, Fulci's ghoulie, while blood-thirsty enough, just doesn't make much of an impression.
In The House by the Cemetery, Fulci gives us all sorts of compelling setups: the mysterious little girl, the equally mysterious babysitter, a gruesome opening murder (containing the only bit of gratuitous nudity), a realtor who seems to have an agenda, some backstory concerning the murder/suicide, a misplaced tomb, a whole passel of things going bump in the night (and during the day), and (of course) the voracious thingie in the basement. Unfortunately, while the mystery elements are top-loaded, the pay-off is a letdown. Fulci tosses out red herrings, but doesn't follow through with any of them. Thus, we get secondary characters acting strangely -- a sure sign that they're "in on" some larger plot -- only to have their strangeness add up to nothing. The big "reveal" is literally blurted out in the film's closing moments, and it's really pretty ridiculous.
Gore-wise, while the effects are good, there aren't as many scenes of bloodletting as might be expected from a Fulci frightener. An awful lot of time passes between kills, as the family tries to discover the secrets of the basement and Norman investigates the Freudstein legend. Oh, and there's a bat attack.
Fulci gets a lot of mileage from atmosphere. What the film lacks in corpuscle, it makes up in old-fashioned, haunted-housie suspense. There are certainly plenty of creepy moments to be had here, even though the parts ultimately work better than the film works as a whole.
Blue Underground's release of The House by the Cemetery (Blu-ray) is better-than decent. While the digital noise reduction seems a tad heavy in places, this is overall a very nice looking 2.35:1/1080p high def image, clear with solid colors and a reasonable amount of depth. Audio is available in a very full sounding 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio English mix and a less-impressive Italian Dolby 2.0 mono track.
Supplement-wise, we get a series of recent interviews with the actors and writers. Since many of these people worked with Fulci on other projects, these serve as not only a retrospective on the film, but a nice tribute to the director. This is a very nice, comprehensive set of featurettes:
* "Meet the Boyles" -- MacColl and Malco, who worked with Fulci on a number of films, talk about the director, as well as their experience on The House by the Cemetery.
* "Children of the Night" -- Frezza and Collatina, both under 10 when they made the film, reminisce, with Frezza making the point that one of the problems with his oft-criticized performance was that he was dubbed by someone else.
* "Tales of Laura Gittleson" -- Horror vet Dagmar Lassander (Hatchet for the Honeymoon, Iguana with the Tongue of Fire), who plays the realtor, talks about her career and the making of The House by the Cemetery.
* "My Time with Terror" -- Carlo De Mejo, who has a small role here, had a pretty extensive career in Italian horror films, including City of the Living Dead and The Dead Are Alive; he was also the son of legendary Italian actress Alida Valli (The Third Man, Suspiria). De Mejo talks about his career, as well as his relationship with Fulci.
* "A Haunted House Story" -- Writers Dardano Sachetti and Elisa Briganti discuss the script and, of course, working with Fulci.
* "To Build a Better Death Trap" -- A pretty extensive interview with cinematographer Sergio Salvati, effects artist Gino De Rossi, and Giovanni De Nava, who played the cellar dweller.
Note that many of these interviews are in Italian, with subtitles burned in.
In addition, there are trailers, a deleted scene, a TV spot, and a gallery that includes poster art.
Even though The House by the Cemetery is ultimately more goofy than scary, Blue Underground has done a great job with this Blu-ray release. Fulci fans will be delighted, and casual horror fans will want to give this a look for the supplements.
The film can't be let off scot free, but Blue Underground gets no
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Blue Underground
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 2.0 Master Audio (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (Italian)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 86 Minutes
Release Year: 1981
MPAA Rating: Unrated
* Deleted Scene
* TV Spot
* Image Gallery