Eye For Film >> Movies >> The House By The Cemetery (1981) Film Review
‘Giallo’ films, so named because of the yellow covers of the pulp novels upon which they were predominantly based, are an oft overlooked yet essential sub-genre of the broader cinematic grouping known as ‘exploitation film’. Lucio Fulci, director of The House by the Cemetery, the third entry in his unofficial Gates of Hell trilogy, became so synonymous with Giallo films over the course of his thirty plus year directorial career, that he became known as the ‘Godfather of Gore’.
In terms of typifying the work of Fulci, it is right to also note that his director’s chair found its way onto the sets of westerns and comedies, but it is his work in the field of horror for which he is most remembered. Having found international acclaim with Zombi 2 (1979) – released in the UK as Zombie Flesh Eaters – Fulci became iconic; indeed, his passionate followers will argue that his work is as seminal to the genre as that of Dario Argento (The Bird With The Crystal Plumage (1970), Phenomena (1985)).
The House By The Cemetery represents one of Fulci’s latter and perhaps less recognised works, scripted alongside his long term writing partner Dardano Sacchetti; with whom he would later become embroiled in an acrimonious dispute over the creative origins of the script for Per Sempre (1987). While it may not hold the influential status of Zombi 2, or the cult following of his gore-filled second entry in the Gates of Hell trilogy, The Beyond (1981), it still hits with a gory, blood-soaked wallop.
Following the story of the Boyle family, as they prepare to move from the safe confines of the ‘big city’ to an ominously secluded old house in the New England countryside, the plot is ripe for a haunted house with a mad scientist. The initial lead in is typically unremarkable and poorly dubbed but the uniqueness of Fulci’s work was never about the quality of dialogue. As Norman Boyle (Paolo Malco), accompanied by his wife Lucy (Catriona MacColl) and son Bob (Giovanni Frezzi), sets out to finish a piece of research in the home of his former colleague, who, incidentally, recently murdered his mistress before taking his own life, all the archetypal tropes of exploitation horror are in abundance.
At times, The House By The Cemetery suffers from the indecipherability that is endemic to this form of exploitation horror. With so much focus on the sheer spectacle of murderous butchery and blood-soaked debauchery, it can be challenging in the extreme to extract any form of meaningful narrative. In spite of this, the film benefits from Fulci’s artistic predilection for extreme gore. As the family’s stay in the ghastly mansion becomes further problematised by revelations concerning the villainous research of its previous occupant, an evil surgeon named Dr. Freudstein (Giovanni De Nava), it becomes clear there is something lurking in the basement beyond ravenous bats.
The House By The Cemetery will, as would be expected, offer viewers a shocking and gut-churning expose of Fulci’s directorial penchant for gore. From maggots vividly spilling from open wounds, to victims’ heads exploding violently on concrete floors, it may not be an occasion to reach for the popcorn. For Fulci’s many ardent followers, the film will represent an essential entry into what is a remarkable contribution to exploitation cinema and, on a broader level, the horror genre itself. For those new to the director’s work, it will be a worthy if nauseating starting point.Reviewed on: 30 Jul 2012