The House By the Cemetery

3 out of 5

Directed by: Lucio Fulci

Man, I really wish this stuck the landing, because the initial hour or so of the movie is a strong, scary, Fulci-flourished haunted house flick.

Past a cold open of a girl looking through the decrepit house in which she and her boyfriend just had sex – as one does with boyfriends and girlfriends and decrepit houses – and then, of course, getting stabbed all grisly facial-puncture style by an offscreen assailant, we change to the Boyle family – hubby Norman (Paolo Malco), wife Lucy (Catriona MacColl) and son Bob (Giovanni Frezza) – preparing for a temporary move to Boston so that Norman can complete the “research” of a fellow colleague, “research” only quoted as such because this is one of those movies where the exact details regarding what was being studied and why are completely superfluous; we just need the Boyle’s to have a reason to move into that same decrepit house we saw.

There’s a handful of “quirky” details regarding the house – that it keeps being referred to by a different name, associated with ill tidings from its past; that, as per the movie title, it’s right by a cemetery; and there’s that boarded up cellar… – and we settle into the typical roles of flighty housewife who’s confident she doesn’t need her meds to stay sane, and the husband whom people seem to recognize around town but denies having been there before, or of knowing their new cute babysitter, Ann (Ania Pieroni)…

Also, there’s a young girl with a psychic connection to Bob who tells him not to go into the house quite often. Y’know, via their psychic link, which definitely gets explained at some point. (Spoiler: it does not.)

I’m all for horror movies that dreamily leave their bits and bobs unexplained, and Fulci’s woozy pans and often surreal structural choices lend itself to that, and despite some definite clunkiness in the movie’s first two thirds – the childrens’ dubbing is horrible, like beyond the pale; and the order in which the Boyles respond to the house’s increasing incidents of weirdness seem misordered, flipping out at one point and demanding to move over a frightening but excusably natural occurrence, and then not caring that, say, their babysitter goes missing (while in the middle of watching Bob…) and the cellar door is randomly opening the next – Fulci’s frequent indulgences in gross-out gore and the stop / start giallo score of Walter Rizzati and Alessando Blonksteiner make it a fun watch, with the clunk somewhat adding to the fear factor, in that it all kinda sorta doesn’t feel real. The gore may not be up to Zombie / Beyond levels of explosiveness, but it’s still ratcheted up in a way that volleys this thing beyond standard fare, and Fulci is not above freaking his kid the hell out either; there’s a nice sense of disposability with the whole cast that gives the flick a nice, unpredictable vibe.

Alas, this all comes crashing down when they try to put some answers on things, because it’s half answers, making all the dreamlike stuff come across as sloppy and pointless – like leaving it vague more because there’s no good explanation, versus it being an affect of the story. While this concluding half hour still gives us some quality visuals, the plotting stupidity weighs very heavily, leading to too many “but how?” / “but why?” spoutings when you should be swept up by finally getting to see the cool makeup on the bogeyman.

Definitely a quality Fulci watch, with a really effective first hour or so, but probably better on a second go when you’ve had your expectations set by being aware of its overall unevenness.