Malevolent Dark is finally getting around to reviewing The House By The Cemetery (1981) from Lucio Fulci’s “Gates of Hell” trilogy. For this one, the link between The Beyond (1981) and City of the Living Dead (1980) is tenuous at best. The House By The Cemetery strays farther from the plot devices of the other films and any connection to the trilogy seems to have been an after-thought.
To be clear, none of this really affects our review of the film, but is this really a trilogy? Is it just a made up thing? Let us know in the comments.
Ok, Here Is The Real Consistency
Possibly, Fulci’s trilogy should be referred to as the Catriona MacColl trilogy. Catriona, also know as Katherine MacColl, takes charge as the leading lady in all three films. This time she take the role of Lucy Boyle. Catriona pairs up with Paulo Malco who also starred in Fulci’s sleaze-fest The New York Ripper (1982). Paulo plays Lucy’s husband, Norman. With their son Bob, the pair moves into a home formerly owned by Norman’s colleague that was involved in a murder suicide. They find that the basement door is locked and nailed shut. What sinister evil hides in the deep recesses of the home?
The Fulci Feels
Compared to the other films in the “The Gates of Hell” trilogy and other works by Lucio Fulci for that matter, The House By The Cemetery retains the DNA that makes Fulci film. Of the three films, the plot is easily the weakest of the bunch. Accordingly, this leads to a somewhat awkward delivery that depends greatly on direct narration through notes and audio tapes witnessed by Norman in his quest to uncover the mysteries of the house.
Yet, there is something distinctly Fulci-esq in this awkward delivery. Even in the face of stronger plot-lines, Lucio often takes a jagged path to the punchline. We saw a similar wandering in The Beyond. This trait, while more profound in this tale, seems to be indicative of Fulci’s style.
Musically, The House By The Cemetery offers a competent soundtrack. Certainly it pales in comparison to say, Fabio Frizzi’s work on Zombie (1979), but the music brings tension and mystery while retaining that European flavor that makes Italian horror films so distinguished among their peers.
The cinematography provided once again by Sergio Salvati clearly provides credibility to the work. While some of the imagery proves less impactful than that of The Beyond, the technical delivery is actually quite good. Salvati used great shot framing technics to place his subjects strategically in 1/3s. He then uses zoom and focus to draw the various subjects in and out of depth and view. During some of the scenes depicting intense violence, Salvati manages to capture the action in a moving mosaic rather than a still-life.
Speaking of Intense Violence
If this were an annual job review, under the core competency titled “Gore and Violence”, The House By The Cemetery would receive an unambiguous “Meets Expectations”. Fulci certainly delivers in sufficient quantity, and mostly delivery in the quality department. Maurizio Trani provided all of the special effects. Trani pulls off some seriously good bits like the the Real Estate Agent, Laura Glittleson, gets ventilated with a fireplace poker.
There are also some silly bits as well. Norman’s seemingly endless battle with a bat comes to mind. His inability to shake this bat that weighs less than 3 ounces is comical. As the clearly fake bat chews on his hand, he choses to stab it instead of simply pulling it off and stomping its guts out. The scene has the same ridiculous vibe as the never-ending tarantula scene in The Beyond.
When finally revealed, Dr. Fruedstein looks ridiculous. For all the care and precision when executing the other special effects, the main antagonist looks like lifeless clay. Side views of Freudstein clearly show the break between the latex appliance and the real human tissue of the actors ear. Lucio, you can do better.
So Is It Really a Trilogy?
After doing some research, we are going call it tenuous, but plausible. It all anchors to what seems to have been an unnecessary sub-plot involving Bob and a little girl name Mae. Apart for the horrors of Dr. Freudstein’s basement, Bob, meets a young girl that he has seen in old photos of the home. Fulci never explicitly lays it out for the viewer, but he drops hints that this girl is of supernatural origin. This becomes relevant at the end of the film.
Bob ultimately becomes an orphan at the hands of Dr. Freudstein. He is pulled to safety by Mae just inches from suffering the same fate. With Mae is Mary Freudstein. Having seen her tombstone in the cemetery, we get confirmation of the supernatural nature of these two. In an interview with Fulci, written in issue #48 of Starburst magazine, Lou Rinaldi captures the following quote from man himself.
But, mind you, what is to me the most tragic thing in The House Near the Cemetery is not the people who die, but that little girl who opens for her young friend the gates to the world of the Dead, and saves him from normality (i.e., from the monster who killed the boy’s parents), but also plunges him into the Beyond. In fact, those children do not actually die: they just live in another world in which adults have no power. Finally, the most frightening thing is that the house stays there and will receive other visitors.
There it is. an official and undisputed tie to the land of the undead and “The Gates of Hell”.
The House By The Cemetery represents the weakest of the trilogy. However, none of this means that there is nothing to see here. Avid fans of Fulci’s work will likely find something worth watching in this film. Fans of Italian cinema will clearly feel at home as the film retains those little bits that make Italian horror great. For fans just getting into Italian horror cinema, we think there are better places to start your journey.
The House By The Cemetery (1981) - Fulci's Final Gate to Hell - Malevolent Dark
Director: Lucio Fulci
Date Created: 1970-01-01 00:33