The House By The Cemetery is peak Fulci. Arriving on 4K Ultra HD for the first time, Blue Underground presents the film with a level of clarity previously unimagined. Some people might not dig a clean aesthetic for this movie, but I’m not one of them. I’ll take any film I can see at its best presentation possible.
Having reviewed this movie what feels like 10 times in the last 2 years has made me appreciate House By The Cemetery. While it hasn’t replaced The Beyond as my favorite Fulci movie ever, it has hopped over Zombie and City of the Living Dead with ease. The reason for that is this the Fulci film that finally broke my brain.
Fulci works best when you understand him the least. So many American horror directors are beholden to the rules of film grammar laid out in the Silent Era. Show a lot, then give consequences for actions. What Fulci makes in his horror films are environments to be experienced. A world built with rules that don’t confine to what you know.
Haunted house movies are different from abandoned house movies. That sounds like I’m splitting hairs, but it’s true. Ghosts are so hard to portray in modern horror. They have to become poltergeist or violent entities to play well on film. But, an abandoned house can have anything living in it ala a hermit crab.
Can a ghost be in an abandoned house? Sure, but only if anchored by another real life supernatural entity. But, doesn’t that mean the house is haunted? Not exactly. What it means is that the house is a supernatural focal point that traps all sorts of monsters.
Dr. Freudstein has lived for 150 years by harvesting body parts, blood and other materials from his victims. Working pieces in and out like the mechanical Nazi from Hellboy, Freudstein lives into the 1980s as a monstrous freak. There is an effort to create some Frankenstein parallels, but I don’t think a Fulci theme could stomach true Gothic trappings. So, this mad scientist is a mad creature dedicated to murder.
Giovanni Frezza is the film’s underrated star as the child Bob. Having appeared in and out of Fulci and friends’ films, he is the Western entry point for viewers. You get a lot of suspense for laughs with him, but most things generally happen to Bob. Everyone dies around him or because of him. Then, there’s the whole angle of what happens to Bob at the end of the House by the Cemetery.
What makes Fulci work so well for me is how botched the translations become as his work moves across borders. The House by the Cemetery wouldn’t have been made better by making the haunting parallels and language changes make sense. Everyone is dubbed for a reason. That reason being American audiences made or broke your horror film back in the 80s.
Italian horror in the 80s requires a series of textbooks. Mainly because it’s a moment in time that we are never going to have again. Cheap dubbed schlock being dumped in mass to theaters that existed just on the outside of the MPAA. Independent circuits of drive-ins and grindhouses showing the kind of heavy graphic material that you couldn’t find on TV or at the mall cinema. What a time to be alive.
Blue Underground brings House by the Cemetery into the 4K age with a stunning transfer and robust Dolby Atmos track. Much like with the Daughters of Darkness set I discussed earlier, Blue Underground knows how to treat cult classic horror cinema. I just wish we could have received some new special features for House by the Cemetery.