FULCI WEEK: The House by the Cemetery (1981)

It’s impossible for me to be objective. The House by the Cemetery is one of my favorite films ever. I cannot defend it’s lack of story, the fact that it’s influences are pinned to its sleeve or that it makes little to no sense. The first time I watched it — at a drive-in marathon that also included Zombi 2 — was an experience that burned the film into my brain.

The beginning will grab you in seconds, as a woman searches for her boyfriend in an abandoned house. She finds him dead, stabbed with scissors. Just then, she’s stabbed in the back of the head and the blade of the knife comes out of her mouth! We see her dragged away as the movie begins.

Meanwhile in New York City, Bob Boyle (Giovanni Frezza, Warriors of the WastelandManhattan BabyDemons) and his folks, Norman (Paolo Malco, The New York Ripper, Escape from the Bronx) and Lucy (Katherine MacColl, City of the Living Dead, The Beyond) are moving to the abandoned house we saw in the beginning of the film. Sure, Norman’s friend Dr. Peterson killed his mistress and committed suicide there, but why would that be a problem?

In one of the eeriest scenes in the film, Bob looks at a photo of the house and notices a young girl moving from room to room. This is the most subtle of all frights, a small moment where reality is not as it should be, and far more potent than even the goriest of grue that Fulci will soon serve up with glee. Only Bob can see this vision, which warns him to stay away.

As his parents get the keys to the house, Bob sees the girl again. Inside the rental office, Mrs. Gittleson (Dagmar Lassander, Hatchet for the Honeymoon) is upset that the couple has the Freudstein keys to Oak Mansion, but she promises to find a babysitter from Bob.

The mansion is a mess. Yet when the babysitter (Ania Pieroni, Inferno) comes, she enters the previously locked and nailed shut cellar door. Strangeness follows, like a librarian recognizing Norman despite never meeting him, the discovery of a tomb inside the house and a bat attack.

The Boyles demand a new house as Norman goes to the hospital. Mrs. Gittleson comes to tell them that she’s found a new property, but the Freudstein tombstone in the ground holds her while a figure stabs her in the neck. The next morning, Ann the babysitter cleans up the blood and avoids questions.

While the Boyles are at the hospital to treat Norman’s injuries from the bat, Mrs. Gittleson arrives at the house to tell them of a new property. Letting herself in, she stands over the Freudstein tombstone, which cracks apart, pinning her ankle. A figure emerges, stabs her in the neck with a fireplace poker, and drags her into the cellar.

The next morning, Lucy finds Ann cleaning a bloodstain on the kitchen floor while eluding Lucy’s questions about the stain. As they drink their morning coffee, Norman tells Lucy that the house was once home to Dr. Fruedstein, who conducted horrific experiments in the basement. He decides to go to New York City to learn more and on the way, he finds out that Freudstein killed his old friend Peterson’s family.

Ann can’t find Bob, so she goes to the basement where Freudstein slashes her throat and decapitates her. Bob finds her head and screams, but his mother refuses to believe the story. Bob goes back to the cellar but gets locked in. His mother tries to open the door, which can’t be unlocked. Norman returns and they make their way down to see Freudstein’s hands holding Bob. One axe slash later and the hand is cut off as the monster goes away to recover.

Inside the basement, Norman and Lucy find mutilated bodies, surgical equipment and a slab. Turns out that Freudstein is 150 years old and has learned to escape death. He returns and attacks Norman, who returns the favor by stabbing him. The twisted doctor replies by ripping out Norman’s throat. Lucy and Bon try to escape, but Freudstein drags her down to the basement where he rams her head into the floor until she dies.

Finally, the doctor grabs Bob, who is rescued by Mar and her mother, Mary Freudenstein. Mary tells them that it’s time to leave as she leads Mae and Bob down to a world of gloom and ghosts. The film ends with this quote:

House by the Cemetery is a mash-up of FrankensteinThe Amityville Horror and The Shining. And it’s another in the series of classics that Dardano Sacchetti (working with Giorgio Mariuzzo here) wrote for Fulci. If you think it’s nonsensical, imagine how early American audiences felt when the original VHS copies released in the U.S. had several of the reels out of order!

Seriously, this movie makes no sense whatsoever. There aren’t plot holes because there’s not even a plot. And sure, some say there’s too much gore. Yes, I’ve heard these complaints and I say no to all of them! Look, you’re either going to become an evangelist for this film (if you need me in person, there’s a good chance I’ll have on a t-shirt with this film’s logo, I wear the shirt all the time) and you’ll think it’s the biggest piece of garbage ever made.

Decide for yourself! It’s on Shudder!

31 thoughts on “FULCI WEEK: The House by the Cemetery (1981)”

  1. […] That said, once the face painted natives and a giant alligator attack everyone, burning down Paradise House and menacing screaming tourists, who survives and what will be left of them is up for grabs. Look for appearances by Bobby Rhodes (the pimp from Demons), Romano Puppo (Trash’s father from Escape from the Bronx) and Sylvia Collatina (Mae Freudenstein, the ghost girl of The House by the Cemetery)! […]

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  2. […] Alternatively known as Paura Nella Città dei Morti Viventi (Fear in the City of the Walking Dead), Twilight of the Dead, The Gates of Hell and Ein Zombie hing am Glockenseil (A Zombie Hung on the Bell Rope), this is the first unofficial chapter in what has become known as Lucio Fulci’s Gates of Hell trilogy, along with The Beyond and The House by the Cemetery. […]

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  3. […] Soon, Hawk learns of his new quest from a sorceress (Patricia Quinn, who was Magenta in The Rocky Horror Picture Show) and gathers his friends: Gort the giant (Bernard Bresslaw, who would go on to play a similar role in Krull), Crow the elf and Baldin the whip-wielding elf. Even though they raise enough gold to pay for the ransom on the nun, Hawk knows that his brother won’t live up to his word. After all, Voltan killed Hawk’s wife Eliane (Catriona MacColl! Holy cow! The star of City of the Living Dead, The Beyond and The House by the Cemetery!). […]

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  4. […] Finally — on the subject of Brother Theodore — I first discovered him as a kid when he was a frequent guest on David Letterman’s early shows. These blasts of strangeness still amaze me. I’m shocked that they ever aired on a major network they’re so odd. And if you’re wondering where you’ve heard Theodore before, perhaps it’s in the trailer for Fulci’s The House by the Cemetery. […]

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  5. […] 24. The House by the Cemetery: This Fulci gutbuster had anywhere between four and eight whole minutes chopped out of it when re-released in 1988. Those cuts made an already murky plot even stranger and harder to follow, if that’s possible. Don’t get mad — this is one of my favorite movies, but even I can admit that it’s a little “difficile da seguire” as you say in Italian. Even the bat attack scene was censored, perhaps because of the violence to the animals. […]

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