Turner Classic Movies
House By The Cemetery, The




The casual acquaintance that pictures like 1981's The House by the Cemetery share with reality will forever be a make-or-break point with potential viewers. From giallo chillers to zombie gorefests, much of Italy's horror is renowned for favoring style over narratives following an already flimsy logical progression. Whether mood alone is enough to excuse certain plot quirks is all in the beholder's peepers, but from my experience, such inconsistencies tend to feast on one’s patience like spiders on a freshly-exhumed cadaver.


In spite of this, I still gave The House by the Cemetery – starring Katherine MacColl and Paolo Malco – the old college try, with my findings admittedly yielding more evocative photography and potent incorporation of gut-churning special effects than first expected. Fort sure enough the film’s overall lack of concern for just how it’s story treads from A to B becomes its own worst enemy, leaving us too frustrated to enjoy what are positioned as its most haunting pleasures.


Cath Mccall


Strange were the circumstances that summoned the Boyle family to a secluded old house in small-town Massachusetts. After its previous resident apparently murdered his mistress before taking his own life, Professor Norman (Malco) is assigned to carry on his research about the joint. Along for the six-month stay are his wife Lucy (MacColl) and young son Bob (Giovanni Frezza), but the bunch hasn’t even a chance to fully unpack before they’re beset by eerie happenings.



The new housekeeper (Ania Pieroni) constantly casts peculiar glares, Lucy is hounded by unearthly wails coming from the walls, and all the townsfolk swear that newcomer Norman has been there before. Not even little Bob is safe, for he’s soon visited by a ghostly girl (Silvia Collatina) who warns him to get out of the house as fast as possible. Death and despair have moved in with the Boyles, and the closer they get to the truth behind what’s going on, the more swiftly they begin to seal their own horrible fates.


This film wrapped up director Lucio Fulci’s unofficial “Gates of Hell” trilogy, which got underway with 1980’s City of the Living Dead and continued with cult favorite The Beyond months earlier. As with those productions, Fulci takes to the viewer’s gag reflex here like it owes him money, through a series of bloody and goopy set pieces that probably made some corn-syrup manufacturer very happy.

But along with this film’s reduced emphasis on fantasy (in comparison to its totally gonzo brothers) comes a more grounded sense of atmosphere and greater restraint in terms of the gore.

It’s odd to say so about something that opens up with a woman getting knifed through the noggin, but The House by the Cemetery is a fairly slow, methodical burn in regards to how it establishes tension.






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