Always Avoid the Cellar

The longer House by the Cemetery goes, the more it’s difficult to believe no one accepts the horror evident in this country home. Yes, a cemetery lurks just outside, an immediate omen. Then a grave is found under the kitchen floor – the time to leave. A boarded cellar? There’s no excuse for staying.

Reluctance to escape is partly House by the Cemetery’s theme. The Boyle family leaves New York living, husband Norman (Paolo Malco) investigating a researcher’s murder/suicide. That doctor is named Freudstein, suggesting a sinister sexual undercurrent between Norman and wife Lucy (Catriona MacColl). Women hang around this story, including a mute babysitter who, maybe herself was accosted by Norman, causing her silence.

There’s a definite Shining vibe to it all. Where that was a story of an abuse victim terrified to leave, so too is House by the Cemetery, yet with a subtler hand. Lucy fears her home and first asks to leave. However, she’s also mortified when alone, a loosely threaded Stockholm Syndrome where the victim sees her abuser as protector.

House by the Cemetery is ambiguous enough to freely interpret, then violent enough for those seeking sordid exploitation

Family secrets hide in the closet. Or, in this case, the cellar, manifesting as Freudstein’s own undead form who needs victims to stay alive. There’s a catalyst for this: A young girl warns the Boyle’s young son (Giovanni Frezza) to stay away. The connection is easy to make – this supernatural-esque girl was herself a victim, adding a morbid layer to an already gruesome gore flick.

House by the Cemetery came from director Lucio Fulci; the brutality is no surprise. In the cellar, dissected bodies rot on tables, hang from rafters, or lie in piece on the floor. Kills max out blood quotas, punishing anyone near enough to Freudstein. This doesn’t even count the mental anguish and terror, slowly festering in the background as House by the Cemetery continues to assault this family.

Only the creaky origins harm this movie, from the dismal dubbing to knock-off haunted house cliches. House by the Cemetery isn’t one for pacing either, but its mystery survives. It’s ambiguous enough to freely interpret, then violent enough to appease those seeking sordid exploitation. If there’s one crushing error, that happens with the final text, a quote that places blame on children. That’s warped and misguided. All prior events (and the finale) turn kids into victims whose entire lives were defined by their painful upbringings. That they endure all of this only to be found at fault is an astonishing stretch.

Video

Blue Underground debuts a new 4K scan from the camera negative, so says the marketing. Given the sharpness and dazzling texture, it’s undoubtedly true. Facial definition shows individual sweat beads, pores, and blood splatter via absolute precision. Gore effects leave nothing behind, and hold up to their credit. Scenery outside draws each tree and every roof shingle. Distance is no issue.

Grain reproduction stutters in spots, one of the few caveats. Chroma noise and artifacting appear, if infrequently. Mostly, House by the Cemetery maintains a filmic look, even when challenged.

Slightly elevated contrasts does bring into question whether this was brightened. Black levels miss their deepest levels, inviting added grain to the shadows. That’s not unusual for the period’s lower budget cinema, but the heavier highlights do look suspect. Some lessened depth isn’t a deal breaker though.

Aggressive color saturation pushes extremes, giving most scenes an eerie glow. Blue Underground’s New York Ripper boasted similar color. Mopping near stained glass windows, Lucy soaks up the color filtering through the light, marvelous in distributing primaries. Flesh tones focus, glossy in their hue. Blood reaches a grisly red.

Audio

Three options, all DTS-HD: English or Italian mono, with English 5.1 also added. The latter is the best choice. It’s not a mix sailing into the rear speakers; they never see use. Rather, the score expands to the stereos naturally, firm even in the upper registers. The electronic peaks hold up decades later. Even some mild low-end organically flows, resolved well.

However, there’s no way around the dubbing. Every voice echoes from a cheap studio interior, while sound effects grate due to their harshness. Not even modern audio remastering techniques can fix this.

Extras

Inside Blue Underground’s thick package, three disc hold the bonuses. The third is the original soundtrack on CD, while the first holds the movie itself with a newly recorded commentary by author Troy Howarth. A deleted scene, trailers, and galleries follow.

The middle disc is stuffed with interviews, a few new to this release. That includes author Stephen Thrower, co-writer Giorgio Mariuzzo, and Q&A session with star Catriona MacColl. The other interviews come from previous releases, but that’s not denying their quality or quantity. A dozen people total discuss their roles and careers, running between 10-20 minutes each. Oh, and a sizable essay by Michael Gingold comes in the package too. It’s loaded.

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.

The House by the Cemetery
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Lucio Fulci mixes haunted house, psychological terror, and zombie cinema in the brutally gory House by the Cemetery.

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