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The House by the Cemetery (1981)

Blue Underground
Blu-ray Disc Released: 10/25/2011

All Ratings out of
Movie: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 10/20/2011; Updated 1/16/2020

There are many directors which divide audiences. One which you may not be familiar with is Italian director Lucio Fulci. For years, Fulci made notorious horror and soft-core erotic movies. Some love his gory, oddly shot movies, while others find his output to be amateurish and cheap. I am on the fence with this one. I've seen most of Fulci's horror output, and while these movies are far from good, there's something hypnotic about them. Fulci stayed busy throughout his career, but his most popular period was the early 80s. These films have been making their way onto Blu-ray Disc and the latest arrival The House by the Cemetery (As City of the Living Dead and now The House by the Cemetery have appeared on Blu-ray this year, one can't help but wonder is The Beyond is far behind).

The House by the Cemetery opens in New York City where we meet Dr. Norman Boyle (Paolo Malco), his wife, Lucy (Katherine MacColl), and their son, Bob (Giovanni Frezza). Norman has agreed to take over the research of a Dr. Peterson (what the research was in never made completely clear), so the family move to the suburbs of Boston (I think) to an old house which is, oddly enough, by a cemetery. As Lucy begins to organize the house, Norman goes into town to do his research, while Bob plays with a young girl, Mae (Silvia Collatina), whom he's met. The realtor sends a babysitter, Ann (Ania Pieroni), to look after Bob. While exploring the house, Lucy delivers a tombstone slab in the floor of the living room area. Then, someone starts killing people who come to the house. Does this have anything to do with the cellar door which can't be opened?

I've seen The House by the Cemetery three times now (the first time was the infamous Vestron Video VHS which had reels mixed up so that the movie made less sense than usual) and after every viewing, I've said the same thing, "What a missed opportunity." Fulci movies are never scary, but his supernatural movies do have the potential to be creepy. This is certainly true for The House by the Cemetery. The photo of Mae from the opening sequence is somewhat chilling and promises that the rest of the film may follow suit. The tombstone in the floor (which is a flat slab, not a vertical monument) is an interesting idea, and the ending is surprisingly grim, even for a director who makes movies where a lot of people die.

If only The House by the Cemetery wasn't such an illogical nightmare. Other than the skeleton of a plot which is given above, there really isn't a story to the movie. The Boyles move to the house, people die, wackiness ensues in the basement, and the movie ends. We don't get any character development and huge ideas are never explained. Here are some examples: It's implied that Lucy has had a nervous breakdown, but we don't learn why. At least two people mention that they've seen Norman before, but this isn't explored. The identity and motivation of the killer is given, but that's where the explanation ends. Ann appears to be evil or a ghost or something, but this doesn't pan out. The movie is easy to follow, but the pieces never fit together.

We also get the sort of technical issues which seem to haunt this kind of film. Music just stops for no reason. The dubbing is atrocious and you'll find yourself laughing out loud at everything that Bob says due to the fact that the voice doesn't sound anything like a little boy. The bat attack is very fake and seems to go on forever. Fulci was notorious for the gore in his films, but The House by the Cemetery is relatively tame. Yes, there's plenty of blood here, but this would probably get an R if released today. The special effects make-up mask seen during the finale looks like papier mache.

So, I guess I've made The House by the Cemetery sound like a mix of bad and unsatisfying. The movie may be very flawed, but it certainly has its moments, and while the it's unintentionally funny at times, the supernatural bookends give the movie a creepy factor. The House by the Cemetery isn't Fulci at his best (the would be City of the Living Dead), but this is a great example of illogical Italian horror.

The House by the Cemetery features a Curious George doll which Bob calls Yogi for some reason on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Blue Underground. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc carries an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 32 Mbps. Given that this is a 30-year old low-budget Italian movie, the transfer looks pretty good. The defects from the source material are kept to a minimum, and we get only a few minor scratches and black dots. There isn't much grain either, although there is some video noise. The image is never overly dark or bright, but the colors are slightly washed out. Like many films of this type, no matter how crisp the transfer, the image looks flat. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 2.0 Mbps. The track delivers clear dialogue and sound effects. The sound reproduction here is very good, although it wasn't given much to work with. Again, the music comes and goes at random and the bad dubbing doesn't help. The dialogue is never drowned out by the music or sound effects and the mix does illustrate sounds coming from off-screen.

The House by the Cemetery Blu-ray Disc contains a number of extras. "Meet the Boyles" (14 minutes) is an interview with Catriona MacColl and Paolo Malco where they talk about their experiences working on the film. MacColl comments on the "lack of substance" in the script, and they both talk about their relationships with Fulci. "Children of the Night" (12 minutes) is an interview with Giovanni Frezza and Silvia Collatina, who played the two kids in the film. Frezza immediately apologizes for the dubbing, which scores big points for the bonus. They talk about how they got their roles and what it was like working on the film. "Tales of Laura Gittleson" (9 minutes) is an interview with Dagmar Lassander, who plays a realtor in the movie, which is weird, as she isn't in the film that much. Carlo De Mejo, who has a small part in The House by the Cemetery, but a history in Italian horror, gets interviewed in "My Time with Terror" (9 minutes). Writers Dardona Sacchetti and Elisa Briganti talk about the script in "A Haunted House Story" (14 minutes), where Sacchetti adds that he likes to keep scripts "ambiguous". Is that what we're calling it? "To Build a Better Death Trap" (22 minutes) contains comments from Cinematographer Sergio Salvati, Special Effects Make-up Artist Maurizio Trani, Special Effects Artist Gino De Rossi and actor Givanni De Nava. The Disc contains one DELETED SCENE which runs about 1 minute, but it is shown without sound. We get two TRAILERS, one from the U.S. and the other the International trailer, along with a TV SPOT. The extras are rounded out with a "Poster & Still Gallery".


On January 28, 2020, Blue Underground released a new Blu-ray Disc of The House by the Cemetery.  The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 31 Mbps.  The Disc features a new 4K restoration taken from the original camera negative.  The image is sharp and shows very nice colors.  The image is never overly dark or bright, despite some of the darker scenes.  There are no obvious defects from the source materials.  What we do get is some white video noise in several shots.  (This was also present in the previous release.)  When compared to the prior release, this new version is sharper and shows more depth, despite the bitrate being lower.  The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 4.0 Mbps.  The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects.  One immediately notices how much presence this track has when compared to the previous release.  It's not just louder (which it is), but it offers a more defined range of sounds.  We don't get many surround sound or subwoofer effects here, but the sound is definitely clearer.  (But, Bob still sounds weird.)

This new Blu-ray Disc release of The House by the Cemetery delivers some extra features which weren’t found on previous releases.  Disc 1 kicks off with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from Troy Howarth, author of Splintered Visions: Lucio Fulci and His Films.  We also get a “Poster & Still Gallery” which is new.  Disc 2 brings us some other new offerings.  “House Quake” (15 minutes) is an interview with Co-Writer Giorgio Mariuzzo.  “We get a Q&A with actress Catriona Maccoll from the 2014 Spaghetti Cinema Festival (30 minutes).  “Calling Dr. Freudstein” (20 minutes) offers an interview with Stephen Thrower, author of Beyond Terror: The Films of Lucio Fulci.  The remainder of the special features found on both discs are carried over from the previous Blu-ray Disc release.  The set also includes a CD with the film’s soundtrack.

Review Copyright 2011/2020 by Mike Long