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What the Fulci is Going On in “The House By the Cemetery”?

The House by the Cemetary
Year: 1981
Genre: Horror
Director: Lucio Fulci 
Stars: Catriona MacColl, Paolo Malco, Ania Pieroni

The next film in the Pure Terror DVD set is Lucio Fulci’s memorable 1981 horror film The House By the Cemetey.  I’m not that familiar with the work of Fulci.  All I’d ever really seen from the director was Zombie and Zombie 3, the latter of which was mostly directed by Bruno Mattei and Claudio Fragasso.  Beyond those two films and the fact that the DVD for Don’t Torture a Duckling has been sitting on my desk for over a year, I’m not that knowledgeable about Fulci.  I know his reputation of being among the great horror directors and I was told by several people that The House By The Cemetery would be a terrific film.  Well, I did enjoy watching it, it had fantastic special effects even though there was rarely a moment when I understood what was going on.

Why does this slasher film look like an art film?

house by cemetery 1At it’s heart, The House By the Cemetary is a slasher film.  In this movie a man living in the basement of an old mansion murders any who happen to wander into his domain.  The same way Jason Voorhees would slaughter those who wandered into his.  However none of the tropes familiar to the slasher genre are present in *The House By the Cemetary.  Instead we have the confusing, artsy story.  A scene will be going on and then all of the sudden we cut to a little girl screaming about it.  In fact, in one of the strangest and more disturbing moments, this little girl spends five minutes starring at a store-front mannequin until its head falls off in a bloddy mess.  There is no real coherence to the scenes in this movie, just a lot of pretty shots that I’m sure have some sort of meaning to someone occasionally interrupted by a violent murder.

What about Bob?

house by cemetery 2No, I’m not talking about the comedy movie with Bill Murray and Richard Dreyfuss – I’m talking about the little kid in this movie.  The House By The Cemetery follows the Boyd family as they live for six months in the eponymous house.  Mother ____, Father _____ and their little boy Bob.  Bob Boyd, aside from having a name that sounds like a bad porn pseudonym, is ANNOYING!  First, and this is an issue I have with a LOT of Europeon films with English dubbing, he doesn’t sound like a kid.  It sounds like some adult dub actor with a fake falsetto voice pretending to be a kid and FAILING at it.  Every line he speaks just sounds like someone making fun of the kid – like he’s a parody of himself.

Bob is also friends with a little girl that apparently only he can see – I think.  I have no idea if this little girl exists or not and there are no scenes where’s he’s talking about this little girl around others.  Whenever he mentions her to his parents they’re reaction is: “Whatever, Bob.  Go play with your toy car.”  I will have more to say about Bob in a moment but I suppose I should first bring up.

What’s the deal with the babysitter?

First, her eyebrows:

house by cemetery 3

house by cemetery 4If anything clearly says “Villain” it’s those friggin’ dead caterpillars hovering above her eyes.  However, I don’t know if she’s a villain or not.  It is clearly foreshadowed that she will become a victim and the little girl (who exists or doesn’t, I don’t know) tries to warn her.  There really is nothing at all creepy about the girl, other than those eyebrows, and she seems nice enough.

However, there is the murder of a real estate agent in the house.  This more real estate agent is stabbed about a billion times with blood spraying EVERYWHERE! Then Basement Man drags the bleeding corpse across the whole house to stash it down in his domain.  Now, there is a lot of blood in this real estate agent, more blood than I assume is in the human body.  The next morning, the babysitter just cleans up this great mess without a thought.  Is she covering up for the killer?  Most babysitters, when they happen to walk into a house that looks like the kill floor at a slaughterhouse would scream in terror and run to the police.  This one, just starts cleaning.  What the hell is wrong with this woman?  She never even says to the mother: “What did you guys DO last night?!”  The mother, who’s already convinced that this is the most haunted and deadliest house in the world, sees the babysitter cleaning up this massacre and asks:

Mother: What are you doing?
Babysitter: I made coffee
Mother: Oh Boy!  Coffee!

I suppose everyone here is just as emotionally dead as the babysitter?

Again… What about Bob?

house by cemetery 5The babysitter isn’t very good at her primary job of babysitting however.  She can’t find Bob because he’s safely playing in his room like any other normal child.  She assumes that the kid wandered into the basement and goes down into the land of Basement Man to investigate.  Of course this is where she meets her end – having her head hacked off slowly with a butcher knife.  Of course this is preceded by a solid ten minutes of her pounding on the door and screaming for help and then more screaming as she’s murdered.

Bob’s reaction to the screaming?  he grabs his stuffed monkey and says: “Come on, Yogi, we’ve got to save the babysitter.”  Then he has to make sure he has all his toys put in the proper place, he has to take his toy gun with him, just in case, then he has to slowly march down the stairs.  Does Bob really have no concept of the idea of panic?  Screaming “HELP ME!  HELP ME! THERE IS A MAN ABOUT TO KILL ME!” with a sense of urgency just isn’t enough to really get Bob motivated?

What Happened at the end?

house by cemetery 6I still don’t get the ending.  I watched the movie twice now and have had to rewatch the ending a few more times and don’t get at all what happened.

So, here is the set-up.  After discovering that the house’s previous resident, Dr. Freudstein, is still living in the basement and eating people, the whole family ends up down there on his table.  Mom and Dad are killed and little Bob struggles to escape through a whole in the ceiling.  Suddenly he’s plucked out of Basement Man’s grasp by the nameless little girl.  Now they’re in the living room of the house and some random old woman is telling the little girl to be more corteous and they all wander off together?  What the hell?  I still don’t know if this little girl existed or not, I have no idea who this old woman is, and I don’t know if this is something that actually happened or if it’s some weird vision of the afterlife?

From the opening sequence where a girl is stabbed through the head, I knew that this would be a unique experience.  It certainly is the best looking and most polished film I’ve come across on this set so far.  It has a distinct visual style, outstanding practical effects, and the actors (aside from that annoying git Bob) but in some good performances.  However, it’s the most confusing film I’ve come across on the set yet.  I have no idea what’s going on.  While all the movies on the Pure Terror DVD set preceding this one are ugly or incompetent, they at least told a cohesive story.  The House by the Cemetery, however, is a visual feast but REALLY lacks in storytelling.

This has whetted my appetite to check out more films from Fulci.  However that will have to wait awhile.  The next film in this set is Death in the Shadows which, if you’re talking about any kind of death in the horror genre, sounds pretty commonplace.

About The Author
Matthew Coats
Matthew Coats

Formerly known under the pseudonym of Alex Jowski.
Site owner, movie aficionado, and film school grad. Matthew Coats presents reviews, some written, some as vlogs, and some as weekly shows, for a variety of different movies and television shows. After years of struggling to get his own projects off the ground amidst the normal routine of living, Matthew Coats decided to create a site in order to share and promote movie reviews, video games and much much more from talented and original people all across the internet.

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