The House by the Cemetery (1981)

This is the last of Lucio Fulci’s Gates of Hell trilogy for me. They’re gory flicks, with bad dubs, plots both incomprehensible and lost in translation, and story elements combed directly from classic American horror literature and film ranging from Shelley to Lovecraft, with a bit of Kubrick thrown in for good measure, all wrapped up in a package of giallo and sleaze.

Of the three films in the trilogy, The House by the Cemetery comes across easily as the weakest of the lot. For the most part it is far more restrained than its predecessors, focusing on a mad undead scientist living in the basement instead of the potential opening of a gate to Hell like the others, though it certainly has its supernatural elements and poor explanation. Truth be told, the big questions about what is happening are all actually answered in an info dump with only 15 minutes left to go in the film; the rest is mostly people screaming to odd noises, creepy footage that feels a bit out of place, bad dubbing with annoying children, and the occasional violent murder or excessive gore shot.

Yet this movie doesn’t go anywhere near where its predecessors went.  The Beyond had that scene were random fake tarantulas eat a man’s face, while The City of the Living Dead had a literal maggot wind scene and a guy’s brain get squished while people weep blood.  The House by the Cemetery has…well, it’s got some nasty pokings and slashings, but it just feels like Fulci-light. And when tension is trying to heighten, I find myself thinking instead of the previous films. There’s a scene towards the end of the movie where our protagonist little boy has his head forced against a door while a hatchet bursts through less than an inch from his face. As terrible as that might sound, Fulci had done it before with a pickaxe driving into a coffin to hover over the eye of a woman who had been buried alive in The City of the Living Dead. Instead of freaky, the result to me is that The House by the Cemetery just feels rehashed.

We also need to talk about a pet peeve in movies, and that’s kids. When handled well, a child actor can be phenomenal. When not handled well, it can ruin the film. When dubbed with what sounds like a woman doing a bad impersonation of a little boy’s voice, it comes off almost humiliating. That’s what we get in The House by the Cemetery: a pair of child actors who don’t feel authentic and come across as stiff but sound like adults faking at being children due to a bad dub. It’s not the worst sin a movie can commit in my eyes (that’s a dance club scene. You want to date your movie horribly? Put a scene in a dance club), but it’s pretty high on my list.

Well, it’s Fulci, so are there any disturbing highlights? Sure. Evil Dr. Freudstein is quite creepy to look at, and the scene where he’s stabbed and oozes maggots instead of blood is intensely gross. There’s also a few scenes involving turning a key with a knife that starts to ramp up that dread which I found Dario Argento so good at in his heyday. But then you get things like the bat in the basement scene, where a very obviously fake bat bites a character’s hand and must be repeatedly stabbed with a pair of scissors to the point that it goes from being possibly horrific to absolutely hysterical.

If you’re interested in getting into Italian horror, which I most definitely recommend if you are a horror buff, then you’ll probably end up covering Fulci at some point. My biggest suggestion for you would be to see the other two Gates of Hell movies first, because this one is a let down in comparison.

Oh, and it did make the Video Nasty list in Great Britain, so if that’s a personal goal of yours, yeah, ok, definitely check it out.

Needs more eyeball gore, folks.

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