Top critical review
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One of Fulci's big four
on 30 March 2006
If you are a Fulci fan, you will probably want to add this to your collection as "House by the Cemetery" comes from Fulcis generally recognised "golden age" of movie making. The plot tells of Norman and Lucy Boyle, a young couple who move to a remote mansion with their young son Bob for a summer of rest and relaxation, only to find that the place is haunted by an evil presence living hidden in the cellar. After several near misses and lots of spooky bad omens, the family discover the identity of the sinister occupant and end up fighting for their lives to escape his twisted plans.
The film tries to weave a web of unease and mystery around the secret in the cellar, and for a while it really works. The camera work and the general look of the locations is pretty good, with a sense of brooding gothic mystery hanging over the poor family. The house itself looks particularly impressive in most of the external shots. However the story rapidly unravels as the film proceeds to throw countless red herrings into the mix and then either completely abandons them (people claiming to have seen Norman at the house in the past, the things that Bob's mysterious playmate Mae tells him about the house's former occupants), or blatantly contradicts itself (most notably the Boyles babysitter, Ann, who's behaviour suddenly swings from one style to the total oppostive with no explanation). But if you can put the irregularities of the script to one side, you should enjoy the ride on a purely shallow level. Lots of scenes are drenched in great atmosphere, such as those involving the enigmatic Mae, and especially the last portion of the film when we get to see exactly what has been going on in the depths of the cellar.
The acting's pretty good, and even though poor Bob has been given a thoroughly unconvincing vocal dub, the scenes with him in peril are among the best that Fulci has ever filmed. I would point out his "axe through the door" scene as one capable of producing a real jolt from any first time viewers. It's also one of the only Fulci films with an enigmatic ending that actually works - I love the other-worldly closing scene and find it very fitting. Plus, it's extremely gory, especially the death of one character who is slowly and repeatedly stabbed with a poker, with blood shown jetting out of every close-up wound. Another character has her throat repeatedly slashed with a large knife until her head appears about to drop off.
So worth adding to any horror collection, as long as you don't mind a plot with quite this many loose ends. However, to the shame of the UK, the British censors are still too squeamish to release the film totally uncut, so I wouldn't recommend this Vipco version, even though it is pretty cheap, because all the gory excesses of the murders have been trimmed. Fulci's trademarks are his gore set-pieces, always presented with lots of suitable build up to, so tampering with them as has been done here dilutes the film's power considerably. You get what you pay for, which is why the Vipco version is forever languishing in the bargain bins. So leave it where it is...The Anchor Bay Region 1 import is the one to go for.