Film Reviews

The House by the Cemetery (1981) – Limited Edition Blu-ray Review

If you grew up in the UK in the 1980s, or even the decade or two that followed, there’s a very good chance that you heard the name Video Nasty. Whilst the US had the Satanic Panic, the UK had the Video Nasties, a war on horror and horror adjacent films that some believed were corrupting the youth of the nation and needed to be banned outright. It was all very “Won’t somebody think of the children!”. Chiefly led by Mary Whitehouse, an evangelical Christian right wing Conservative who was a truly awful person, this movement effectively banned more than 70 films in the UK. The House by the Cemetery by Italian director Lucio Fulci was one of these films.

The House by the Cemetery is the third film in Fulci’s ‘Gates of Hell’ trilogy, though each of the films that appeared in said trilogy were unconnected to each other. The film premiered in Italy, where it became Fulci’s highest grossing horror film of that decade. It would go on to be shown at film festivals, and was received relatively well. This, however, did little to protect it from the ire of Britain’s puritans.

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Despite having been released in the UK for two years, and having had the explicit gore and violence trimmed down, it was eventually banned in 1984. The version presented here by Arrow Video gives audiences the chance to view Fulci’s original vision, free from censorship. (Anyone interested in learning more about the Video Nasties should absolutely check out the book Ban This Filth!: Letters from the Mary Whitehouse Archive, and the documentary film Video Nasties: Moral Panic, Censorship & Videotape, both of which go in-depth on the topic.)

The House by the Cemetery begins, as all good horror stories do, with a murder. A young woman is searching for her lover through an old house, only to find his mutilated body strung up before she meets her own grizzly demise. The film then cuts to New York City, where we meet the Boyle family. Mother Lucy (Catriona MacColl, credited for the film as Katherine MacColl) is helping her young son Bob (Giovanni Frezza) pack up their things to move to the small town of New Whitby, where the father, Norman (Paolo Malco) will be researching for a book on architecture. Lucy is reluctant to go, not wanting to leave her life in the big city behind, whilst Bob becomes spooked by the prospect when he believes he sees a young girl screaming in the window of the house in the picture of their new home.

Upon arriving in the quiet town the family are given the keys to their new home by the local realtor, her assistant calling it the old ‘Freudstein house’ instead of the name Oak Manor. When the Boyds arrive at their home they Lucy is surprised to find it built beside an old cemetery. The creepiness she feels is only further compounded when they discover the cellar door nailed shut. As the Boyds settle into their new home, with the help of their new babysitter, Ann (Ania Pieroni), strange things begin to take place in the house, including Bob seeing a little girl that no one else can.

If you’re familiar with Fulci’s work you’ll know that the director doesn’t like to explain a whole lot, and that some of his more supernatural focused horror films tend to leave the audience to catch up half the time rather than explaining everything. The House by the Cemetery is one of his easier films to understand, yet still throws a few things at viewers that will leave you wondering exactly what’s happening. Bob’s friendship with a ghostly young girl warning him to stay out of the house is the clearest example of this. The film does end up telling us who the girl is, but that doesn’t really give much of an explanation, and the final moments of the film that involve her are definitely open to personal interpretation.

Whilst the film does include some supernatural elements, it has a much more grounded antagonist than Fulci’s other works, and the violence of the film reflects this. Characters are stabbed with fireplace pokers, there are knives going through heads, and decapitations that fill the screen with copious amounts of blood and gore. Whilst there’s plenty of blood on the screen it’s nowhere near as violent and gory as one would expect from a film that was once on the Video Nasty list, and it perhaps shows that whilst this film might not be to everyone’s tastes, it’s far from the evil that it was made out to be.

The new Limited Edition Blu-ray release offers two different versions of the film: the original English dub from its initial release, and the Italian audio version with subtitles. Both versions of the film are great, and the Italian one is well worth the watch, but if you want to go for the authentic 80’s feel, the English dub with some slightly terrible voices is the way to go. For those wanting to learn more about the film, however, there is a ton of extra content to get stuck into.

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The disc comes with three full length audio commentaries, from both cast members and experts on the work of Lucio Fulci. There are also more than a dozen interviews with cast members, as well as the writers, cinematographers, make-up artists, and special effects artists of the movie. The disc then gets rounded out with a couple of convention panel Q&As, deleted scenes, an alternate opening, and trailers and TV spots, making for a disc packed to the brim with extras.

The House by the Cemetery is one of those horror films that has some quirks, but still manages to be interesting and engaging. Whilst it’s entertaining to watch, there’s not a huge amount to it that makes it stand out as being wholly original nor groundbreaking, and you have to wonder if perhaps it is only remembered the way it is because of the controversy surrounding its release. That being said, for those who want to dive deeper into this film and its history, this new release offers a ton of insight that’s well worth the cost of admission.

The House by the Cemetery is out now on Limited Edition Blu-ray from Arrow Video.

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