#286 -- The House by the Cemetery (1981)

Director: Lucio Fulci
Rating: 2 / 5

I'm thinking that, maybe, it wasn't such a good idea for me to watch this movie. You see, even though I know nothing about him or his movies, I know that Lucio Fulci is pretty beloved in the horror community. I've heard some great things about the movies he's made, but I've never seen any of them. Until now, that is. This my first introduction to him, and I think we started off on the wrong food. I have a pretty bad first impression of him, and apparently I'm not the only one who finds House by the Cemetery to be a bad movie.

The Boyle family moves from New York to Boston so that dad/husband Norman can research the death of a colleague, and continue on with the research that said colleague was undergoing. They rent this house, and immediately realize that some strange things are happening. The house once belonged to a family called Freudstein. The man of that family was a surgeon who liked to delve into illegal and inhumane procedures and was disgraced by the public. Norman came to believe that, maybe, whatever his colleague found drove him mad--mad enough to murder his mistress and then take his own life. But the truth was something far worse, because there is something living in the boarded-up cellar, something that is not quite human.

The basic story of it is interesting enough, even though it's not something we've never heard before. But when  you get into the details of the movie, it just doesn't make sense. There are scenes that seem like there's something there, but then they just fall flat and leave the viewer confused. There is a little girl throughout the movie that we can assume is a ghost. At the beginning, she is seen in a photo, and the Boyles' son, Bob, tells his mother that the little girl is warning him to stay away from the house. Once they arrive, though, the little girl doesn't do much of anything. She becomes Bob's new "girlfriend," as he likes to call her, and she plays with him in the woods and never tries to help him get out of the house at all. She never warns him anymore, never tells him anything that might give him a clue as to why she was ever warning him in the first place. At one point, the little girl sees a mannequin in a shop window that she's transfixed by. The mannequin's head then falls off and starts squirting blood. Later on, we meet Bob's new "babysitter," who looks exactly like that mannequin. She is creepy, vague, and really seems like she might not be quite human, and that maybe she's got something to do with the house. But then she is killed by the thing in the cellar, so those theories are completely squashed. That raises the question: what was the deal with the mannequin? Was it just foreshadowing? And if so, why do we require foreshadowing of the death of such a minor character? I can't really be sure why, but these two things really bothered me. They felt like they could have really gone places with these two ideas, but they just let them die. Also, the killer was living in the cellar, which was boarded up almost the entire time that the Boyle family was there. So, how was he getting out to kill all these people?

Besides that, I feel like the movie wasn't sure what it wanted to be. The scenes that show the killer's hands as he is slitting throats, cutting off heads, piercing hearts, etc. make it feel like a slasher movie, for sure. All the blood and guts and heads rolling down stairways only cemented this notion. But once the story started to unfold about the Freudsteins, it started to feel like it might be a ghost story. Maybe the spirits of the Freudstein family never left the house, and they're angry about something that we'll discover later (we don't, by the way...). It never expands on the story of that family, though, so we never get to learn anything about them other than the fact that the man of the family was a mad scientist. When we finally get to see Dr. Freudstein down in the cellar, the movie takes a turn and feels like a zombie movie, because the doctor is completely rotted with absolutely no face. And he's apparently been keeping himself alive by killing people and using their live cells to recreate his dead ones. The movie's biggest failure is that its story is all over the place. It's a jumble that leaves the viewer unable to figure out just what kind of movie they're watching. It was hard for me to follow, and it got confusing the more it went on. Add in the terrible acting and the cheesy effects, and I've found the movie that I should not have let introduce me to Fulci's work. I'm not giving up on him, though, because I know how so many people adore him. I only hope that I'll enjoy his other works much, much more than this.

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