Rounding out my review of Luci’s Gates of Hell trilogy we have finally come to the House by the Cemetery. It’s a nice bit of horror by one of the masters of the trade.
Let’s start with a comparison of the posters / cover art.
It’s rare that I get really excited by the cover art of an old horror flick like this but when I was searching around I had a hard time deciding which one I liked the most. They all have merits.
In this first image we’ve got a great dramatic scene that’s beautifully illustrated. The drama of the shot makes it seem both ghostly and dynamic. The color used on the woman’s face is well painted and despite her seemingly exhausted pose, we see real terror in her face. Despite the rough way the architectural elements are illustrated it’s a great image. Unfortunately the girl and the scene don’t really match the action of the film. The face of the horror we meet in this poster is bizarre. And looking at the it we have to wonder what it is. An undead killer? A demon? A spirit? A deformed maniac? It almost looks like a burned up civil war soldier.
This image with the red border seems the most “VHS” to me. The oddity here, besides the cheap design is how it doesn’t seem to match the movie itself. The house is totally different from the one in the movie and the killer in the sky behind the house doesn’t seem anything like the one we see in other poster images. Once you watch the movie you realize this Jack Torrance lookalike is nowhere to be found in the movie at all. What’s he doing on the cover?
Here again I’m not a big fan of the design of the poster itself but we’ve got some recurring elements that are interesting. The deformed killer here seems even more of a horror. He seems almost like a zombified version of the Creature from the Black Lagoon. What is he meant to be? A zombie? An alien? And what’s wrong with his arm? It seems to have been severed. Is tis something we should expect in the movie?
And finally this image. Black and white, starkly horrifying. It looks like more of a 70’s comic book sort of image and almost hints at the sort of work we might expect from Frazetta though the artwork isn’t up to his level. It’s got a great creepy feel to it and makes me wonder what the movie itself is like without giving too much away.
This is the third entry into the unofficial Luci Fulci Gates of Hell trilogy. It’s not really a trilogy, just three movies of his that share similar themes. I’m tempted to say this movie isn’t really that good simply because it is so derivative of other movies particularly the Shining. The story centers around a researcher who travels to his predecessors old house to find out why the old boy killed himself. He takes his family along and we discover his wife is a loving, good mother and his boy is a psychic who receives messages from a ghost girl in the old house that tries to help him and warn him off. The thing is, it uses the elements of those other movies in a way that feels uniquely Lucio Fulci’s and I can’t really fault him for drawing on good source material.
There are some nice bits where we get hints at what happened to the main character’s predecessor, particularly in a scene where we hear him talking on an audio tape about what happened. It feels very Evil Dead in nature but this idea of using tape recordings to lend voice to the dead who cannot speak for themselves isn’t that uncommon in horror.
The action in this movie and he timing between scenes of horror are well interspersed with character development and dramatic scenes of the family and it feels the most well-developed of Fulci’s films that I’ve seen so far. It builds to a strong ending that really left me a bit disturbed, as any good horror movie should.
There are a couple of shots that are truly gruesome. Like when the undead killer is stabbed and a sick ooze of rot and maggots comes spilling out. GROSS! I love that.
Despite the fact that a few unanswered questions in a horror flick are sometimes fun there are times in this movie where you just don’t know what’s going on. It’s hinted that the main character might have been having an affair with the baby sitter but this never seems to go anywhere. The babysitter is found cleaning up the blood after a particularly grizzly murder by the zombified killer hiding in the basement. We really have to wonder about this. Was she helping the killer or communicating with him somehow? Why was she cleaning up this mess? Later she is killed off rather quickly making that seem unlikely.
One other thing that will be blazingly obvious is just how bad the dubbing in the film is. It’s incredible how poorly the later sound recording was done. It barely matches the actors at all particularly when it comes to the little boy’s dialogue. Some of the music is poorly edited as well. Near the end of the film when the family is battling the killer Dr. Freudstein in the basement there is a moment where the scene cuts and the music abruptly cuts out too. It just doesn’t feel like a strong transition.
Dr. Freudstein. I’m sorry, but he’s a bit ridiculous.
First of all the name is terrible. It’s some strange mashup of Freud and Frankenstein and it just sounds comical.
The monster himself is sort of a zombie hence the reason I’m writing about it on this blog. But it doesn’t seem like a typical zombie flick. He is in fact an undead killer who is starting to rot and he does seem to consume at least parts of his victims. But he lacks the ability to turn others into zombies and seems more like just a supernatural slasher. (He uses a knife to do some of his killing.) There is also a strong presence of ghosts in this film that isn’t usually present in most zombie films making me lean more towards the undead killer monster and less towards the idea of him actually being a zombie.
I wasn’t sure if this went in the good or the bad categories but I knew it didn’t belong in the ugly. Of special note here, Fulci used Catriona MacColl in all three of the Gates of Hell movies and as different characters. I understand directors often use actors and actresses they like multiple times and I understand the Gates of Hell movies are NOT actually a trilogy. And I get the fact Fulci was more interested in making supernatural horror flicks with more of surreal and dream like horror to them rather than straight terror or slasher movies. So it isn’t surprising that this woman would appear in all three films. She’s a favorite of Fulci fans and it’s easy to see why.
For anyone watching the movies today, she might seem to stand out as a connection between the three stories rather than just an interesting casting choice. She may seem to be the archetypal woman like Anna Falchi’s character in Dellamorte Dellamore. But I don’t think that’s the case. In DD Falchi’s character is clearly meant to be such a woman. And though we may interpret MacColl’s character the same way, that’s just us projecting those ideas upon the character and not Fulci’s intention.