Lucio Fulci leaves the dead in the grave for THE HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY, an Italian horror picture that has more in common with a standard slasher film than a zombie movie. This 1981 outing comes on the heels of THE BEYOND and CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD and is often considered the third part of an unofficial trilogy. THE HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY shares some similarities with its predecessors, but it’s also very much its own beast. This movie is comparatively more cohesive and conventional than its cousins, for instance.
The plot finds Dr. Norman Boyle (Paolo Malco) and his wife Lucy (Catriona MacColl) move into a new house with their son Bob (Giovanni Frezzi). The home just so happens to have been the place where the previous owner offed his mistress. It’s in a poor state, with a locked cellar door and a strange crypt inside. The Boyle family subsequently contends with a series of strange events. Bob connects with an enigmatic neighbour girl (Silvia Collatina), while Norman investigates the history of the house and makes an important discovery.
THE HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY sends up more horror tropes than it creates, with Fulci having fun with the clichés. The picture packs an insolent sense of humour, punched up by high camp awareness. This is perhaps best typified in the protracted bat-slaying scene. Fulci has cinematographer Sergio Salvati deliver unwavering frames and the blood squirts until it becomes laughable, the overkill complete. This is all done in full view of the squealing Bob. To hammer it home, Fulci smash cuts to a yawning real estate agent.
There are other details, all of which support the idea that Fulci is imitating the family-in-peril notion. A real estate agent (Dagmar Lassander) is murdered by an amalgamation of sexual groans and poker jabs, with side-splitting amounts of blood erupting from her wounds. The villain is called Dr. Freudstein. Norman hacks through a door Jack Torrance-style. Eye close-ups reach epic proportions. And so on. Through it all, Fulci lets the oppressive mood simmer. The conclusion is likewise awash in anxiety, representing another reminder of death’s foreseeable grip.