Director: Lucio Fulci
Blue Underground

After the worldwide success of ZOMBIE (aka ZOMBI 2) in 1979, Lucio Fulci found himself deemed the maestro of gory Italian horror excesses, and would see his most promising decade ahead of him. By the early 1980s, Fulci’s CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD (aka THE GATES OF HELL) and THE BEYOND (aka SEVEN DOORS OF DEATH) were considered his masterpieces, especially the latter. These two unique, over-the-top nightmarish visions of hell and the otherworld, both involving the living dead, are probably his trademark works; with THE HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY added to the bunch, it forms a trilogy of Lovecraftian-like efforts (all shot in both the U.S. and Italy) starring actress Catriona MacColl. While some consider HOUSE as Fulci’s best, other consider it one his lesser efforts; nevertheless, Blue Underground has now issued it on blu-ray disc, giving us another stellar HD genre release from one of its most celebrated directors.

Researcher Dr. Norman Boyle (Paolo Malco, NEW YORK RIPPER) moves out of his Manhattan apartment to the peaceful New England countryside. With his wife Lucy (Catriona MacColl) and young son Bob (Giovanni Frezza) with him, Boyle is to research one Dr. Freudstein, who committed suicide and his mistress for no apparent reason. Their new, creaky old abode is never too mundane for the family, especially when it’s right by a cemetery and there’s a there's a tombstone hidden under a dusty carpet in the living room! Lucy hears strange noises springing from the cellar, and somewhat obnoxious blonde Bob befriends a peculiar little girl named Mae (Silvia Collatina) who warns him that the family is in danger and should leave the house immediately. Anyone who comes into the house is in danger once Boyle unlocks the cellar door, as a dark secret is revealed: the hideous Dr. Freudstein (Giovanni De Nava) resides below, keeping himself alive for over 100 years thanks to his experiments in cellular regeneration and plenty of poor victims to extract blood and other needed materials from.

THE HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY owes more to then-recent American films like THE AMITYVILLE HORROR and THE SHINING, rather than DAWN OF THE DEAD, even though the eyeless, faceless ghoul that is Dr. Freudstein is very zombie-like in appearance. As one of Fulci’s most horrific villains, it’s not clear if he eats the flesh or drinks the blood of his victims to keep himself perpetually going, but his hellish cellar decorated with hanging bodies and slabs of mutilated corpses is a disturbing setpiece full of Grand Guignol grandeur.

Fulci starts the film with young woman (putting her top back on), looking for her boyfriend/sex partner, who she discovers hanging on a door with his brains sticking out, as she soon takes a dagger from behind her head, which penetrats through her open mouth. This, one of the film’s many gory slayings, occurs right after some off-screen copulating, and it indicates a nod towards the great American slasher film, but despite a New York and New England (where it was mostly shot) setting, there’s no mistaking that this is an Italian horror film with the unique, bizarre visceral treatment with all the gut-spilling, bat-attacking, maggot-permeated madness attributed to sir Fulci.

THE HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY has often been criticized for its somewhat nonsensical story which leaves a number of plot setups unanswered, as well as the awkward dubbing in the widely seen English language version, especially in the case of Dutch-Boy-looking child actor Frezza, who comes off as so ridiculously irritating, at times, it makes it hard to take things seriously. But that aside, it’s a stylized exercise in gruesomeness, with each bloody murder highly memorable, especially in the case of a sexy yet exotic-looking young babysitter (played by Ania Pieroni, INFERNO) who suffers what is probably the most elongated, sadistic decapitation in screen history. With the string of visually brutal murders, an exceptionally spooky house at the center of it all and the ghostly appearance of a little girl only seen by another child, the pseudo gothic trappings of the film are guided by the ever capable Fulci. With a spine-chilling score composed and conducted by Walter Rizzati (which really gets under your skin in a good way) it remains a triumph of early 1980s horror cinema, despite any shortcomings.

Blue Underground has provided another triumphant blu-ray presentation with THE HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY. The 1080P HD transfer looks remarkable, presenting the film in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio with anamorphic enhancement, mastered from its original negative. Fleshtones are natural, facial features in close-ups sparkle and colors look incredible throughout (the house’s stained-glass windows never looked more impressive). Detail and contrasts are also excellent, despite the expected levels of grain which appears in certain scenes. Audio has been provided in a flawless DTS-HD 2.0 rendering of the familiar English track, along with an Italian mono track (which is not as strong, but still fairs well enough). Optional subtitles are provided in English SDH, French, Spanish and English for the Italian language version.

Blue Underground has provided a number of nifty featurettes (produced by Red Shirt Pictures), all in HD and gathering practically the entire main cast! “Meet the Boyles” (14:12) has interviews with Stars Catriona MacColl and Paolo Malco. MacColl describes her character as fragile and interesting to play, while Malco mentions how it was a delight filming in New England and that a great friendship with Fulci came out of it. “Children of the Night” (12:13) has stars Giovanni Frezza and Silvia Collatina, who represent the film’s juvenile actors. Frezza starts by humorously apologizing for the annoying dub job given his character, and later describes shooting the dangerous ax scene behind the cellar door. Collatina (who, like Frezza and most of the cast, got on fine with the temperamental Fulci) calls the director “sweet and demanding” and reveals that she doubled for Dr. Freudstein’s “good” hand in many scenes. “Tales of Laura Gittleson” (8:51) is an interview with Euro cult actress Dagmar Lassander, who had a supporting role in the film. Lassander mentions Fulci’s professionalism, as well as a great anecdote during the shooting of his THE BLACK CAT (1981), and also talks briefly about her appearance in Mario Bava’s A HATCHET FOR THE HONEYMOON. “My Time With Terror” (9:16) is an interview with actor Carlo De Mejo, who also had a small role of a librarian, but is better known as the lead in Fulci’s CITY OF THE WALKING DEAD. De Mejo (who is the son of SUSPIRIA actress Alida Valli) calls Fulci a delight to be around, on and off the set, and he also touches upon working with director Bruno Mattei (THE OTHER HELL). “A Haunted House Story” (14:02) has interviews with co-writers Dardano Sacchetti and Elisa Briganti, the same team who brought us ZOMBIE. They reveal how the screenplay stems from an interest in child psychology, as the story attempts to channel a child’s world, and that they built it up in a way in which Fulci could unleash his cinematic best. The final and longest featurette on the disc is “To Build a Better Death Trap” (21:32) which contains interviews with cinematographer Sergio Salvati, special make-up effects artist Maurizio Trani, special effects artist Gino De Rossi and actor Giovanni De Nava, whose handsome face was heavily conceived as the repugnant Dr. Freudstein. This featurette covers the technical aspects of HOUSE, including lots if tidbits about the sets, make-up and special effects, including De Rossi demonstrating how the various pay-offs (the dagger through the mouth, the pesky bleeding bat, the poker eye gouging) were done using some of the original props.

Other extras include the international trailer and the U.S. theatrical trailer (narrated by Brother Theodore) which are both in HD, a TV spot (also narrated by Brother Theodore), a still gallery (a pick-up from the old Anchor Bay DVD) and a brief deleted scene involving the “Bat Attack Aftermath”. With no sync dialog, this bit was never seen in any theatrical or video version, and no sound elements exist for it. (George R. Reis)