• House By The Cemetery (Blue Underground) Blu-ray Review

    Released by: Blue Underground
    Released on: January 21st, 2020.
    Director: Lucio Fulci
    Cast: Catriona MacColl, Paolo Malco, Ania Pieroni, Giovanni Frezza, Dagmar Lassander
    Year: 1981
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    House By The Cemetery – Movie Review:

    Directed by Lucio Fulci, 1981’s House By The Cemetery takes the zombie movies he’d previously exploited so effectively with Zombie, City Of The Living Dead and The Beyond and gives mixes up the walking corpse thing with some cool gothic styled haunted house storytelling.

    The plot revolves around the Boyle family – Lucy (Catriona MacColl), her husband Norman (Paolo Malco) and their son Bob (Giovanni Frezza) – who leave their apartment in New York City to move into a spacious old house in calm, quiet, small town New England. Excited to leave the hustle and bustle of the big city behind, things should be on the up and up for the three, right? Right! Except that once they move in, things start to get… weird. Bob starts seeing things, mainly a young girl who tells him to stay away from the house. The very reason for their move in the first place is odd. See, Norman, a doctor, is taking over the research for a colleague of his named Dr. Peterson, who committed suicide before he was able to finish his work and it just so happens that Peterson offed himself in the very house where the Boyles are now living.

    After they move in, Bob sees that same girl he saw earlier, the one who warned him. It turns out her name is Mae (Silvia Collatina) and she’s evidently been expecting him despite her previous warning. As Norman digs into his research, he uncovers the story of one Dr. Freudstein, a surgeon who operated decades ago and who had some very unorthodox methods. The more Norman uncovers about the house and its past, the more he starts to wonder if the strange stories Bob’s been telling them are true or not, and if there is in fact something very evil afoot.

    Not the gore-fest that some of his earlier zombie movies were (though far from bloodless as the screen caps obviously show!), House By The Cemetery more than makes up for that with loads of great, creepy atmosphere. This is a film that makes great use of shadow and light, making the eerie old house as important to the story as any of the human characters. The make-up effects used in the movie are as effective as anything else in the films Fulci made around this time, with the Freudstein face standing the test of time as a fairly iconic image and, hey, there are some neat mechanical bats here to geek out over too. The film also has a genuinely intense opening sequence where Daniela Doria, who begins the scene topless, skulks about the house only to be brutally murdered – it’s a very well-shot sequence that does a great job of setting the stage for what’s to come.

    In terms of the cast, much has been made as to the awfulness of the child actors in this movie, Giovanni Frezza in particular. In Frezza’s defense, it’s the English dubbing that makes his performance as wonky as it is more so than anything he’s directly responsible for. Catriona MacColl, a Fulci veteran at this point, is great as the female lead while Paolo Malco is a strong leading man, dashing and smart as he is. Dagmar Lassander has a nice supporting role here too.

    The film might be slower and far less shocking than some of Fulci’s more revered films, but House By The Cemetery makes up for that by focusing on atmosphere and doing that very well. It’s one of his best looking movies wrapped up in a solid score from composer Walter Rizzati and a film well worth revisiting.

    House By The Cemetery – Blu-ray Review:

    Blue Underground’s 2.35.1 widescreen AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer is presented on a 50GB disc, with the feature using just under 25GBs of space, and taken from a brand new 4k restoration of the original 35mm negative. Like other recent 4k remasters from Blue Underground, this release shows considerable improvement over the past release. Detail is much stronger and the scanner noise and digital noise reduction that were problems on that earlier disc are all gone now, the image looks much more filmic and shows a serious increase in detail throughout. Skin tones look good, black levels are nice and deep and colors are very nicely reproduced, although there is a noticeable push to blue/teal. There are no noticeable compression artifacts to gripe about and there’s a lot of appreciable depth to the picture that just wasn’t there before.

    Audio options are provided in 24-bit 5.1 DTS-HD and 16-bit 1.0 DTS-HD English options and in 24-bit 1.0 DTS-HD Italian language tracks. As noted before, Bob’s dubbing on the English track is atrocious but that issue aside, the 5.1 mix spreads the score and effects around quite nicely. The two mono tracks also both sound nice and clean, with properly balanced levels and good range throughout. As far as subtitles go, we get English SDH, French and Spanish options as well as a separate English subtitles option for the Italian track.

    Extras are spread across the two Blu-ray discs in this set as follow:

    Disc One:

    Extras on disc on start off with a new audio commentary with Troy Howarth, Author of Splintered Visions: Lucio Fulci and His Films. He starts by talking about the film’s disturbing qualities and poetic atmosphere, elements that set the picture apart from other Fulci picture, as well as how it gets lumped in with his other zombie pictures and how he feels about that. He then offers up a lot of info about Daniela Doria and her legacy in Fulci’s filmography, how the movie is plot-heavy in comparison to many of Fulci’s other pictures and, of course, the presence of Giovanni Frezza as ‘Bob’ in the film (and the quality of the dubbing!). Lots of talk about his work in the picture and plenty of info about Catriona MacColl’s presence in the film as well (and, quite interestingly, why she’s credited as Katherine in the opening credits). He talks up the camera work and the locations used in the picture, Fulci’s tendency to do cameos in his films including this one, how Fulci got along with Paolo Malco, the ‘literary references’ in the film, how pictures like The Sentinel and The Shining influenced Fulci around this period, the bat attack sequence, the effects showcased in the picture and who may or may not have done them, Fulci’s reputation for misogyny, the quality of the art direction in the picture and Dardano Sacchetti’s relationship with Fulci. As the track moves towards the finish line, he notes how the film puts Bob through the ringer compared to what most kids in horror pictures go through, Fulci’s thoughts on some of his contemporaries like Bava and Fulci, the elements of surrealism that creep into the picture towards the finale and whether or not this movie qualifies as a zombie movie. There’s no dead air here –Howarth keeps the conversation going at a good clip from beginning to end and he packs a lot of information in here alongside his own thoughts on the quality of the picture. It’s very well-paced and quite a good listen.

    Rounding out the extras on disc one are a single deleted scene entitled Bat Attack Aftermath! Presented without sound this is a quick bit in the kitchen of the house after the bat attack that runs about a minute in length, We also get the U.S. Trailer, an International Trailer, a TV spot, and a poster and still gallery.

    Disc Two:

    The extras on disc two are also a mix of old and new. The first featurette carried over from the older Blu-ray release is the fourteen-minute Meet The Boyles, an interview with Catriona MacColl and Paolo Malco. MacColl notes that her relationship with Fulci became more consolidated after working together three times while Malco talks about how his relationship with MacColl blossomed into friendship during the shoot. He also notes that he always thought of Fulci as a sex comedy director before making this movie. The pair also discusses Fulci’s take on working with child actors, his treatment of the adult actors on set, what it was like shooting on location in the house itself, the toils and tribulations of working with mechanical bats and more.

    Also carried over is the twelve-minute Children Of The Night, an interview with now grown child stars Giovanni Frezza and Silvia Collatina in which Collatina describes Fulci as sweet but demanding (Frezza shares a different side of the story towards the end of the interview), noting that she was frightened of him, and in which Frezza starts his interview off by apologizing for the ‘dumb voices in the movie’ referring of course to the notoriously awful English dubbing applied overtop of his character, Bob. From there they share their experiences from the shoot, discuss how they got involved with the picture, and what it was like for Collatina to play two roles – Mae and the hand of Dr. Freudstein! Both interviewees look back on the movie pretty fondly and talk about their experiences pretty fondly, even when the gory effects are brought up.

    Tales Of Laura Gittleson, a nine-minute piece also found on the previous release, lets Dagmar Lassander get in front of the camera to talk about her work in the film who starts off by stating that she doesn’t think these Italian horror films are as popular in Italy as they are in other countries. From there she talks about hearing of the Christian re-edit of the film that was going around in certain circles (sadly she doesn’t go into much detail here), she discusses her part and her relationship with the director, the violence in the movie and more. She also talks about how she got into movies in the first place and what it was like working on Bava’s Hatchet For The Honeymoon.

    Carlo De Mejo shows up in a nine-minute archival featurette entitled My Time With Terror where he starts things off by discussing how he was born in Italy and studied acting there before going to New York for three years. He discusses how his mother was an actress in film and on stage and how he owes his career to her, and then he talks about how he got into movies working with Passolini before discussing his work on House By The Cemetery and some other Italian horror films that he was involved in during the seventies and eighties with the likes of Fulci, Fragrasso, Mattei and others. From here he shares some stories from the set, like what it’s like to work with maggots and Rice Crispies, and then shares his thoughts on Fulci himself. Some footage from his appearance at a HorrorHound Convention shows up towards the end.

    Up next is A Haunted House Story, a fourteen-minute piece which interviews co-writers Dardano Sachetti and Elisa Briganti about the time they spent writing this film. Apparently the idea came from an interest in child psychology and a childhood visit to a creepy cellar, at which point a story was written around those concepts. From there they discuss the concept of a crossroads, how things can get out of hand when a child’s imagination takes over and more. This is probably the most revelatory of the interviews, as it does a great job of getting inside the writers’ heads. Of course there’s also talk of working with the director and what not here, but the core of the piece is about the themes and ideas that are explored in the movie.

    The last archival featurette is the twenty-two-minute To Build A Better Death Trap, which interviews cinematographer Sergio Salvati, special make-up effects artist Maruizio Trani, special effects artist Gino de Rossi and actor Giovanni Nava. There’s a lot of ground covered in this featurette, from what was shot on location to what was shot on a studio set, what it was like working with Fulci on this particular film, how various murder and gore set pieces were handled, more discussion of mechanical bats, how to best shoot a scene where an actress gets a poker in her eye and how sometimes you just have to take a role to feed yourself even if it means having a mask glued onto your face.

    As far as new material goes, we get House Quake, an interview with Co-Writer Giorgio Mariuzzo that clocks in at fifteen-minutes and covers his memories of working with Fulci. He talks about meeting him when they were both working at a commercial production company and the first impression that Fulci made on him. He then worked with him on Contraband, and talks about how Fulci loved working the machine gun in that film. After that he talks about working with him on horror pictures, hoping to concentrate on character and plot, who did what on the script for House By The Cemetery, how he remembers Fulci really like McColl, how intelligent he was despite his demeanor and appearance, how Fulci's gore films did well at the box office, and how some of these films genuinely scared him!

    Also exclusive to this release is a Catriona MacColl Q&A, a half-hour segment from the 2014 Spaghetti Film Festival that took place in Luton, UK on the 10th of May. Moderated by Calum Waddell, she speaks about how she became ‘Katherine’ in her work in Italy, how she laughed more working on the horror pictures that she did than the comedy films she was involved with, working with Christopher George, what it was like on set during the shoots for these pictures, how it could be liberating to exploring the elements of fear worked into the films, her thoughts on the pessimism present in the three films she made with Fulci, how she feels about the films after revisiting them over some time, what it was like reconnecting with David Warbeck years after they worked together, her thoughts on the fandom that has developed around her horror work, the differences in her mainstream career versus the genre pictures she’s had a hand in over the years and quite a bit more.

    The third and final new piece is Calling Dr. Freudstein, an interview with Stephen Thrower, Author of Beyond Terror: The Films of Lucio Fulci that runs twenty-minutes. In this piece, Thrower talks about where Fulci was at during this point in his career, its connections to The Beyond and New York Ripper, how this differs from the giallo and horror pictures he had directed prior, the international success his horror pictures were seeing, who wrote the film, the quote at the end of the film and how the film echoes The Turn Of The Screw a little bit, his thoughts on the cast involved with the picture, the effects work featured in the picture, Fulci’s use of gore in the movie, how Lassander is desexualized in Fulci’s output, the structure of the picture and more. There’s also, towards the end, some great footage that shows off what the locations look like in the modern day and some talk about the picture’s release history.

    Disc Three:

    The third disc is actually a compact disc containing the complete House By The Cemetery original soundtrack by Walter Rizzati. The tracks included on this disc are:

    Quella Villa / I Remember / Blonk Monster / Chi Sta Arrivando? / Tema Bambino / Verso II Terrore / Verso II Terrore / Blonk Fascia / Verso II Terrore / Verso II Terrore / Incontro / Voci Dal Terrore / Blonk Fascia / Chi Sta Arrivando? / Voci Dal Terrore / Walt Monster End / Chi Sta Arrivando? / Quella Villa / Blonk Suspense / Chi Sta Arrivando? / Blonk Fascia / Tema Bambino / Voci Dal Terrore / Blonk Monster / Tema Bambino / Verso II Terrore / Verso II Terrore / Blonk Monster End / Walt Monster End / Tema Bambino

    If that weren’t enough, this release also comes with a full-color collectable booklet that contains an all new essay by Michael Gingold entitled Freudsteinian Slips. Here, over thirteen pages, Gingold does a deep dive into the history of the film and does a great job of talking up its merits. The booklet also contains cast and crew credits for the feature, the CD track listing and the Blu-ray chapter listing. Nice color photos are used throughout to illustrate things – it’s a pretty substantial extra worth checking out.

    As far as the packaging goes, we also get some great reversible cover art and a limited edition lenticular slip cover!

    House By The Cemetery – The Final Word:

    House By The Cemetery isn’t quite Fulci at his best but it’s a pretty great mix of zombie action and haunted house high jinks with a fine cast, great effects work and some excellent atmosphere. Blue Underground’s Blu-ray reissue is a fantastic release, offering up a beautifully restored presentation with an amazing array of top notch extra features and the soundtrack as well! Highly recommended!

    Click on the images below for full sized House By The Cemetery Blu-ray screen caps!

    Comments 2 Comments
    1. Matt H.'s Avatar
      Matt H. -
      Nice bowtie, Fulci.
    1. Paul L's Avatar
      Paul L -
      I bought and watched this release earlier in the week. It's stupendously good, imo. Looking at screengrabs, I had some doubts about aspects of the presentation - but in motion it's head and shoulders above the previous Blu-ray releases of the film. The film itself is a solid favourite of mine. There are so many narrative blind alleys and loose ends (eg, the talk of Norman visiting the house prior to his arrival with his family) that in theory, it should be frustrating - but it's wonderful. The only thing that frustrates me about this releases is that the woman on the front and on the spine of the case looks nothing like Catriona MacColl :D