Release Date(s)1981 (October 9, 2023)
Studio(s)Fulvia Film/Almi Pictures/Levy Films (Arrow Video)
- Film/Program Grade: B
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: A-
- Extras Grade: A+
The House by the Cemetery (aka Quella villa accanto al cimitero) was the last of five films that the prolific Lucio Fulci released over a two-year period between 1980 and 1981. Setting aside the poliziotteschi film Contraband and the psychological horrors of The Black Cat, the other three have been loosely grouped together as Fulci’s “Gates of Hell” trilogy: The City of the Living Dead, The Beyond, and The House by the Cemetery. The reality is that there’s no real connection between any of them (other than lead actor Catriona MacColl), but they do represent a shift into a different kind of supernatural horror for Fulci. Of course, contrary to his well-deserved reputation as one of the masters of Italian horror, Fulci was never really a horror filmmaker in the first place—it’s easy to forget that he got his start in comedy, and he was perfectly comfortable working in a variety of other genres as well. Yet the release of Zombie (aka Zombi 2 or Zombie Flesh Eaters, depending on where you live) was a watershed moment in his career, and with rare exceptions like Contraband and Conquest, he would stick to horror for the rest of his life. Still, the nature of those horrors was never simple or straightforward, and Fulci ended up exploring a variety of different subgenres along the way.
Zombie had been his point of entry into the world of the undead popularized by George A. Romero, mixing Romero’s flesh-eating ghouls into the Caribbean milieu of traditional zombie lore. The films of the “Gates of Hell” pseudo-trilogy would move into overtly supernatural territory, inspired more by the works of authors like H.P. Lovecraft and Henry James. These undead horrors weren’t exactly zombies, even in the Romero-esque sense of the term, but they weren’t necessarily straightforward ghostly apparitions either. Fulci had found his comfort zone by making the unreal seem real. He had an uncanny (no pun intended) knack for presenting genuinely poetic visions of the intersection between our world and that of, well, the beyond. When you watch The City of the Living Dead, The Beyond, and The House by the Cemetery, you can hear the sound of one hand clapping.
The House by the Cemetery was written by frequent Fulci collaborator Dardano Sacchetti, with contributions from Giorgio Mariuzzo, Elisa Briganti, and Fulci, inspired (very, very loosely) by the Henry James novel The Turn of the Screw. The film even closes with a supposed quotation from James, though unsurprisingly it’s completely spurious: “No one will ever know whether children are monsters or monsters are children.” Yet that does sum up the story that they created, where Dr. Norman Boyle (Paolo Malco), his wife Lucy (Catriona MacColl), and their son Bob (Giovanni Frezza) move from Manhattan into an isolated New England home. There, Bob ends up befriending Mae (Silvia Collatina), a mysterious child who warns him that he needs to leave the house. Of course, since parents never really listen to their children, they don’t take Bob seriously, and the bodies start piling up. By the time that Norman and Lucy discover that the monsters are real, it’s too late. The House by the Cemetery also stars Ania Pieroni and co-stars her eyebrows.
The House by the Cemetery isn’t particularly coherent at a narrative level, but with Fulci, that’s a feature, not a bug. His supernatural horror films can’t be judged in terms of rationality and logic because there isn’t any to be found. The only logic that they convey is dream logic, and that’s inherently irrational. Yet it’s entirely appropriate for representing the supernatural realm, something that Fulci was uniquely gifted to do—he was the Jean Cocteau of supernatural horror. While arguably nothing could ever top the extraordinary vision of Hell that he presented at the conclusion of The Beyond, the ending of The House by the Cemetery is no less memorable in terms of how it breaks the bonds of reality to fuse the natural and the supernatural into a new whole.
Like The City of the Living Dead before it, this ending may seem like it comes out of left field, but it was actually foreshadowed all throughout the rest of the film, and it makes perfect thematic sense (if not necessarily much narrative sense). Bob’s parents may not have been able to see Mae, but there was still more to Mae than meets the eye. While no one may ever truly know if the children are monsters or the monsters are children, children will always be potential victims of the monstrous cycle of abuse that’s passed on from generation to generation. The House by the Cemetery isn’t always as well-regarded as either The City of the Living Dead or The Beyond, but it’s the perfect culmination of a trilogy that was never intended to be a trilogy in the first place. There’s Fulci logic for you.
Cinematographer Sergio Salvati shot The House by the Cemetery on 35 mm film in 2-perf Techniscope using spherical lenses. The resulting flat negative was then optically blown up for anamorphic release prints that were framed at 2.35:1. This version utilizes the same 4K 16-bit restoration from the original camera negative that was produced by Blue Underground for their 2020 release, although Arrow has corrected one small mistake that Blue Underground made regarding the video, and another audio error that has been present on the majority of releases since the beginning of the DVD era. (More on both of those in a moment.) Arrow also offers a different encode courtesy of David Mackenzie at Fidelity in Motion, and it does make a difference. The bitrate on the Blue Underground disc dipped as low as 30mbps at times, but that’s not an issue here. Otherwise, both discs offer a similar presentation that’s free of any significant damage, with nicely resolved fine details and textures.
The High Dynamic Range grade retains a naturally filmic look while subtly enhancing the spectrum of colors on display. (Both Dolby Vision and HDR10 are provided on the disc). The overall color palette is still somewhat muted, but specific details like the stained-glass windows in the house really shine in this grade. Is it accurate to Salvati and Fulci’s original intentions? Like many other films that have had multiple home video releases over the years, the color timing for The House by the Cemetery has tended to vary from disc to disc. Rather than debating the relative merits of each, let’s just say that it looks fantastic here. Note that Arrow’s HDR grade might be a shade darker than it was on the Blue Underground disc, but due to the vagaries of tone mapping, that effect also may be partly display-dependent. Regardless, this is still an outstanding presentation of the film.
Now, regarding the error that Blue Underground made on their own release. When the opening credits finish, Mae appears in the window of the house. Originally, as the camera zoomed in on her, the image freeze-framed, faded to sepia, and then dissolved into the following shot. Blue Underground didn’t apply the freeze frame or the fade, and they let the whole shot run while Silvia Collatina tried to hold her position until Fulci called “cut.” The effect bore an unfortunate resemblance to the fake freeze-frames that closed every episode of Police Squad. Arrow has restored the proper freeze-frame/fade/dissolve to their version. It’s a small change, but it makes a big difference.
Audio is offered in both English and Italian 1.0 mono DTS-HD Master Audio, as well as an English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio remix. There are also separate English subtitles for the Italian language version and English SDH subtitles for the Italian version. (The surprisingly good Dolby Atmos remix from the Blue Underground disc hasn’t been included here.) The 5.1 mix does offer some channel separation and a few directionalized effects, and it’s not a bad choice at all if you can tolerate the cringeworthy English dubbing for Bob. If you can’t, then the Italian mono is the only way to go, although the overall fidelity of that track is the weakest of the three. Regardless, there is at least one advantage to both the Italian and the English mono over the 5.1 remix: they correct a significant audio error that hasn’t been fixed in 5.1.
Going all the way back to the original Anchor Bay DVD release of The House by the Cemetery, a mistake was made that has been carried forward into most of the home video releases since that time, Blue Underground’s UHD included. In the original film, just before the opening credits, it cuts to a shot of the house a moment before the music kicks and the credits start to roll. You can hear the sounds of birds chirping for a few seconds before the music begins. For some unknown reason, the Anchor Bay DVD moved the start of the music up to match the cut to the house, masking most of those bird noises. Worse, the shift meant that the music finished too quickly, so they had to repeat a bit of it at the end in order to maintain sync. (Once you’ve heard the rather clumsy edit, you can’t unhear it.) The same audio error has been carried forward ever since. Fixing the 5.1 remix would have been far more complicated, so it was left alone. To make a long story short, if you want the most accurate version of the audio as originally intended, mono is the only way to go. (You’re on your own regarding whether or not you can tolerate Bob’s dubbing.)
Arrow’s Region-Free 4K Ultra HD Limited Edition release of The House by the Cemetery is UHD only—Arrow opted to release a Blu-ray version separately. The insert is reversible, featuring new artwork by Colin Murdoch on one side, and the original theatrical poster artwork on the other. They’ve included a two-sided foldout poster featuring both artworks, as well six double-sided art cards. There’s also a 60-page booklet featuring essays by Roberto Curti, Stephen Thrower, Alexandra Heller-Nicholas, and Rachael Nisbet. Everything comes housed in a rigid keepcase featuring the Murdoch artwork. The following extras are included:
- Audio Commentary by Troy Howarth
- Audio Commentary by Catriona MacColl and Calum Waddell
- Audio Commentary by Silvia Collatina and Mike Baronas
- Meet the Boyles (HD – 14:11)
- Children of the Night (HD – 12:13)
- Tales of Laura Gittleson (HD – 8:51)
- My Time with Terror (HD – 9:17)
- A Haunted House Story (HD – 14:01)
- To Build a Better Death Trap (HD – 21:32)
- House Quake (HD – 14:44)
- Catriona MacColl Q&A (HD – 29:35)
- Calling Dr. Freudstein (HD – 19:34)
- Deleted Scene (HD – 1:01)
- Alternate U.S. Opening Titles (HD – 2:12)
- Archival Special Features:
- Introduction by Giovanni Fezza (Upscaled SD – :18)
- Back to the Cellar (Upscaled SD – 15:08)
- Cemetery Woman (Upscaled SD – 29:21)
- Wax Mask: Finishing the Final Fulci (Upscaled SD – 8:25)
- Freudstein’s Follies (Upscaled SD – 10:17)
- Ladies of Italian Horror (Upscaled SD – 24:05)
- The House by the Cemetery Q&A (Upscaled SD – 44:07)
- International Theatrical Trailer (HD – 3:22)
- U.S. Theatrical Trailer (HD – 1:49)
- TV Spot (HD – :33)
- Poster and Still Gallery #1 (4K SDR, 72 in all)
- Poster and Still Gallery #2 (HD – 2:21)
- Easter Eggs:
- Sergio Martino on Mountain of the Cannibal God (Upscaled SD – 4:54)
- Luigi Cozzi on Contamination and Censorship (Upscaled SD – 4:59)
- Dardano Sacchetti on Manhattan Baby (Upscaled SD – 5:18)
- Alternate Intro by Giovanni Frezza (Upscaled SD – :21)
- Silvia Collatina (Upscaled SD – :47)
The extras combine everything from the Blue Underground UHD with all of Arrow’s own archival Blu-ray extras, plus a single new one. The Troy Howarth commentary comes from the Blue Underground release, and it’s definitely the best place to start for newcomers to the world of Lucio Fulci and the inscrutable nature of The House by the Cemetery. He identifies all of the actors, provides information about the making of the film, and points out some subtle details that may not be obvious on a first viewing. He recognizes many of the lapses in logic, including a single one that he finds completely inexplicable, but admits that traditional conceptions of logic don’t really apply to Fulci anyway. While he’s willing to acknowledge some of the flaws in the film, he still rejects the critical accusations that Fulci didn’t know how to tell a coherent story. Howarth also finds an aesthetic unity across all of Fulci’s work despite the fact that the director explored a wide variety of different genres.
The other two commentaries were originally recorded for Arrow’s DVD release of The House by the Cemetery. The Catriona MacColl track is moderated by Calum Waddell, while the Silvia Collatina track is moderated by Mike Baronas. In practice, they’re both freewheeling conversations rather than scene-specific commentaries. While they do occasionally note what’s happening onscreen, the majority of the time is spent discussing each actor’s life and career. Neither one of these tracks is going to be particularly interesting for casual fans, but they’ll be priceless for obsessive-compulsive devotees of Italian horror.
The next nine extras are all interviews that have been carried over from the Blue Underground UHD. Some of them were newly-recorded for that disc, while others were legacy extras from previous Blue Underground releases. The first few involve many of the actors in the film: Meet the Boyles is with Catriona MacColl and Paolo Malco; Children of the Night is with Giovanni Frezza and Silvia Collatina; Tales of Laura Gittleson is with Dagmar Lassander; and My Time with Terror is with Carlo De Mejo. They all provide fascinating and sometimes divergent perspectives on what it was like to work with Fulci. A Haunted House Story features screenwriters Dardano Sacchetti and Elisa Briganti talking about the genesis of the script. To Build a Better Death Trap features Sergio Salvati, makeup artist Maurizio Trani, special effects artist Gino De Rossi, and actor Giovanni De Nava in a conversation regarding the film’s makeup and gore effects. House Quake includes co-writer Giorgio Mariuzzo covering his own contributions to the script. The Catriona MacColl Q&A is from the 2014 Spaghetti Cinema Festival in the U.K., moderated by Calum Waddell, while Calling Dr. Freudstein is an appreciation of the film by author Stephen Thrower, who also offers his thoughts about the state of Fucli’s career at the time.
The Deleted Scene is a brief scene extension following the bat attack that’s missing the original audio. It was included on both the Blue Underground and previous Arrow releases. The sole new extra is the Alternate U.S. Opening Titles, which uses a completely different piece of music than the standard theatrical cut. (It’s also missing the freeze frame.)
The rest of the extras are all archived features from previous Arrow releases of The House by the Cemetery. The Introduction by Giovanni Fezza is pretty amusing since he spends the whole time apologizing for the fact that it’s not his voice in the film. Back to the Cellar is an interview with Fezza (once again, he takes the opportunity to apologize for the dubbing), and Cemetery Woman is an interview with MacColl. The next two extras focus on makeup effects—Wax Mask: Finishing the Final Fulci features effects artist Sergio Stivaletti talking about taking over the reins on The Wax Mask in 1997 after Fulci died during pre-production, while Freudstein’s Follies offers Giannetto De Rossi, who worked on The House by the Cemetery. Ladies of Italian Horror is a collection of interviews with Stefania Casino, Barbara Magnolfi, and Silvia Collatina, focusing on their memorable genre work with Fulci, Dario Argento, and others. The House by the Cemetery Q&A is a lengthy panel discussion from the 2011 HorrorHound Weekend in Indianapolis, featuring Giovanni Frezza, Silvia Collatina, Catriona MacColl, Carlo De Mejo, and Dagmar Lassander, moderated by Art Ettinger and Mike Baronas. Needless to say, the subject of Bob’s voice comes up yet again, and it’s amazing how Frezza always manages to respond cheerfully when asked about it. (The questioner in this case is off-camera, but it sounds suspiciously like it’s Michael Felsher who’s trying to twist the knife here.)
Finally, there’s a collection of trailers, TV spots, and still galleries, all of which have appeared elsewhere, but note that the Poster and Still Gallery #1 has been upgraded to full 4K for this release. The Easter Eggs can be located by selecting Special Features from the main menu, scrolling down to the “return” arrow below Publicity, and then pressing the right arrow on the remote instead of the left. That brings up another sub-menu with all five. They’re mostly devoted to other films and filmmakers, but there’s an alternate take of the Introduction by Giovanni Fezza and an outtake from Ladies of Italian Horror featuring Silvia Collatina.
That’s an impressive collection of extras by any stretch of the imagination, although with a perennial home video favorite like The House by the Cemetery, there are still a few minor items from other sets that haven’t been included here. Arrow’s original DVD release included the featurette Fulci in the House: The Master of Italian Splatter, but that hasn’t been carried forward to any other editions. The Region 2 DVD from Mondo in Italy included a commentary with Sergio Salvati that was moderated by film critic Paolo Albiero, but that was in Italian, and there weren’t any English subtitles for it. Blue Underground also offered a 3-disc Limited Edition UHD in 2020 that included a CD with Walter Rizzati’s soundtrack for the film, as well as a different 20-page booklet that featured an essay by Michael Gingold. Needless to say, if you have that set, you’re going to want to hang onto it. If you have their standard release, though, there’s no reason to keep it unless you want to retain the Dolby Atmos remix (but keep in mind that it does include the audio error). Otherwise, this is the one The House by the Cemetery to rule them all—it corrects the previous mistakes, has the best video quality, and offers the most comprehensive package of extras. Just buy it.
- Stephen Bjork