Release Date(s)1981 (January 21, 2020)
Studio(s)Fulvia Film/Almi Pictures/Levy Films (Blue Underground)
- Film/Program Grade: C+
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: A
When The House by the Cemetery (aka Quella villa accanto al cimitero) premiered in Italy in 1981, Lucio Fulci was in the midst of a career renaissance with Zombie, City of the Living Dead, The Beyond, and The Black Cat. Taking influences from The Shining, The Amityville Horror, and the stories of H.P. Lovecraft, this gore-soaked tale of a family moving into a country home inhabited by a hidden murderous presence intent on slaughtering everyone who enters was highly successful, but wasn’t released in the UK until 1982 and later in the US in 1984.
In the film, Norman and Lucy Boyle (Paolo Malco and Catriona MacColl), and their son Bob (Giovanni Frezza), move from New York to an abandoned New England house where a former colleague of Norman’s is said to have gone insane before committing suicide. Their real estate agent, Mrs. Gittleson (Dagmar Lassander), attempts to hide the history of the house, but Norman does his own digging, becoming more and more curious about its past. While under the care of his new babysitter Ann (Ania Pieroni), Bob begins receiving regular visits from Mae (Silvia Collatina), an odd little girl who warns him to stay away from the house. Unbeknownst to all of them, a ghoulish murderer dwells within the boarded up basement, waiting for them to find him.
The House by the Cemetery is much tamer to Fulci’s previous films by comparison—only in that it’s a more straightforward effort, attempting to be more plot-driven than dreamlike. Throughout the 1980s and beyond, it had a number of home video releases from different labels in different versions. By this time, Fulci’s name had become ubiquitous with Italian horror, specifically for his unflinching takes on and extreme uses of gore (and later on receiving accusations of misogyny stemming from the release of The New York Ripper).
Criticisms laid at The House by the Cemetery over the years spawn from its attempt to have more of a story, and when the film was released on home video with the reels out of order, it became more of a joke than intended. Also hampering it was the young Giovanni Frezza, whose girlish voice in the English dub, as well as his blonde moppet-like appearance, was an uncomfortable thorn in the side of many fans. Though the film contains gore, particularly a severe throat-cutting sequence, as well as an extended scene of a repeated stabbing with a fireplace poker, it’s actually not quite as gory as Fulci’s previous work. However, it does offer an effective villain, whose child-like cries are enough to send shivers up anybody’s spine. Overall, it’s a mixed bag, but it brings enough interesting material to the table to make it worth the effort.
Blue Underground brings The House by the Cemetery to Blu-ray for a second time with a new 4K restoration from the original uncut and uncensored 35mm camera negative. While the results are enormously positive, there is some question of the color and how it differs from previous transfers. Which one is the most accurate is unclear, but the look of the film here is still terrific. It’s a solid, natural presentation with a healthy and even grain structure and high levels of fine detail, particularly in the shadows. The color palette doesn’t offer a wide spectrum of hues, but occasional reds, blues, and greens do poke through and pop quite well. Blacks are deep and contrast levels are virtually perfect, and there are no instances of leftover damage or debris. Everything also appears entirely stable with a high encode. Regardless of any possible changes to the color palette, it’s still an effective presentation of the film.
The audio is included in English 5.1 and 1.0 DTS-HD, as well as Italian 1.0 DTS-HD. Subtitle options include English SDH, French, Spanish, and English for the Italian Audio. Many will likely want to stick with the original Italian track due to how awful the dubbing for Bob’s character is, which is admittedly atrocious. However, the 5.1 doesn’t offer much in terms of dynamics or a wide sound field, meaning there’s no ambient activity that’s spread out successfully that wasn’t already there in the original mono. Conversely, the score gets the biggest boost out of the extra space. The English mono is much of the same, just without the additional room to breathe. The Italian mono is much flatter with lower treble. It also features minor hiss and not as much push for the score. It’s a more natural option as the dialogue, also dubbed, is more authentic to what was actually shot. Your mileage may vary.
The following bonus materials are also included:
- Audio Commentary by Author and Film Historian Troy Howarth
- Deleted Scene (SD – 1:01)
- International Theatrical Trailer (HD – 3:22)
- US Theatrical Trailer (HD – 1:48)
- TV Spot (SD – 0:32)
- Poster & Still Gallery #1 (HD – 71 in all)
- Poster & Still Gallery #2 (SD – 22 in all – 2:21)
- Meet the Boyles (HD – 14:17)
- Children of the Night with Giovanni Frezza and Silvia Collatina (HD – 12:18)
- Tales of Laura Gittleson with Dagmar Lassander (HD – 8:56)
- My Time With Terror with Carlo De Mejo (HD – 9:21)
- A Haunted House Story with Dardano Sacchetti and Elisa Briganti (HD – 14:07)
- To Build a Better Death Trap (HD – 21:32)
- House Quake: Giorgio Mariuzzo and His Memories of Lucio Fulci (HD – 14:46)
- Catriona MacColl Q&A (HD – 29:37)
- Calling Dr. Freudstein (HD – 19:34)
On Disc One, the audio commentary with Troy Howarth is upbeat, informative, and thorough as usual, offering plenty of insight into the film’s production, the interplay between the director and the cast and crew, and backgrounds on all of the major players involved. The text before the deleted scene informs us that it was found on the original camera negative but missing the sound element, but is only a brief moment of peace after the bat attack in the kitchen. Rounding out this disc is a pair of trailers, a TV spot, and two still galleries featuring a total of 93 on-set photos, behind-the-scenes stills, posters, lobby cards, and newspaper clippings.
On Disc Two, the bulk of the material, produced by Red Shirt Pictures, is from the previous Blu-ray release. Meet the Boyles interviews Catriona MacColl and Paolo Malco about working on the film, both of whom seem to have somewhat conflicting views on Fulci and how he works with actors and children. Conversely, Children of the Night speaks to Giovanni Frezza and Silvia Collatina and they confirm that Fulci was pleasant to them, but was very demanding. Tales of Laura Gittleson talks to Dagmar Lassander about her memorably bloody appearance in the film, but the actress also acknowledges her appreciation of American audiences who embrace her work. My Time With Terror speaks to Carlo De Mejo about his brief scene in the film. A Haunted House Story speaks to co-writers Dardano Sacchetti and Elisa Briganti about the genesis of the script. To Build a Better Death Trap interviews cinematographer Sergio Salvati, special make-up effects artist Maurizio Trani, special effects artist Gino De Rossi, and actor Giovanni De Nava about the extensive make-up and gore effects. House Quake speaks with co-writer Giorgio Mariuzzo about his contributions to the script. The 2014 Spaghetti Cinema Festival Q&A featuring Catriona MacColl, moderated by Calum Waddell, is fairly lengthy and asks the actress some surprisingly interesting questions. Last, but not least, is an interview with Stephen Thrower, who gives his view on the film and the state of Fulci’s career at the time of its release.
Also included in this Limited Edition package is a CD containing 31 tracks of the film’s score by Walter Rizzati and Alessandro Blonksteiner, as well as a 20-page insert booklet containing cast and crew information, the essay Freudsteinian Slips: Inside The House by the Cemetery by Michael Gingold, CD soundtrack information and a track selection, and a set of film chapter selections. The clear plastic case includes reversible artwork, as well as a lenticular slipcover. Do take note that the Region B Blu-ray release of the film from Arrow Video features its own set of extensive bonus materials, most of which are not included in this release.
Blue Underground continues their recent trend of giving the best of treatment to a number of memorable genre titles, The House by the Cemetery included. The film may not be regarded as one Fulci’s best, but with a spectacular new presentation and a boatload of entertaining and informative extras, it’s another must-have release. Highly recommended.
– Tim Salmons