Monday, 19 September 2011

Movie Review: House by the Cemetery(1981)

The House by the Cemetery follows a family led by Dr. Norman Boyle his wife Lucy Boyle and their young son Bob. Dr. Boyles colleague in the study of suicide Professor Peterson, and his wife have both, ironically enough, committed suicide.  Dr. Boyle is given a 5,000$ a year raise, to go and continue Professor Peterson's research at the titular House by the Cemetery.  This house has by far the most character in the entire movie; every room has a lavish, ornate interior covered in thick layer of dust. Walls which have faded  leaving only the out line of pictures previously hung, and barren trees surrounding the cemetery and home, which enhances the menacing aura of the home and may be the movies greatest strength. 
The movie does it's best to throw every cliché available into the pot, Dr. Norman Boyle believes his wife needs medication; but she's sick of the side effects. Bob's been seeing a little girl in a picture telling him not to go, and when he meets her outside his house no one believes him. The colourful "Ann the Babysitter" cleans up the killers blood in private and when questioned answers only that "I made coffee”. If it seems like its one part the Shining and one part the Amityville Horror, it's because it is. It just brings enough innovation, charm, and creativity to make it a worthwhile watch.

The actor's range in talent through the production, unfortunately I've only had the opportunity to see the English dub, so I must divide there acting into two primary qualities.
Body language: happily most of the actors give solid performances here. There are some weak spots, like the women in the opening scene who's destined to get butcher knife through the back of her head; her twitching eyes give more of a feeling of "I'm trying too act" then "I'm scared for my life."
Dubbing: Now I've long considered it unfair, to judge a movie by this merit as it's usually completely out of the creators hands; but  it's the way many of my readers will have to view the film if they so choose. For the most part the dubbing works very well, Italian and English aren't that far off; so it generally looks natural, although Bob's voice may be your primary challenge sitting through this flick. 

The music is fantastic, lacking in the overly shrill noises found throughout some similar sound tracks of the late 70's and early 80's. Instead it moves with a foreboding shuffle through the film, and encourages tension throughout. There were a few points during the movie where I found myself anxious, and very worried wondering what would happen next; which is the hallmark of a good horror film.Fucli's direction is smooth, and precise; moving through the house effortlessly, making great use of the space presented to him. There are many great shots of the house and wooded areas, framed by tomb stones and stark trees which seemingly brand the property; while inside the camera spins in wide angle's and gracefully jumps into the air. There are many close shots of faces and eyes, some say Italian cinema's strongest trait. Certainly the director knows how to take his time with a zoom, or let the film creep by at it's own pace.  The lighting and attention to details, makes the home look realistic; but realism isn't where this movie gets its strength, House by the Cemetery is bursting with surreal moments and questions that can really make the film feel like a nightmare.
Which brings me too another great aspect of this film, the villain Dr. Freudstein; for the most part he remains off camera, or the camera is looking directly through his eyes. Often all we have too see of his is his malformed right hand, holding a knife, or dragging a dead body into the basement; leaving one to ponder what happens behind the slammed door. It's not until later into the movie, are we told why he kills; and although it's not overly explained, we know he kills too feed on the corpses so he can continue too live. We're left with the evidence at the end of the film, but nothing is fully explained. What sort of black magic or necromancy did Dr. Freudstein involve himself in? Has it permanently warped the house, or has it given him some sort of psychic poltergeist power over the home? Why does he wish to continue his life exponentially, was he working on something that meant the ends justified the means?
Many question the validity of film, indeed the whole genre saying that it seems to revel in depicting violence; some may even claim it glorifies violence being depicted towards women. Certainly some images, such as butcher knife blade coming through the back of a woman's head and mouth could certainly be viewed as mildly phallic. Mostly the films scenes of violence are so gratuitous that it can only enhance the grotesqueness of the act of murder, a de-glorification of violence if you will.  Certainly the special effects by Giannetto De Rossi are seamless, and there are moments of beauty; such as when the real estate agent is being murdered with a fire poker, she's pierced and blood arc's delicately across the screen in unabashed glory,  the murders are horrifying and grizzly, simply not for the faint of heart.

House by the Cemetery has masterful direction, and absolutely oozes mystery and atmosphere. The plot is disjointed and surreal, with many unanswered questions; while performances can get tiresome. Overall it has a ton of violence, and personality. House by the Cemetery would prove a treat for long time horror fans, and good introduction to Lucio Fulci for someone just getting into the genre.