In the United Kingdom, The House by the Cemetery was added to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) list of 72 video nasties. The House by the Cemetery was one of 39 films successfully prosecuted.
The House by the Cemetery (Quella villa accanto al cimitero) (1981) (86 minutes)
Directed by Lucio Fulci.
aka Zombie Hell House, Revenge of the New York Ripper
Written by Elisa Briganti, Lucio Fulci, Giorgio Mariuzzo and Dardano Sacchetti.
Starring Catriona MacColl, Paolo Malco and Ania Pieroni.
Lucio Fulci’s The House by the Cemetery (1981) is notorious in the United Kingdom for being one of the 39 movies that were prosecuted under the Obscene Publications Act in the 1980s. Dubbed a ‘video nasty’ by the garbage British tabloids, The House by the Cemetery was effectively banned from distribution and personal possession; until the Video Recordings Act came into force and a censored print was officially made available.
In 1993, the Video Instant Picture Company (VIPCO) submitted The House by the Cemetery to the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC), where it was censored for home video release.
It would be an additional 15+ years before The House by the Cemetery would see an uncut release in the United Kingdom. Was the notoriety justified?
Norman (Paolo Malco – New York Ripper) and Lucy Boyle (Catriona MacColl – City of the Living Dead / The Beyond), along with their son, Bob (Giovanni Frezzi – Demons), are moving out of their New York City apartment, and moving into ‘Oak Mansion’ for six months; an old property surrounded by cemetery grounds, situated in New Whitby, Massachusetts (or Boston, if you believe the onscreen caption). Bob has tried to convince his parents not to leave New York; that a young girl pictured in a photograph of ‘Oak Mansion’ told him that he should not come…
‘Oak Mansion’ was left vacant after the previous tenant, Dr. Peterson, – Norman’s ex-colleague – was involved in a murder-suicide that left both him and his mistress dead. Norman intends to investigate the death of his former colleague (unbeknownst to the rest of the family) and learn the nature of Dr. Peterson’s research.
Whilst his parents collect the keys to the property, Bob waits patiently in the car. “Bob. I’m here. Behind you.” Bob, hearing the girl’s voice turns to see the same girl he previously saw in the photograph, sitting across the street. She introduces herself as Mae (Silvia Collatina).
“I thought I told you very clearly not to come… You shouldn’t have come Bob.”
Upon arriving at their new home, Lucy and Norman discover that the door to the basement has been boarded up. Ann (Ania Pieroni – Tenebrae) also arrives to introduce herself as the babysitter.
Late that night, whilst Lucy and Bob both sleep, Norman overlooks a few of the notes that Dr. Peterson had written before his death. One folder reads ‘Freudstein’ on the front, written in black permanent marker. Suddenly there is a crashing sound! Startled, Norman heads downstairs to find that Ann has (strangely) taken it upon herself to pry off the boards that were nailed to the basement door!
The next morning, eager to learn more of Dr. Peterson’s research, Norman heads to the local library; leaving Lucy to clean up. Outside on the grounds of ‘Oak Mansion’, Bob and Mae stare at one of the tombstones. May directs Bob’s attention to the name: ‘Mary Freudstein’
“She’s not buried here…”
Indoors, whilst sweeping up, Lucy discovers the tombstone of ‘Jacob Tess Freudstein’ embedded into the floorboards of her new living arrangement. Meanwhile, Norman indulges further in Dr. Peterson’s notes:
“June 7th 1879. Dr. Jacob Freudstein is hereby suspended from the medical association, and banned from practicing the medical profession for life.”
Upon Norman’s return home, he discovers Lucy visibly upset about the tombstone, and has to reassure her that it was not unusual for an old property such as this to have an indoor tomb due to the hard ground outside. In an attempt to ease Lucy’s mind further, Norman suggests that they check out what is down in the basement…
Norman enters first, walking cautiously down the stairs, whilst Lucy waits patiently from the doorway.
“Norman! Why did you shout like that?”, Lucy cries out as she runs down the stairs. But before Norman has the chance to fully reply, Lucy is attacked by a rabid bat! “That ‘Freudstein’ house. THAT ‘Freudstein’ house. It was inevitable… That they want to leave the ‘Freudstein’ property.”
Estate agent, Mrs. Gittleson (Dagmar Lassander) visits the ‘Freudstein’ property later that evening to discuss moving the Boyle family to another location, but finds ‘Oak Mansion’ empty. As she walks across the tombstone of ‘Jacob Tess Freudstein’, the concrete breaks under her feet, trapping her ankle and forcing her to the floor. Unable to move, the POV (point of view) of an unknown assailant enters the room. His flesh rotting from his hands as he picks up a fire iron, before proceeding to mutilate Mrs. Gittleson. This scene was censored by the BBFC for over 20 years!
The next day, Lucy, having just woken up, finds Ann cleaning up a trail of blood that leads to the basement door. “Good morning. What are you doing?”, Lucy asks. Ann replies:
“I made coffee.”
With The House by the Cemetery, Lucio Fulci unintentionally created the third and final film in the ‘Gates of Hell’ trilogy, preceded by City of the Living Dead (1980) and The Beyond (1981). All three horror flicks are thematically entwined, containing copious amounts of gore, and sharing the same lead actress in Catriona MacColl; herself an unintentional scream queen of Italian cinema.
Like its predecessors, The House by the Cemetery does not follow a structurally solid narrative. Instead it is presented as a series of bizarre, violent nightmares, woven together by the dreamweaver himself: Lucio Fulci. Those of you who are familiar with Fulci’s art will agree that, despite the often nonsensical plots (and undeniably misogynistic themes), his strength lies in the imagery, and the atmosphere. The House by the Cemetery continues along the same vein; spurting excessive amounts of blood across surrealistic set pieces and illogical character reactions.
The special effects by Gianetto De Rossi (Zombie Flesh Eaters) and Maurizio Trani (The Bronx Warriors) however, are why The House by the Cemetery has made such an impact in cinematic history; or at least in Italo horror cinema. Fulci was never willing to shy away from the grotesque, and with The House by the Cemetery the director takes no prisoners! Throats are torn out, all to the wonderful sound of Walter Rizatti’s haunting score.
If you are prepared to endure the awful dubbing, The House by the Cemetery is deserving of its cult reputation. Its notoriety? Completely justified.