Monday, July 30, 2012

Quella villa accanto al cimitero (1981)

... aka: Freudstein
... aka: House by the Cemetery, The
... aka: House Outside the Cemetery, The
... aka: Zombie Hell House

Directed by:
Lucio Fulci

New York City professor Norman Boyle (Paolo Malco) is assigned to take over where deceased colleague Dr. Petersen left off in his research. Dr. Petersen had been living at a secluded country estate near Boston called Oak Mansion and supposedly went crazy, slaughtered his mistress and then hung himself from a railing at a local library. Norman, his neurotic wife Lucy ("Katherine" / Catriona MacColl) and their "cute" (a-hem!) little mop top blonde son Bob (Giovanni Frezza) pack up and head off toward Oak Manor for a 6-month stay. Bob has been seeing visions of a ghostly little girl in a painting, who warns him and his family not to come to the home. The little girl, Mae (Silvia Collatina), materializes again once the family arrives in New Whitby to warn Bob. Naturally, Bob's parents don't believe he's seeing or hearing anything and chalk it all up to him having an imaginary friend. Real estate agent Laura Gittleson (Dagmar Lassander) takes the family out to their new home; a large Victorian place with a crumbling old cemetery right in the front yard and lots of even stranger things inside. You know, like a tomb in the hallway hidden under a rug.

The Boyle family start settling in and immediately bizarre and unexplanable things begin happening. Moaning and crying can be heard throughout the home, the floorboards creak, the doors rattle, little Bob keeps having encounters with the ghost girl, the ominous cellar is strangely boarded up and a suspicious-acting live-in babysitter named Ann (Ania Pieroni) shows up claiming to have been sent over by Laura to help Lucy out. Norman finally finds a key to the cellar and goes down to take a look, only to get attacked by a rabid bat which attaches itself to his hand and has to be hacked off with a knife. It's all enough to have Lucy demand that they leave and find a new place. Before that can happen, the real estate agent stops by and gets gored to death with a fire poker and dragged down into the cellar. Ann, who cleans up the bloody floors after the crime (uh, why?) is up next. When she goes down into the cellar she gets decapitated. And then it's the family's turn.

The killer turns out to be the home's former owner; turn-of-the-century surgeon Dr. Jacob Freudstein (Giovanni De Nava), who had a penchant for "illegal experiments" back in the day. He's somehow managed to stay alive all this time killing and cannibalizing people. We're informed he needs to renew his blood cells every so often. Freudstein may technically be alive, but he sure doesn't look it. He's actually more zombie-like than anything else and has a brown, distorted, melted-looking face. When he's stabbed, he bleeds maggots and worms. While the film does explain (rather sloppily) what Freudstein is and how's been able to keep on ticking, it does not bother explaining how he seems to be in possession of supernatural powers, such as being able to close and lock the cellar door without being anywhere near it. The ghost girl haunting the place isn't doing it either since her whole point in the film is trying to save the family.

I also didn't get why the cellar was always dry when the family went downstairs but at the very end it suddenly looked like a slaughterhouse with blood spatter, body parts and corpses all over the place. There are many other things that just don't make a lick of sense. When Norman finds an audio tape recorded by his colleague that explains what happened to him, he throws it into a fireplace immediately after listening to it (?) A pair of yellow eyes peering down in the cellar clearly don't belong to the killer since he doesn't have any eyes, so who did they belong to? What the hell is up with Ann, why does she clean up blood from one of the murders (she's not in cohorts with the killer) and why does Lucy see her cleaning up the blood and not do or say nothing about it? And those are just the tip of the iceburg as far as senseless character actions and sloppy, glaring plot holes go.

Though far from a great film, this still beats the hell out of THE AMITYVILLE HORROR (1979). It's overdone as only Fulci can overdo it. I mean, why slit someone's throat once when you can do it three times? And why shoot one close-up of a pair of eyeballs when you can do it 50 times? There's also an impalement (make that three impalements), several decapitations, a knife through the head, a ripped out throat and other gruesome FX stuff to keep it humming along nicely for spaghetti splatter fans, though one must have a tolerance for some slopping editing, nonsensical plotting and bad dubbing. Especially grating is the dub on the little boy... yikes! It's actually less gory than many of Fulci's other 80s films. Sergio Salvati does a decent enough job shooting it and I loved the music score by Walter Rizzati. It ends with a quote attributed to Henry James, but was actually written by the director.

The cast also includes Daniela Doria (who provides the sole grimpse of nudity before getting a knife driven through her head in the opening sequence), Carlo De Mejo and Fulci himself as Norman's boss. It was filmed in Massachusetts under the title Freudstein.



Paul Awful said...

Doesn't it make you a bit mad that such an amazing movie visually, like House By The Cemetery can be so incoherent plot-wise? I worshiped this film as a kid and I just wish it could make just a little bit of sense.

The Bloody Pit of Horror said...

Uh huh. This one has great horror atmosphere but the writing is so damn bad it takes it down a few notches. With a coherent story it really could have been great.

Nick Schwab said...

Very true points, but I admit as much as it's accurate, at the same time, I find it misjudged when people claim that Fulci films are faulty because they "make no sense." They're not plotted traditionally, yet follow the same 'nightmare logic' as Lovecraft does in their fascination with the disregarded of the natural order of things beyond our rational understanding. Death is a fascination to Fulci and Hell and waking nightmare states are the sensory appeal of his films.

With that all said, I love your blog, even if I don't always agree with it! Keep up the good work!

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