Italian goremeister Lucio Fulci (City of the Living Dead/ Zombi 2) is renowned for his love of bloodletting, of over the top gruesome murder scenes and plots that should be straightforward but are more often than not nonsensical verging on the surreal. This is what elevates his films beyond simple slasher films into, well it’s really hard to know what they are, some kind of strange disturbing slightly hysterical exploration of Fulci’ damaged psyche.
The House By The Cemetery is the final of his Gates of Hell trilogy, made in the US in 1981 and its probably one of his most bizarre, not because it’s nonsensical, but because it’s actually so straightforward, almost insanely straightforward in a Groundhog day kind’ve way. Yet Fulci still manages to find his confusion even here.
It’s the tale of a family who move into a remote townhouse in Massachusetts to complete unfinished research after the death of former occupant Dr Freudstein and his family. Yes that’s right, the father of psychoanalysis mashed with Dr Frankenstein, and it’s a fair indication of the level of subtlety at play here. Gradually they come to the realisation that there is something in the basement and it’s very nasty.
Whilst offering a salacious beginning complete with nudity and some pretty shocking brutality, Fulci then keeps us waiting for an inordinate amount of time before the next bloodletting as he pretends to be Alfred Hitchcock, even providing a Hitchesque cameo. What this dithering does is display Fulci at his most insane, with numerous confusing unanswered questions, or if you want to be generous red herrings.
Why for instance is the kid’ nanny washing blood from the kitchen floor? This was from a murder she had nothing to do with, and while we’re at it why does she look so freakishly like the beheaded manikin in town? Where other filmmakers like to tie up these kinds of questions, or at the very least vaguely explain them Fulci is content to let them simply hangâ€¦forever.
In Fulci’ mind there’ no need to worry about those silly plot things. Not when there’ a murderous monster in the basement and he needs to manufacture reasons for people to repeatedly go down there and be murdered, again and again and again. It’s totally insane. Mind numbingly insane. When the family arrive the basement is boarded up, so each person who enters the house finds repeated reasons to go down there.
What becomes increasingly apparent is that its women who are getting sliced and diced and in the extensive extra features the actors and film scholars report that Fulci had a difficult personal life and suggests that he may have been taking some of his frustration out on film. Child star of the film Silvia Collatina takes it even further when she confesses Fulci was misogynist and quite moody and nasty to women on set. â€œThey have a very bad end she offers absently, a very violent end.â€ And its difficult not to be a little squeamish about this in view of the lingering gore to each woman’ death. The other point made in the extras is that Fulci and Dario Argento were quite competitive, the main difference being that Argento had the budget.
The score, recently reissued on Death Waltz is from Walter Rizatti. At the time Rizatti was better known for his sexploitation scores for Joe D’Amato, and seems like an odd choice for Fulci who had worked repeatedly with Fabio Frizzi prior. Rizatti would go on to score The Bronx Warriors and even a couple later Fulci films. Here he’ using electric bass and guitar, piano, drums and synth. The guitar is heavily flanged, almost washed out psychedelic, but the bass is precise, punchy, whilst synth and possibly organ swirl around in flowery arpeggios.
It’s gothic baroque funk that’s alternatively dark and menacing or laced with with a hint of earnest 70′ television drama cheese, like Goblin doing the soundtrack for Little House on the Prairie. Yet there’ also some really evocative almost ambient discordant atmospheres that verge on sound design, used in the main during the creepy moments in the basement. On the more wistful moments of the score it’s difficult not to hear links with Morricone, beautiful complex work that also feels quite sad, like the weight of the world is on its shoulders. Ultimately though it’s typically hysterical, mixed loud and proud in the film, which is great, because it’s worth the price of admission alone.
As always there are a couple of highlights, one being the amount of blood that comes out of a rabid bat that just wont die, and the final 10 minutes, an hysterical slow motion gore frenzy in the basement that is nothing short of total insanity.
Be afraid. For many reasons.