House By the Cemetery: Gate-Closing Disasterpiece
Dir. Lucio Fulci (1981)
In a movie that has almost nothing to do with the two previous films, a family moves into a house that may be inhabited by it's former owner.
Now this is Italian horror! By which I mean it’s a convoluted mess, with plot strings that go nowhere and mysteries that are never explained. Nothing if not prolific, Fulci released the final film of his Gates of Hell Trilogy, The House by the Cemetery, in the same year that he released the second film of the trilogy… and it shows. By far the weakest of the three films, the obvious thematic linkage of the first two films is practically ignored in this one, making one wonder if it was more of a retcon than it was a purposeful closure of the trilogy. There are a couple of nice creepy scenes, and with the haunted house element playing throughout, it’s not a complete whiff by Fulci, but it definitely has problems that its predecessors did not.
This film has much more of a giallo feel in everything but color palette, as it’s as drab and colorless as a gothic black and white film. But there are creepy dolls, odd ethereal children, and the air of ghost story to go along with the horrible killings, which all happen in first-person throughout much of the film. It’s very different in style than the other two films, more of a family drama with supernatural/zombie elements than a straight-up zombie movie. It also… doesn’t really belong in this trilogy? There’s almost no discussion of the Gates as in the previous films, and it plays out like a slasher film for the majority of its runtime. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not one to turn my nose up at a slasher film; it’s my favorite type of horror, after all. I just found that, by the time things were due to be explained, I didn’t really give a shit and things were absolutely not explained. It’s one of those films where everyone seems to have a secret, but Fulci just doesn’t seem to care to explain or resolve any of them. As I said before, the film is also drab and colorless, and unlike the previous films where this was used as a gothic callback to early horror, this one was just kinda dingy looking. It’s got that “everything is dead” look of New England winter without all the pretty snow and winter sports.
This is why I left New England: ugly houses, ugly trees, and the New England Patriots.
As discussed in the reviews for the other films of the trilogy, the audio for the dialogue is dubbed in this one as well, following the long tradition of Italian films performing this odd-as-hell and totally unnecessary practice. While it doesn’t throw too much off for the adults, who are all speaking English with the dubs matching the lips fairly well (except for a couple of scenes where the dubbing repeats even though the characters clearly do not), the children in this film are all speaking Italian, and it’s weird as fuck. It doesn’t hurt the film per se, but the voices used for the children sound nothing like you would expect them to sound, and it’s bizarre as all hell. Almost laughably so, which certainly doesn’t help the film either. Almost every review of the film mentions Bob’s voice, which is clearly not fitting for the actor who plays the kid. Also, who the fuck names their kid Bob. He’s not Robert, or Robbie, or even Bobby. He’s Bob. That’s dumb as hell.
Unfortunately, this was by far the most boring film of the series. Through a good bit of the runtime, almost nothing happens, and the slower moving parts of the film were not broken up by the random arterial geysers that usually populate Fulci’s films. There were some great parts, don’t get me wrong, but the one time Fulci tries to spice up the film during the slower parts involved a random crazed bat, which swoops down while the couple are investigating the basement and attacks the woman. It drives her around the basement before being grabbed and stabbed to death by the man. It’s not that it’s a bad scene per se, it’s more that it’s entirely random and has absolutely nothing to do with the plot or the rest of the movie.
BAT OUT OF FUCKING NOWHERE!
But that’s where this film really fails. It’s not bad enough to be really bad, but it’s certainly not good, either. The other two films of the trilogy were excellent, and perfect representatives of what both Fulci and Italian horror in general is about. Creepy atmospheres, excellent creature effects, and fountains of gore. This one falls short on all three counts, and even when it desperately tries to make it up at the end, you’re left feeling shortchanged by the entire rest of the film. It also suffers from the same shortcoming that The Babadook had: if you genuinely want the film to kill the kid because he’s unbearably obnoxious, the film doesn’t have a chance. Yeah, I know, some of you loved The Babadook. I’m sorry, I don’t care: the kid made it barely watchable, regardless of how good the rest of the film was. Don’t @ me. Besides, this one doesn’t have near the emotional impact or terrifying atmosphere of that later film.
All things considered, this one was a failure. Is it creepy at times? Sure. Is there a cool “monster” at the end of the film? Yeah, there is. Is any of it worth the investment? Probably not, unless you’re just a huge fan of weird Italian horror. The movie can’t decide whether or not it wants to be a monster/zombie movie or if it wants to be the Amityville Horror. It’s also got some of the worst child dubbing in history, as well as an incredibly convoluted plot that you don’t particularly care to resolve. How in the world we got this one after the first two I’ll never know, because at this point, we know that Fulci is better than this. The Big Bad Guy At The End (BBGE) is basically Dr. Satan from Zombie’s House of 1000 Corpses, but not nearly as scary and way more dumb. When the entire plot of the film is explained in a two second random exposition by the main character with five minutes left in the runtime, you know you’re in trouble. If only he had done that in the first act it would’ve saved me an hour and a half.
Who this movie is for: Fulci fanatics; People who want to close out the “trilogy”; People who named their kid Bob
Bottom line: Ehhh… can we consider it the Gates of Hell Dilogy? (That’s the right word, I looked it up. Fuck you) Only the first two films really fit the topic, and this one kinda sucks. It’s not worth the watch unless you really want to see all of Fulci’s stuff, and you’d be better served watching the last twenty-ish minutes of the movie than the whole thing. Give this one a pass unless you are a huge Fulci fan, or if you’re down to watch an hour and a half of a film without about five minutes total of action.