1981, Color, 86 mins. 22 secs.
Directed by Lucio Fulci
Starring Katriona MacColl, Paolo Malco, Giovanni de Nava, Dagmar Lassander, Ania Pieroni, Giovanni Frezza, Daniela Doria, Carlo de Mejo, Ania Pieroni, Silvia Collatina
Blue Underground (Blu-Ray & DVD) (US R0 NTSC), Arrow Video (Blu-Ray & DVD) (UK R0 HD/PAL), Anchor Bay (US R0 NTSC) / WS (2.35:1) (16:9)
Following in the footsteps of a colleague who committed suicide after murdering his mistress, Manhattan couple Norman and Lucy Boyle (Italian horror vets MacColl and Malco) temporarily move to New Whitby, Boston despite the protests of their young son, Bob (Frezza), who experiences visions of a spooky freckled girl (Collatina) warning him about bloody events in their new house. While Lucy is a little perturbed to find out the house is next door to a cemetery (irrelevant, but it does give the movie a cool title) and a tomb situated in the middle of their hallway, the family decides to tough it out and make the best of the situation. Not surprisingly, nasty things begin to happen: Norman is attacked by a bat, a spooky-looking babysitter (Tenebrae's Pieroni) seems to know more than she's telling and pries open the boarded-up basement door, and their real estate agent (Forbidden Photos of a Lady above Suspicion's Lassander) meets up with a poker-wielding assailant. What could be the dark secret within the house, and how does it tie in to the mysterious Dr. Freudstein who used to live there?
A rare film that even Fulci haters tend to enjoy, House by the Cemetery contains his typically strong emphasis on atmosphere and shocking visuals but also devotes more time than usual to character development and plotting, allowing the graphic gore to serve as a function of the story rather than an end unto itself. The last of Fulci's Gothic excursions and sort of a classical addendum to his trio of zombie classics (Zombie, The Beyond, City of the Living Dead), House is also a strangely beautiful film with Sergio Salvati's expert scope photography crafting a strange world of childhood fairy tales gone very bad and Walter Rizzati's poignant score (with some harsher piano-heavy contributions from Cannibal Apocalypse's Alexander Blonksteiner) providing much-needed emotional support. In the last half hour, Fulci really shines and produces some of his finest work; the claustrophobic mixture of chills and supernatural poetry would do Mario Bava proud, with an unexpected but very satisfying supernatural resolution. He also wreaks havoc with audience expectations (including lots of red herrings involving the parents), which adds immensely to the air of childhood uneasiness in which the whole world feels like it can collapse from underneath you at any moment.
When House was released to U.S. theaters and on Lightning Home Video, the gore remained intact but two of the reels were placed out of sequence and much of Rizzati's score was stupidly replaced. The Japanese Daie laserdisc, letterboxed and uncut, was a very welcome alternative, and EC's Holland-produced Region 2 DVD went one even better by removing those pesky subtitles. To make things even more confusing, EC then anamorphically remastered their DVD, supposedly from the original negative, while retaining the same extras: the European theatrical trailer(be warned, it contains a lot of spoilers), juicy trailers for A Blade in the Dark and Mountain of the Cannibal God, and a half hour 1994 Eurofest interview with Fulci (in Italian with a translator on hand).
Anchor Bay's belated release of House marked both its first widescreen and correctly sequenced appearance in America, discounting an unauthorized bootleg disc from the notorious Diamond. The image quality bested them all with exceptionally rich colors, less noise than its counterparts, and a sharp overall appearance that mostly belies the film's age. Inexplicably, the disc does not contain the same jolting 5.1 remix treatment afforded to The Beyond or City of the Living Dead; instead the viewer is left to settle with a moderately effective two channel surround mix, which tosses in a few nice directional effects to the front speakers but leaves the rear channels largely silent apart from some very mild ambient support to Rizzati's score. The striking full motion menus (which take the viewer through the house, of course) lead to the hilariously lurid U.S. trailer with voiceover by Brother Theodore ("Be sure to read the fine print! You may have just mortgaged... your life!"), the European trailer, a handful of abbreviated TV spots, a gooey still gallery, and cast and crew bios, plus an Easter egg with silent footage of a deleted scene following the bat attack. Like many Fulci films, this ran afoul of the censorship board in the UK but was eventually released uncut from Arrow with an exclusive 18-minute featurette, "Fulci In The House: The Italian Master Of Splatter," with Simon Boyes offering an overview of Fulci's most acclaimed period of horror filmmaking with interview snippets from former Fangoria editor Tony Timpone, Sergio Stivaletti, Lloyd Kaufman, Sergio Stivaletti and Joe Dante.
Not surprisingly, Blue Underground added House to its slate of Fulci titles on Blu-ray and thankfully decided to go all out with supplement this time around, as the film easily deserves it. It should go without saying that the new HD transfer is a few notches above what its standard def counterparts could offer, and for the most part, it looks okay but leaves a lot of room for improvement; the nocturnal scenes (which comprise pretty much the entire second half of the film) look clear with much more depth than before. On the other hand, the bright daylight scenes, while colorful, suffer from that funky 10th Victim syndrome with some splotchy-looking grain and an odd lack of detail in some shots. Again this only counts for a minor percentage of the running time, but it's definitely there for anyone who's been bugged by it on some past Italy-sourced HD transfers. The English audio (again in moderate 2.0 stereo or original mono) sounds fine, with optional English SDH subtitles included. At last the Italian audio has been included as well (in mono), and it's amusing to note that in this version as well, Bob is unconvincingly voiced by an adult female. What's most interesting is the fact that the Italian track is much, much lighter on dialogue than the English version, which had a lot of extra lines added with people calling to each other and offering additional superfluous comments when walking down hallways or turning away from the camera; instead, the Italian track soaks in the ambiance of the music and sound effects far more subtly and makes for a markedly different viewing experience. Unfortunately the English subs, while welcome, aren't offering in another option with a translation of the Italian dialogue (something their Zombie disc got right, as mentioned above). Much of the Italian dialogue has a completely different meaning from that of the English version
(including some of MacColl's more idiotic observations about that tomb in the hallway), as is obvious from the opening scene in which some of the many cries of "Steve! Steve!" are instead simply "I'm afraid!" in the Italian version. Optional subs are also included in French and Italian.
On the extras front, the trailers (now in HD), TV spot, poster and still gallery, and deleted scene are carried over, but the real paydirt here is in six new featurettes. "Meet the Boyles" (14m17s) features the always charming MacColl and Malco talking about working with Fulci on this particular film and the rigors demanded of the harrowing climax (including that ouch-inducing scene with the stairs), but for the film's fans, the coolest added extra here is probably "Children of the Night" (12m18s). Yep, you get to see Bob all grown up, and in his affable Italian accent he opens open by saying, "I'm sorry for that stupid voice; it wasn't me!" He's joined by Collatina (no longer a redhead), and they both have some great stories about shooting the film including their nonchalant reactions to all the gore, the traumatic nature of that scene with the axe chopping near Bob's head through the door, and Collatina's surprising revelation about her "second" role in the film. In "Tales of Laura Gittleson" (8m56s), horror and sexploitation star Lassander talks about how she was hired onto the film and offers her own anecdotes about shooting her protracted and truly unforgettable death scene, capped off by a nice glimpse of her at a cast reunion from the film. "My Time with Terror" (9m21s) has sleaze veteran Carlo De Mejo (who plays real estate agent Mr. Wheatley) discussing his trio of Fulci titles and his wild '80s career; this would make a great follow-up to his chat on the Terror Express DVD. In "A Haunted House Story" (14m7s), co-writers Dardano Sacchetti and Elisa Briganti (in what appears to be the same session from BU's Zombie Blu-Ray) talk about the genesis of the story, the influence of folklore, the inspiration for the graveyard setting, and how Fulci "took the reins" on the character of Dr. Freudstein. Perhaps the most substantial segment comes last with "To Build a Better Death Trap" (21m32s) with Salvati, actor Giovanni De Nava, and FX artists Gino De Rosi and Maurizio Trani covering everything from the singular antiquated look of the film to the creation of the many great gore effects, including a detailed demonstration of the dental prosthesis for that great knife-in-the-head effect during the prologue. If you're a Fulci fan, get ready for hours of blood-soaked bliss with a proper tribute to one of his best films.
A 2012 Blu-ray and DVD edition in the UK from Arrow offers another variation for fans, and as is the case with most of their Italian horror releases, the extras differ significantly from the American counterpart. Available in both a limited packaging and standard three-disc editions, it's a "dual-play" option containing three discs: a Blu-Ray of the film on disc one, a DVD on disc two, and a DVD of additional supplements for disc three. The standard def version definitely looks closer to the older Arrow and Blue Underground releases in terms of color timing and grain structure (or as much of it as 480p will allow) and is on the brighter side of the scale as far as transfers for this film go, while the Blu-Ray looks very similar to the Blue Underground one with the same problematic daylight scenes and fuzzy noise issues. Frezza provides a quick video interview (again apologizing for his voice), and for the film you get a choice of two audio commentaries: one with MacColl and Arrow's Calum Waddell, and another with Collatina and Paura Productions' Mike Baronas. MacColl's always a lovely speaker and a pleasure to spend some time with, and this is no exception as she recalls working with Fulci, going through the trauma of being dragged down cellar steps, doing horror conventions, and becoming an English scream queen in Italy. The second commentary isn't as dense with Collatina often just reacting to the film, but she really comes to life and has some fun stories whenever her footage plays on screen. The 14-minute "Back to the Cellar" is a different Frezza interview, with the actor appearing (after one of those loooooong animated openings) talking about how he got his first audition, appearing in other films like A Blade in the Dark and Demons, and explaining his parents' growing ambivalence about his career. If you didn't get enough MacColl on her commentary, she pops up again for a 28-minute "Cemetery Woman" featurette in which she talks more generally about how she transitioned to Italian filmmaking (including her improving language skills) and taming the "misogynistic creature" named Lucio she grew to adore. The 8-minute "Finishing the Final Fulci" segment with FX artist Sergio Stivaletti is an Italian (with English subtitles) overview of how he came to direct one of Fulci's last projects, Wax Mask, along with the involvement of Dario Argento. (Sadly, it didn't turn out too well...) A 9-minute "Freudstein's Follies" interview with Fulci's most famous FX collaborator, Gianetto De Rosi, goes into detail about collaborators like cinematographer Sergio Salvati and the mechanics of making molds and pumping blood all over actors. Finally the tangentially-related, 23-minute "Ladies of Italian Horror" has a few familiar faces from the era like Stefania Casini, Barbara Magnolfi, and Collatina (in what looks like the same room) offering wild and sometimes hilarious overviews of their careers in Italy from start to finish in films like Suspiria, The Sister of Ursula, Blood for Dracula, and Murder Rock. The biggest of the extras on disc two is a 42-minute Q&A with the cast from a HorrorHound screening of the film with MacColl, Frezza, Collatina, De Mejo, and Lassander (wearing an amazing red cape) talking about Fulci both on this film and in general. A couple of the accents are a little tough to make out at times, but it's a warm and involving chat with some great anecdotes (some not terribly flattering) about the temperamental but talented director. You also get the theatrical trailer and TV spot, the usual deleted post-bat scene, and a mammoth Italian cult trailer reel with trivia notes in between (Zombie, Lisa and the Devil, Contraband, Beatrice Cenci, Dr. Butcher M.D., Beyond the Door, Four of the Apocalypse, the headache-inducing Italian one for Dr. Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs, The Sect, Conquest, Perversion Story, All the Colors of the Dark, Emanuelle and the Last Cannibals, Danger: Diabolik, Nightmare City, Murder Rock, Eaten Alive, Slaughter Hotel, Killer Crocodile, and the American Seven Doors of Death).
After putting up with that highly flawed transfer for several years, we finally received salvation in early 2020 with a three-disc revisit from Blue Underground featuring two Blu-rays and a soundtrack CD (replicating the contents of the expanded 2010 Beat Records release). The new 4K scan from the camera negative yields drastically superior results here, finally bringing back real fine detail and texture to the film without that ungodly scanner noise clogging things up. Blacks are also much deeper and more beautifully defined, and the color scheme is quite convincing with natural flesh tones and more carefully modulated whites as well. Top marks all around. DTS-HD MA English options are presented for the 1.0 mono track and, at last, a nice 5.1 option that tastefully expands the soundscape while keeping true to the nature of the original mix. Some of the surround effects really work nicely here, especially when it comes to the screams and clomping effects emanating from the basement or the upper floor of the house. The Italian mono track is also included (DTS-HD MA 1.0), and optional subtitles are present in English, English SDH, Spanish, and French. A new audio commentary by Troy Howarth, author of Splintered Visions: Lucio Fulci and His Films, is very entertaining listen as he goes into detail about the career heights Fulci was enjoying at the time thanks to a stable of talent in front and behind the camera, the drastic differences between the finished product and the initial script by Dardano Sacchetti, the nature of Italian location shooting at home and abroad for maximum production value, the other key names in the Italian film industry connected to Fulci and this film, and tons more. Also present on the first disc are the silent deleted scene, the European and U.S. trailers, a TV spot, and poster and still galleries.
The second Blu-ray ports over all of the remaining extras from the prior Blue Underground release -- "Meet the Boyles," "Children of the Night," "Tales of Laura Gittleson," "My Time with Terror," "A Haunted House Story," and "To Build a Better Death Trap." Newly added here is another excellent survey of the film by Stephen Thrower, author of Beyond Terror: The Films of Luci Fulci, with "Calling Dr. Freudstein." A 2014 Q&A with MacColl and Waddell (29m37s) finds the star in her usual charming form at the Spaghetti Cinema Festival chatting about the film, Fulci's demeanor, pranks pulled during the shoot, and quite a bit of speculation about the meaning of the ending. Also new is "House Quake" (14m46s) with co-writer Giorgio Mariuzzo about his collaborations with Fulci including Contraband and this film, as well as the maestro's contradictory mixture of slovenly personal upkeep and intellectual personality. The first pressing also comes with a nifty 3D lenticular slipcover, reversible sleeve, and an insert booklet featuring a thorough new essay by Michael Gingold about the film's theatrical release, place in the Italian '80s horror deluge, and importance in the scheme of Fulci's career and impact on the genre.
BLUE UNDERGROUND (2019 Blu-ray)
BLUE UNDERGROUND (2011 Blu-ray)
ARROW VIDEO (Blu-ray)
Updated review on January 13, 2020