Wednesday, October 17, 2007

House By the Cemetary (1981)

"No one will ever know whether the children are monsters or the monsters are children"
-Henry James

Lucio Fulci (Zombie 2 & City of the Living Dead), the director, later admitted he fabricated that quote.

At times terrifying. At times an imcomprehensible mess. Supposedly, inspired by H.P. Lovecraft, but other than the New England setting there really wasn't any comparison. Basically, a pschiatric researcher, Norman, and his family (wife named Lucy and a son named Bob) travel to New Whitney, Massachussetts to stay in an old house by a cemetary. The previous owner killed his mistress and then hung himself, so it seems like a perfectly reasonable place to bring an impressionable young lad. It doesn't take long before Bob is talking to dead girls and playing with creepy dolls. The first night, the family is subjected to a wailing child (not there own, so it must be the wind?), creaking floors, and heavy breathing. Later, they actually hear growling. Eventually, Lucy finds a tomb underneath the floorboards, but it's fine because as Norman tells her "most of the old houses in New England have tombs in them. Really, this isn't New York dear". Well, sure enough, I paused the film and went down into the basement of my apartment. He's fucking right, a god damned tomb. I hope my landlord doesn't raise the rent.

The house in this picture has the creepiest basement in moving picture history, one that even out creepifies my apartment basement. The first time the family goes down there, they are attacked by a giant bat, a bat that Norman pins to a table and stabs repeatedly. This is the kind of scene Fulci is known for. Remember the wood shard to the eyeball scene in Zombi 2? Well, there's nothing here quite that grotesque, but we do witness a firepoker to the abdomen, scissors to the back of a head (and out the mouth), more scissors to a chest, some pretty gory throat ripping, um...hmmm, what else? Oh yeah I forgot about a the maggots pouring out of the stomach scene. I'm pretty sure the villain here used a wooden shard to poke an eyeball, because when we later see the fire poker corpse she is missing her eye, but unfortunately, the director decided to show good taste and cut away. Speaking of cutting away, after a pre title nude scene, there were no more tits, so that was kind of a let down.

Anyway, the villain in this thing is not exactly what you'd expect. It's a late 19th century (movie takes place during the 1970s) scientist named Dr. Freudstein, who had perfected a technique to prolong his life, which involves regenerating his own cells by using the body parts of the living. So, he's lived in the celler for about 100 years, wearing some kind of skin mask that resembles a world war 1 gas mask, and also results in the terrifying heavy breathing Norman and family had been subjected to earlier in the film. Oh, what's that? Exactly what you expected, you say?

When you really break this one down, it's pretty much the opposite of Hellraiser. In that one, Frank, the villain, regenerates himself using the flesh and blood of the living. Sounds similar, but wait. In Hellraiser, he lives in the attic, which is pretty much the opposite of celler. Also, Hellraiser takes place in England, EXACTLY the opposite of New England. Frank has the Claire Huggins character bring dates home, and then she kills them with a hammer. In this thing, we think Freudstein is using the babysitter Anne to lure his victims, but no, he kills them himself. Is having someone kill people for you the opposite of killing them yourself? Or, is it just kinda lazy. Not sure. Anyway, back to Anne, the babysitter. What a physical beauty with an amazing pair of brown eyes. We're treated to several closeups of those eyes, and for a minute, I thought Sergio Leone was directing this one. She inexplicably shows up, sorta like the creepy nanny in the Omen. We see her cleaning up blood from Dr. Freustein's kills, so clearly she is with him right? Then why does he stab her repeatedly with a pair of scissors, and why does she seem shocked to see some freak of nature living in the basement before she dies? What did she think that red stuff was she was scrubbing up earlier? Karo syrup? The little annoying boy, Bob, hears her scream, but can't save her. Later, he goes down to the celler and trips over Anne's disembodied head, but his mom tells him Anne was just fooling around, so Bob gets annoyed that Anne would play such a cruel trick, like taking off her own head, on him.

There is a cemetary adjacent to the house, as well as IN the dining room. As far as I could tell, Freudstein's wife and daughter, likely the girl that Bob talks to, are buried there. Hmm, All the scary scenes involve the celler, but it gets pretty laughable at the end when the entire Norman family goes down there to confront the crazy doctor, who never talks, but just breathes heavily. I'd like to ask him if his life is really worth living, but I don't think he'd give me a very thoughtful response. The ending is completely muddled, but I laughed out loud when Bob came out of the celler after leaving his parents to their horrific demise and encounters the Freudstein women, who treat him as their own. Was Bob killed in the basement? Is he now a ghost? If so, where are his parents? Shouldn't they be ghosts too? Nothing really made sense, but I was still creeped out. Sometimes the best horror movies don't have to make sense. It's all about creating an atmosphere and mixing in a few terrifying set pieces. If that's what you're looking for in a horror picture, this one fits the bill. If you want nudity, don't miss the first minute of this one or you'll be pissed. The dubbing was fine, except for Bob. I think they got a little girl to do his voice and he also sounded the same whether he was terrifyed or playing with his race cars.

It's an older film, I know, but perfect for Halloween. If you look at the DVD cover, you'll know pretty much what to expect. My first thought when I started watching this was "it's a low rent Shining" and I stand by that, but, now, would like to modify it a little by saying "it's a low rent Shining, only if Jack was good and named Norman instead, and his wife was hot (no offense Shelly Duval), and his young boy Bob talked like a girl, but instead of a haunted hotel, we have a seemingly haunted house, but there's actually a physical presence in the celler, sorta like Frank from Hellraiser, and it kills everyone that stays in the house, so he can extend his pretty pathetic life indefinitely, and he's got a dead family, I'm sure he killed them, like in The Shining, only he doesn't have twin girls, but his daughter still talks to Bob, who seems to have telepathy at the beginning, but that plot strand is completely dropped...and instead of a topiary garden...or a garden maze, we have a cemetary, but nothing of note really happens there, except for the time when the real estate agent backs over a tombstone and then curses that same tombstone for dinging up her car, and there's also some nudity in this one too, but it's far superior to the nudity in The Shining bathtub scene". I guess I'll end there.


F-Stop said...

You mean it's not normal to have to clean up puddles of blood off the living room floor every day?

I guess I'm in trouble.

brian said...

beepy, this is more than an "ok" movie. Yes, it's a little silly at times, but there are some creepy moments. Unfortunately, the ending doesn't make much sense, but it DID make me laugh. Netflix it.

Anonymous said...

Is it ok if I just watch the first minute and skip the rest of the movie?

brian said...

You could do that Dan. Or, you could just watch porn.

Mr. Anderson said...

Hmmm, the doctor has pretty much the same idea as the creature in Jeepers Creepers. Didn't know that was a used schtick.

Anonymous said...

Maybe I will watch porn, Brian. Maybe I will.