The House by the Cemetery (1981)

Alrighty, here we are, dear Enemaniacs – the end of B-Movie Enema’s trip through Lucio Fulci’s Gates of Hell trilogy.

The House by the Cemetery is a peculiar flick. It is the type of movie that either you love it or you hate it. However, here’s the thing… You could say that about all of Fulci’s stuff. A lot of his films are very stream of consciousness or dreamlike in structure. The House by the Cemetery is one that I think that love/hate kind of reaction is quite severe.

There aren’t many people in the middle who kind of shrug and say, “It’s alright.”

The film’s concept came from Fulci wrapping up The Black Cat and The Beyond and wanted to do something a little more Lovecraft-inspired without it being directly based on one of HP Lovecraft’s works directly. Fulci worked with writer Dardano Sacchetti, with whom Fulci worked with rather extensively during this era. Sacchetti has some fantastic credits to his name with directors such as Mario Bava, Lamberto Bava, Dario Argento, Umberto Lenzi, and Ruggero Deodato. Sacchetti also scripted the previous two entries in this loose trilogy.

However, not everything was rosy and happy. Fulci later recounted that he was not very happy with Sacchetti’s contributions on this script. Sacchetti’s inspiration drew from the Henry James book The Turn of the Screw. Then, Fulci felt that Sacchetti was pulling in too many elements of the Spanish film The House That Screamed. So, Fulci demanded changes, Sacchetti either was not interested or needing to leave to go work on something else, and the director brought in a script doctor, Giorgio Mariuzzo. This never made Sacchetti very happy, but Sacchetti and Fulci continued to work on several more films together.

Okay, let’s get into this movie because we need to get to, and talk about, the character of Bob, played by Giovanni Frezza, because that’s the one thing EVERYONE remembers about The House by the Cemetery.

Appropriately, the movie opens with the House by the Cemetery. That’s pretty sweet that the movie instantly delivers on its title. It also delivers on some titties as a young lady is inside the titular house and looking for her true love, Steve. She walks around the place that is loaded with dust and spider webs and dirt and grossness. They fucked in that house, folks.

I’d worry about their health, but, well…

What does that have to do with the rest of this movie? I dunno. But it does create a neat little opening scene to launch us into this spooky flick. After the credits, the movie does a thing that I think is among the best stuff of the movie.

Again, back at the house by the cemetery, there is a little girl who pulls the curtains aside and seemingly is trying to communicate with someone outside. She’s shouting and waving her arms and such. But the camera pulls back and it reveals that she is actually in a photograph that is hanging on the wall of the Boyle family in New York City.

We’ll meet the rest of the Boyles in time. In particular, we’ll meet Lucy Boyle (Catriona MacColl) and Dr. Norman Boyle (Pablo Malco) who are our technical stars of this movie by way of credits. However, we also see Bob Boyle. Bob is played by child actor Giovanni Frezza. Frezza would also go on to appear in Fulci’s Manhattan Baby. Frezza is no longer acting and lives in Chicago with his family.

I need to bring up Bob because this character is bonkers. First of all, no little kid is named Bob. I know this. I know this because my nephew is Bob. He didn’t earn the name Bob until he graduated high school. Until then, he was Bobby. If he wanted to, he could be a Robbie. But Robert and Bob were right out until he became a full-fledged adult. Them’s the rules.

Second, his voice is crazy in this movie. It’s clearly a woman dubbing him or a guy talking in a cartoonishly high-pitched voice. Either way, this kid sounds funny. Thirdly, THERE IS NO MOVIE WITHOUT BOB. This kid is downright necessary to the whole goings on in the house by the cemetery. He communicates with that little girl in the picture, who is, spoiler alert, dead. He’s always hearing, seeing, and involved in spooky shit. Most of the movie, you are saddled with this kid. So, take a look at this picture below, readers. This is your future. This is your doom. This… is Bob.

Okay, so Bob is staring blankly at this photo of the house with the girl in the window. Hot mom Lucy is packing up and getting ready to move to the house by the cemetery. She struggles to get Bob to react to her calling his name to hurry up with the packing. He asks his mother why does the little girl in the picture keep telling him to not go to the house. When Lucy looks, the girl is not in the picture. Bob just shrugs and says, “I guess she had something else to do.”

We then transition to that little girl, Mae, standing outside the house and being called to go home. This house is in New Whitby which is somewhere around Boston. Mae says she can’t go home yet. She needs to try to help the Boyles.

Speaking of Dr. Norman Boyle, he’s talking to Lucio Fulci about the suspicious suicide of a colleague. Lucio Fulci tells Norman that once the place gets cleaned up, he’ll come up to visit. I’m betting he’ll make a kick ass movie there.

The Boyles arrive in New Whitby. In the town, Mae is creepily gazing through a window of a clothing store. Two of the mannequins look kind of like your normal mannequins – generally creepy. The third looks very much like there was a lot more care put into it to look like an actress we’ll see later in this movie. Mae witnesses the mannequin losing its head in a very gruesome way before collapsing to the floor.

For all I know… That’s what’s inside a mannequin.

Norman and Lucy go to sign all the paperwork for the house. The agent who helped set them up is a little taken aback by the fact that Dr. Boyle has never been to the house. Between that and the other guy in the office referring to the place as “the Freudstein house” instead of its actual name, I’d be worried.

Naturally, they left Bob in the car by himself because it was the early 80s. Mae communicates with Bob and he tells her that he tried to convince his mommy to not go to the house but grownups never listen to kids. Mae leaves Bob his doll.

They arrive at the house, and Lucy points out that this place is exactly like the one they have a picture of hanging on the wall in New York. Norman’s like, “Nah… I think this is just a typical example of a place like this. I’m sure there are hundreds of houses just like this one.” Uh, sure, dude.

Alright, so we have our set up in these first 18 minutes of the movie. This house by the cemetery is creepy and there’s someone or something inside that kills people fairly brutally. The Boyles go to this home for a six month stretch so that the patriarch, Norman, can do some research. Young Master Bob is seeing and communicating with a little girl named Mae that no one else can see or hear.

Everything seems perfectly fine here… right?

Well, no. Lucy is not so sure she and Bob should have joined Norman. Norman thinks they can go out and do fun shit while he does his research. Lucy doesn’t think this sleepy town in Massachusetts is all that fun. Norman says this was for an extra five thousand bucks (and I think he says PER YEAR) if he did this for six months. I’d move there right fucking now if I had that kind of offer. He tries to tell Lucy that they can use that money to make improvements on their NYC apartment. Then, Lucy sees the doll Mae gave to Bob and she flips out. Norman suggests she take some pills to calm down because she’s just being a woman with her emotions and all. That doesn’t go over well either.

You know what else doesn’t go over well with me? This house is an absolute mess. They need to get the water running. I suspect they need to get electricity re-installed. They have to clean a mansion’s worth of spider webs. Are they even going to get the place cleaned out within the six-month timeframe?

There’s one room that they haven’t opened – the cellar. I’m sure nothing’s wrong in there. I am dead-set positive of what IS fine, though… Bob’s new nanny, Ann, played by Ania Pieroni.

Ann looks a lot like that bloody corpse of a mannequin in town, but whatever. Pieroni appeared previously in Argento’s Inferno and will appear in yet another Argento classic one year after this movie – Tenebrae.

That night, Norman finds a file labeled “Freudstein”. He opens it and finds nothing inside. He then hears creaking and a whimpering Bob. He doesn’t do anything about his son, and instead investigates the spooky creaking sounds. When he eventually does go into Bob’s room, he finds a peacefully sleeping, and not at all terrified, creepy kid. Norman continues to hear creaking sounds, but can’t seem to find anything. Eventually, what he finds is Ann prying the boards nailed to the door of the cellar.

What’s that all about? I dunno and it’s never explained.

Norman begins doing his research. He visits a librarian for information, but the librarian swears Norman visited last year with his daughter. The librarian is surprised to hear that Norman has never visited the missing Dr. Peterson and that this is the first time he’s ever been to New Whitby. Oh, and he has a Bob, not a daughter. Is that ever explained either? Nope. They do mention this Peterson fella hanged himself while he was looking into this Freudstein stuff.

Back at home, Bob is playing in the cemetery because of course he is. He finds the tombstone of Mary Freudstein. Mae tells him about the lady not really being buried there. At the hall of records, Norman finds out that Freudstein was disgraced and forced out as a doctor. Inside the house, Lucy is mopping and cleaning up and discovers an odd tomb under the floorboards. Before she can investigate further about this “Jacob Tess Freudstein”, she hears noises and thinks it’s Bob or Ann messing around, but it’s actually a rattling cellar door.

Obviously, this does not make Lucy feel better about these next six months.

Norman says that indoor tombs are common in the area. So not only are these houses all built alike, I guess they also bury people in their fuckin’ dining area. Norman finds some keys and wants to see which one will open the cellar door. Bob and Ann come busting in with Bob excitedly telling his mom and dad that he saw his new girlfriend yet again. Lucy, still not taking anything about any of this shit well, asks Ann if she saw this girl. Ann says no. Norman finds the key to the cellar and a hilarious exchange of shifty eyes occur.

They finally open the cellar door. It takes some working at it because it’s all rusted out and stuff. When Norman gets in, he finds the one girl’s ring that was focused on earlier in the opening scene. He also finds a bat. That bat first attacks him. Then it attacks Lucy. Then it goes back to Norman where he has to stab it several times to 1) kill it and 2) pry it off his hand.

This leads to the Boyles immediately going over to the real estate agent place and demand to leave immediately. They need to find another place and soon. Specifically, Lucy says no later than tomorrow.

We go back in time to when Mae was still alive. She has a reaction as her mother gets her ready to go to bed and she begins repeating “Don’t go inside!” She’s apparently communicating with Bob through time. I like this about the movie. Bob is a crazy character, to be sure, but this whole extra-dimensional element of Mae being able to communicate with Bob not just from the afterlife, but apparently from a different time too. That’s one of the neater concepts of this movie.

Anyway, back at the ol’ Freudstein place, the real estate agent who set the Boyles up here, Mrs. Gittleson comes in to speak to the couple about getting another place. She’s attacked by the same guy who killed the lady at the beginning of the movie, spoiler alert, it’s Dr. Freudstein himself, and drags her incredibly bloody corpse to the cellar.

The next morning, Ann is over early because she’s already started working on the blood stain in the floor even before Lucy gets out of bed to greet her. Lucy tries making general chit chat with Ann, but the younger woman is a little less than interested in having conversation. She just kind of makes weird glances back at Lucy. Lucy delivers some coffee to Norman and she wonders if that weirdo hot Ann likes her.

That gets shrugged off. Norman begins telling Lucy about Freudstein and how Dr. Peterson had been researching this local case about this disgraced doctor. Norman is going to go back to New York and do a little more connecting of the dots between Peterson’s suicide and the research about Fruedstein. Before going back to New York, Norman does some more digging around Peterson’s stuff at the record hall. He finds a tape recorded journal from Peterson and learns about how Peterson was basically cracking up over his obsession and terror of the Freudstein house. He decides to burn up the tape. Why does he do that when it could shed some light on the weird goings on that would lead to a colleague killing himself?

I dunno.

So, what’s Bob up to? Well, he’s being Bob. He’s hanging out at home while Ann does laundry. He’s playing with his remote controlled race car and discovers that the cellar door is open. Ann goes looking for him. She hears Bob basically tell her to come looking for him like a game. Thinking Bob’s in the cellar, she goes after him. The cellar door closes on its own and locks her inside. She’s knifed to death before Bob can come and help her.

What’s interesting is that it’s a different hand coming toward her with the knife than we’ve seen before. This looks more like a woman’s hand whereas the messed up Freudstein hand was all gnarly and stuff. Also, why was Ann so weird for most of the movie? She had shifty eyes. She had a weird relationship with Lucy. Maybe she wanted to sleep with Norman? Maybe she has slept with Norman?

I don’t think we’re ever going to get any answers for that because Bob goes into the cellar looking for Ann and finds her head rolling down the stairs toward him. He’s barely able to escape a similar ghastly fate and hurries back into the house proper.

Lucy gets back from grocery shopping and finds Bob huddled in a corner crying. She thinks that a game of Hide and Seek went a little overboard, but Bob then says that Ann’s head got cut off. To prove it, Bob takes Lucy to the basement to show her, but they don’t find anything. Lucy doesn’t believe what happened because they find no evidence of anything. No head. No body. No blood. Nuthin’.

They do hear some commotion upstairs. However, that turns out to be nothing at all because Lucy just gives Bob a frustrated look.

At the big town cemetery, Norman goes looking for Freudstein’s grave, but the caretaker says it’s a bunch of fooey that the man was buried there. He’s not there. Norman leaves confused, but also curious. Lucy puts Bob to bed and tells him to not worry because Ann probably just went to visit her family. Bob solemnly shakes his head no. He gets back up and starts looking around the house and finds that the cellar door is open.

He goes to the basement to look for Ann again. The door is shut on him and locked. He sees to scary eyes in the darkness and a gravelly voice calls out to him. Lucy hears Bob banging on the door and goes to let him out of the cellar. There is a nice call back here that you maybe wouldn’t so much suspect. Earlier, when Norman opened the cellar previously, the key was hard to turn. He had to use a knife for leverage. This comes back when Lucy tries to unlock the door, but she ends up breaking the key and knife trying to pry the key and the door itself open.

As someone slowly approaches Bob, someone is slowly approaching Lucy. The good news is that it’s Norman creeping up on her. He tells Lucy that they need to get out of there and fast. He’s discovered that Freudstein is still alive and that’s why Dr. Peterson killed himself while doing research. Just then, Bob learns the same thing about the doctor.

Here’s the deal… Freudstein never truly died. He’s a living corpse of sorts. The reason why the 150 year old doctor is able to remain alive is that he uses his victims to help regenerate his own flesh. But he’s all rotten inside with shit and mud and maggots and stuff. We see that when Norman stabs Freudstein with a butcher knife and all that just spills out.

Unfortunately for the guy who knows a thing or two about what’s going on, Freudstein tears Norman’s throat out. What’s more is that he next grabs Lucy while she and Bob attempt to escape up through the tombstone in the floor of the house. He smashes her head into the floor, killing her too.

Now, Freudstein wants that juicy Bob meat. As Freudstein closes in on the kid, he’s saved by Mae who pulls him up through the floor to safety. However, I’m fairly sure that Bob is also about to meet a less-than-ideal scenario by being taken into the underworld by Mary Freudstein so that they can warn whoever may come next to check out the home that there’s some pretty bad news down there in the cellar.

This is clearly the least of the three Gates of Hell movies when it comes down to it. I don’t hate it, but with City of the Living Dead and The Beyond, you can understand there are lots more going on than what we’re seeing on screen. There are themes of dreams and nightmares and the world literally being drug down to hell as those gates open.

This movie? Nah… There’s a monster in the basement that needs your skin and innards and blood to remain alive. That’s really about it. Yeah, there’s an extradimensional element with the little kids communicating with each other through time. Yeah, it seems as though Bob is now no longer really living either. There are things to ponder, but nothing all that interesting to go much further on.

Plus, this movie is mostly contained within the house. There’s not really a gate to hell like the other two movies, though you could say that Freudstein pierced a veil of some sort that allows him to remain alive well past his original expiration date. It’s just a much smaller movie.

The biggest red herring or question mark or whatever you want to call it is the character of Ann. Why was she trying to pull the boards off the cellar door? Why was she constantly exchanging glances with Norman? Why was she so cold to Lucy while still being warm to Bob? She’s a weirdo and it’s never even attempted to be explained before she loses her head. The second big question that plagues this movie is the whole exchange between the records guy and Norman where the records guy says he met Norman the year before. What was that? Was Norman spending time in the town – perhaps with Ann? Is there some sort of time loop situation going on here? Is there just a guy who looks like Norman coming into this small town or what? These questions hurt this movie for me.

Now, that said, and connecting back to the top of the article, where do I fall? I said there aren’t many people who are kind of in between love and hate for this movie. Several things can be true all at the same time. The first is that this movie is the weakest of the three Gates of Hell flicks. The second is that this is an enjoyable watch. There’s not much need to think while watching this movie. There’s just a monster in the basement and you don’t want to be gotten by said monster. That doesn’t exactly make it a good movie, but it does make it a fairly easy 87 minutes to sit through and get enjoyment from.

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Join me next week as I take a look at the first film by exploitation master Andy Sidaris – 1973’s Stacey!

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