Horror Movie Review: The House by the Cemetery (1981)

The House by the Cemetery is a 1981 Italian horror film directed by Lucio Fulci. One of the legendary director’s most famous films, it is also notorious as one of the video nasties. Starring Catriona MacColl, Paolo Malco, Ania Pieroni and Giovanni Frezzam, The House By the Cemetery is slasher with a ton of atmosphere.

The movie opens with a young woman redressing after a late-night tryst with her boyfriend in an abandoned house. Looking for her boyfriend, she finds his body, having been murdered with scissors before she is violently stabbed through the skull. The opening ends with her bloody body being dragged through the cellar door. It’s a couple of minutes long and certainly shocks. The knife in the skull is deliciously harsh.

All this is to show us the house though. As this is the place where Norman and Lucy Boyle (Paolo Malco and Catriona MacColl) are moving too alongside their young son, Bob (Giovanni Frezza). The couple are moving there as Norman is picking up his ex-colleague’s research to finish it. Dr. Peterson apparently went mad, murdered his mistress and then committed suicide. The house he was staying in? The same one the Boyles will be. Although its bloody past goes much further back.

This is something Bob learns early on as he is visited several times by a young girl named Mae (Silvia Collatina). She warns him time and time again to not go but as he puts it; parents don’t listen to kids.

Bob’s warnings fall on deaf ears and the Boyles move into Oak Mansion (previously called ‘the Freudstein house’. Everything seems great and they make it their home, but something lives in the basement of this house. Something linked to the past and something truly terrifying.

What does the mysterious babysitter Ann (Ania Pieroni) know? Who were the Freudsteins? What secrets does Dr. Peterson’s research hide?

Considering the amount of detail in this story you might expect some of these burning questions to be answered but you’d be wrong. Which brings us to the biggest issue with The House By the Cemetery. So many things are left unanswered. So many potential plot points hinted at and then completely forgotten. So many head-scratching scenes that go nowhere.

The plot has far too many holes, which is a shame as it’s not a bad story and when focused on the right things, draws you into its web. A web that some decent twists and turns as well as shocking horror and the odd decent scare. It pays off the patience of the viewer as the each extra step goes that little deeper.

A very strong cast helps support this with the pairing of Paolo Malco and Catriona MacColl in particular, being quite attention grabbing. However, what most will take away is the violence and gore.

While not overtly throwing the blood and guts around with complete abandon, when the kills come, they come with violence and force. Every assault feels real and every death is visceral. There’s no easy way out for anyone in this film and for once, it’s fairly easy to see just why this fell foul of the censors in the 80s.

Even with its puzzling story moments, The House By the Cemetery is a good horror and one of Lucio Fulci’s stronger movies.

The House by the Cemetery
  • The Final Score - 7/10
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