A young couple are using the currently unoccupied Oak Mansion in Boston as a love nest, but when the girl gets up out of the bed to look for her boyfriend, he does not answer her calls. There is a good reason for that, as she soon discovers when she sees him hanging from a door with his head bashed in, and as if that were not bad enough, the culprit is advancing towards her with a knife which he plants in her brain, dragging the body into the cellar. Some time later, and the house has been sold to psychiatrist Norman Boyle (Paolo Malco) and his wife Lucy (Catriona MacColl), but why does their small son Bob insist he sees the image of a young girl in a photograph of the place?
For many horror fans, even more than Dario Argento the horrors and thrillers of Lucio Fulci sum up the style of Italian horror as it was in the seventies and eighties. Fulci didn't really come to prominence as a name to conjure with outside of his home nation until he made his Dawn of the Dead-inspired Zombie Flesh Eaters, but since then he has divided shocker enthusiasts into those who admire him for his wholehearted embrace of the gory and the over the top, and those who consider him a purveyor of cheap and tawdry hackwork, with a mean line in misogyny.
There are arguments to be made for both sides, but with The House by the Cemetery, Fulci crafted one of his least objectionable horrors, although that was not to say he eschewed the blood-drenched setpieces of the previous films in this loose trilogy, which took in City of the Living Dead and The Beyond along with this one. As co-scriptwriter, Fulci here seems to have been most impressed with Stanley Kubrick's version of The Shining, so little Bob, or Bab as the English-language dubbing would have it (if you're unsure of his name the other characters helpfully repeat it about five billion times), has the talent of psychic powers at his disposal.
This amounts to seeing a young girl who he is in some kind of telepathic link with, who it turns out is from the past and has some connection to the mysterious Dr Freudstein, Oak Mansion's original tenant. Only he might be the house's current tenant as well, thanks to barely explained experimentation that has prolonged his life but, wouldn't you know it, has also turned him into a homicidal maniac. So it's him who is in the cellar, but only some of the time, as in other instances when the characters venture down there he is nowhere to be seen. Where does he go? Search me, but The House by the Cemetery has no need for such footling business as a plot that makes logical sense.
In any other genre, this would be a drawback, yet here in the horror field Fulci turns it into a positive bonus and transforms what could have been a run of the mill chiller with rubbery dismemberments into a work that touches on the qualities of nightmares. Sure, the logic flies out of the window, but the use of stairs that the monster is approaching from the bottom of, or the fact that people can be killed off and nobody mentions them again or at the very least believe them to be still alive with no real proof, are but two of the ways in which the film builds up an atmosphere of genuine delirium. Naturally, this is thin ice the film is skating on, and frequently it turns ridiculous - the babysitter cleaning up a gallon of blood on the kitchen floor is politely indulged without question by Lucy, for example - but if you're in the mood for its daftness, then the film can become oddly entertaining. The made-up quote by Henry James which ends it is the icing on the ludicrous cake. Music by Walter Rizzati.
Italian director whose long career could best be described as patchy, but who was also capable of turning in striking work in the variety of genres he worked in, most notably horror. After working for several years as a screenwriter, he made his debut in 1959 with the comedy The Thieves. Various westerns, musicals and comedies followed, before Fulci courted controversy in his homeland with Beatrice Cenci, a searing attack on the Catholic church.