Starring Catriona MacColl, Paolo Malco, Giovanni Frezza, Silvia Collatina
Directed by Lucio Fulci
Distributed by Blue Underground
It feels like just this year Blue Underground released a definitive three-disc set of The House by the Cemetery on Blu-ray but it… wait a second – it was this year; January, in fact. But in a move that home video aficionados should have seen coming a proper 4K Ultra HD release of that celebrated 4K scan has materialized and it is both a blessing and curse for collectors. A blessing in that Blue Underground has managed to make an already impressive picture even more refined, with upgraded audio to boot; a curse because the release drops some excellent features from the Blu-ray release – meaning if you want everything the only option is to either eat up precious shelf space or Frankenstein together your own edition by putting the 4K in the limited edition set.
Since my review for the three-disc set was done recently, my original thoughts on the film are below:
Lucio Fulci has a handful of top tier titles in his filmography; true horror classics that even those who “can’t get into Italian horror” begrudgingly admit are worth watching for arterial geysers, synth-drenched soundtracks, and the ever-present eyeball torture. But drop down a rung or two from the top and Fulci’s filmography gets murkier than a pool of blood. Nothing past The Beyond (1981) has truly stuck with me except for The Devil’s Honey (1986)… because of that infamously ridiculous saxophone moment. The last vestiges of Classic Fulci were still around for The House by the Cemetery (1981), an H.P. Lovecraft-inspired Frankenstein-ish tale about a family that moves into a dilapidated mansion once owned by the eccentric Dr. Freudstein. There’s plenty of Gothic atmosphere to go around and the expected bodily mutilation is frequently accounted for but the story itself is mostly a snoozer despite so many essential Fulci elements being put to work.
The Boyles – Norman (Paolo Malco), Lucy (Catriona MacColl), and their son, Bob (Giovanni Frezza) – are moving out of New York City and into the countryside of New Whitby, a bucolic community just outside Boston, MA. Norman is aware a former colleague of his once owned the home… before murdering his mistress and killing himself, but what nobody knows is the home was first the residence of Dr. Freudstein, a Victorian surgeon who was obsessed with performing “unnatural” work. The basement, the source of his endeavors, has been sealed shut.
Ever since the Boyles moved in there have been strange noises throughout the night. Mae (Silvia Collatina), a local girl who looks an awful lot like one Bob saw in an old photograph, warns the young boy not to stay in the house. But he’s, like, nine years old and can’t really do much on his own. Lucy finds a tombstone in the middle of a room while cleaning and moving out isn’t the first thing she suggests to her husband. Soon enough, everyone learns about the late Dr. Freudstein and his fiendish experiments – or is he late?
Fulci does a fine job of cloaking his story in thick atmosphere; the weathered New England home shrouded in constant mist. The idea of a faceless fiend carrying out murders also plays to Lovecraft’s ideas of formless creatures driving men mad. There are staple horror elements all over this thing – so why don’t I love it? The story is lacking. Fulci even criticized co-writer Dardano Sacchetti’s work as being derivative but I don’t think anything co-writer Giorgio Mariuzzo or Fulci himself contributed improves what is clearly a messy affair. Half the reason I dig this film is Walter Rizzati’s lush synth score but good music is no substitute for good writing. A lot of this is terminally slow, too, and unless someone is being absolutely mutilated for entertainment value it’s kinda draggy until the final act kicks in which I will admit almost reaches Fulci’s former glories.
The acting is decent but nobody was ever gonna bring home an award here. I found Malco to be a bit too subdued and obtuse, especially when his wife tries to speak any reason. He’s thickheaded to a fault. MacColl is the best of the bunch and she really sells being a horrified housewife. But, man, Giovanni Frezza really takes the cake for me as Bob because he’s such a strange little child in this picture – mostly because the dubbing was obviously done by an adult putting on a child’s voice and it makes him seem weird.
Sporting a proper 2.40:1 2160p image the upgrade in picture quality here is similar to that of Zombie (1979) in that videophiles will be pleased with the boost in detail and color reproduction while casual fans… well, I don’t see this as a release aimed at those who aren’t rabid about picture quality. The leap up here is minor because Blue Underground did such a phenomenal job with the 4K scan on the Blu-ray disc. The inclusion of Dolby Vision and HDR10 helps to improve color performance and the depth of the palette, and the added benefit of 4K resolution makes details impossibly lifelike. I was already blown away by the work done on the Blu-ray but seeing this image in action was just stunning.
Audio has been given an upgrade, too, with an English Dolby Atmos track expanding the soundfield past what is offered with the remaining audio options, all of which return from the prior release. I can’t claim to have noticed a substantial difference with the Atmos track but then this is a dubbed film that was originally mixed in mono so, you know, don’t go into it expecting a flurry of activity from those extra height speakers. Purists will likely stick with the DTS-HD MA 1.0 mono track anyway.
Where this release loses me a bit is in the loss of things collectors (read: the small minority of us who still crave all things on physical media) find attractive – namely, the soundtrack CD and that sweet lenticular slipcover. I can understand dropping the slip because this release needs to look distinct from the other, but to remove an extra as awesome as Rizzati’s score is a blunder in my eyes. Was the concern MSRP? Personally, I’d pay a couple bucks more if it meant future 4K releases could be as stacked as their limited edition Blu-ray counterparts.
DISC ONE – 4K BLU-RAY
- 4K 16-BIT RESTORATION OF THE FILM FROM THE ORIGINAL 35MM CAMERA NEGATIVE
- Audio Commentary with Troy Howarth, Author of Splintered Visions: Lucio Fulci and His Films
- Deleted Scene
- Theatrical Trailers
- TV Spot
- Poster & Still Galleries
DISC TWO – BLU-RAY
- Meet the Boyles – Interviews with Stars Catriona MacColl and Paolo Malco
- Children of the Night – Interviews with Stars Giovanni Frezza and Silvia Collatina
- Tales of Laura Gittleson – Interview with Star Dagmar Lassander
- My Time With Terror – Interview with Star Carlo De Mejo
- A Haunted House Story – Interviews with Co-Writers Dardano Sacchetti and Elisa Briganti
- To Build a Better Death Trap – Interviews with Cinematographer Sergio Salvati, Special Make-Up Effects Artist Maurizio Trani, Special Effects Artist Gino De Rossi, and Actor Giovanni De Nava
- House Quake – Interview with Co-Writer Giorgio Mariuzzo
- Catriona MacColl Q&A
- Calling Dr. Freudstein – Interview with Stephen Thrower, Author of Beyond Terror: The Films of Lucio Fulci
ADDITIONAL SPECS AND CONTENT
- Audio: English (Dolby Atmos, 5.1 DTS-HD, 1.0 DTS-HD); Italian (1.0 DTS-HD)
- Subtitles: English SDH, Français, Español, English for Italian Audio
- Limited Edition Slipcover on First Pressing Only!