By Jerome Reuter
So here we are. We have reached the end of Lucio Fulci’s “Gates Of Hell” trilogy. The trilogy’s final installment is The House By The Cemetery, released in 1981. This entry has it’s own unique look apart from its predecessors, The Beyond and The City Of The Living Dead. Like the previous installments, It stars Fulci’s muse Catriona MaCcol. A women Fulci once described as ‘one he killed many times.’Just like the rest of the trilogy, it also takes place in the United States, Massachusetts to be precise.
As far as narritive and plot go, I give Fulci a lot of credit this time around. I’ve always joked about his horror films having almost no plot whatsoever, instead relying on the visual image. Here, he applies a lot of motifs found in earlier American horror films. The story follows a family from New York moving to a house where a murder/suicide has previously taken place. A plot device used in a lot of haunted house movies. A typical American horror fan would have gotten this reference right away. En route to their new house, their young son Bob (who also has the most annoying dubbed voice I have ever heard) meets a young girl who only he can see. She warns him that the family must not go to the house.
As the family settles in, strange occurrences begin to happen. (A la The Amityville Horror) The family immediately wants to leave upon learning about the houses original owner, a sadistic doctor named Freudstein. A victorian surgeon who committed horrible acts of cruelty guised as experiments. Freudstein has continued to survive all of these years within the basement of the house. He does so by feeding off the flesh of his victims to reanimate his tissue. Aside from all the shenanigans before Freudsteins debut, there is a mysterious atmosphere that the envelops this film. Fulci goes back to his Giallo roots and explored the mystery, not the murder. That’s not to say that we’re still treated to some great visual deaths from the godfather of gore.
I have often say that real horror is what you don’t see. Unlike Schweik from The Beyond, or Father Thomas from City Of The Living Dead, we don’t see Freudstein until the films final act. He’s mentioned several times, and his back story is later revealed in exposition dialogue. The fact we never see him, and are left to draw our own conclusions builds the films suspense. One element this work has that is often times overlooked, is it’s inspiration from H.P. Lovecraft. The presence of an undead supernatural force residing in a dwelling for centuries is a clear inspiration from his story Dreams In The Witch House. Some might argue this was also the case in The Beyond. I feel the element of Schweik being buried alive, and walled up in a room was more of an homage to Edgar Allen Poe’s The Cask Of Amontillado.
In conclusion I feel that this isn’t just a good horror film. This is a work that pays tribute to the early works of American horror, literature and film alike. These are works that helped shape the genre to what it is today. Sometimes you have to look backwards, to move forwards.