The Nasty File The House By The Cemetery
Of the seventy-two films which appeared on the Department of Public Prosecutions’ list of films deemed liable to “deprave and corrupt,” all but one came from countries outside of the United Kingdom. The majority came from the United States; however, a large proportion were European horror films, many of which have since been recognised as classics in the genre.
This regular series sees subtitledonline.com take a look at the continental ‘video nasties’ which brought so much offence and uproar to an island on the fringes of Europe, nearly thirty years ago. In this entry, we look at Lucio Fulci’s The House By The Cemetery.
European Horror in the ‘Video Nasty’ Era
The House By The Cemetery is an unusual addition to Lucio Fulci’s canon in that it contains just one monster; the marauding zombie Dr. Freudstein. The homicidal and masochistic physician was once the occupier of the titular building, which becomes the new home of Lucy Boyle, played by Catriona MacColl, her doctor husband Norman, played by Paolo Malco, and their son Bob. The house had also once been the residence of one of Dr. Boyle’s former colleagues, who murdered his mistress before hanging himself. As if the setting wasn’t already ominous enough, Bob is visited by a mysterious red-headed girl, who warns him not to enter the house. These warnings, typically, go unheeded by his parents.
When the Boyle’s learn that Dr. Freudstein’s grave is located within the house, their explorations lead them to a boarded-up cellar door. Reopening it, they unwittingly reawaken the wrath of the maniacal doctor, who is only too happy to return in order to satiate his sadistic blood lust.
The House By The Cemetery was another controversial Fulci release for Videomedia’s Vampix horror label. They had released The Beyond in March 1982, and would follow it up with this gruesome haunted house story in late January the following year. Like The Beyond, The House By The Cemetery was released by Vampix voluntarily in its edited, BBFC ‘X’ theatrical release; however, it still caused problems with the censors. It was placed on the DPP list on 28th November 1983, and became one of the thirty-nine films successfully prosecuted and banned.
Various attempts to rerelease The House By The Cemetery were made over the years, including Elephant Video’s submission in 1988, which was passed following a whopping 4 minutes and 11 seconds of cuts on top of those already made. In 1993, Vipco secured classification by rereleasing the film with cuts intact; however, another attempt in 2001 reduced the trimmings to 33 seconds. As usual, the fact that the film had been successfully prosecuted under the Obscene Publications Act would have contributed to this decision.
The House By The Cemetery remained cut in the UK until 2009, when Arrow Video managed to obtain an 18 classification for the complete, uncensored version. 21st May 2012 sees the label reissue the film in a new edition, complete with the usual abundance of special features and extras sure to please Fulci fans to no end.
2009 was also the year the BBFC granted classification to the sixth instalment of the Saw franchise along with British, indie zombie flick Colin. According to the BBFC’s report that year, the latter contained “a great deal of blood and gore,” as well as “close up flesh-tearing shots.”
Given the level of violence present in films classified in 2009, it is unsurprising that the BBFC concluded in the case of The House By The Cemetery: “Under current Guidelines and practice there was no basis for maintaining the earlier cuts.” As is evident, the BBFC often considers the aging process undergone by ‘video nasties’ enough to warrant uncensored reclassification.
As is usual for a Fulci Nasty, the list of cut scenes makes for a grizzly read.
But this is not to suggest that The House By The Cemetery’s impact has in anyway been diluted by the extreme, graphic horror available to movie-goers today. It is still an incredibly violent work, complete with stabbings, bat-skewerings and a decapitation. The overall mood is incredibly downbeat, and Fulci creates a stressful and tense atmosphere which merely adds to the macabre.
The director wrote the script with Dardano Sacchetti, who first worked with Fulci as a writer on Zombie Flesheaters (1979). Sachetti’s CV is prestigious, to say the least, boasting credits on Argento’s Cat O’ Nine Tails (1971) and Lamberto Bava’s giallo epic A Blade In The Dark (1983). Other notable partnerships include working with Umberto Lenzi and Ruggero Deodato, as well as obtaining credits on other European titles on the DPP’s list, such as Mario Bava’s Bay Of Blood (1971) and Antonio Margheriti’s Cannibal Apocalypse (1980).
Despite the illustrious writing talent, The House By The Cemetery is surprisingly derivative, borrowing heavily from both The Shining (1980) and Henry James’s novel The Turn Of The Screw in its depiction of Bob and his supernatural friend. Of course, it lacks the subtlety of those works, and the relationship between the two children provides little substance for viewers other than in the film’s closing scenes. There is, when it really boils down to it, little originality in any aspect of the film, save Fulci’s unique, instantly-recognisable style.
As is usual for a Fulci Nasty, the list of cut scenes makes for a grizzly read. One of the director’s most infamous set-pieces, in which a young woman is stabbed through the back of her head, blade protruding from her mouth, was cut. The scene in which her body is dragged away was also removed. A particularly horrendous flashback sequence showing a man being disembowelled was too much for the BBFC, as were scenes featuring the gory stabbing of a bat and a close-up of a man’s throat being slit.
A further scene was cut in which a woman is stabbed with a poker, the camera then focusing in on the gushing wounds. Footage of the woman in question being dragged away was also edited out. The BBFC seem to have found this notion of the dragging of a corpse particularly offensive; perhaps fearing the possibility of imitation.
De-contextualised violence is always going to be shocking and disturbing; in fact, a compilation of some of the Nasties’ most horrific moments was played before MPs during the furore, and it is easy enough to see how Fulci’s contributions alone would make for grim viewing when seen in this manner. However, techniques like these, used to encourage Parliament to take action, clearly were less than objective.
As is commonly the case with Fulci’s films, the murder sequences are set both within a narrative framework and a well crafted film. The House By The Cemetery’s aesthetic appeal, at least, is indicative of its artistic merit, and the best haunted house pictures often rely on building a sense of dread; a means to personify and characterise the house as a villain as much as its gruesome inhabitants. Fulci achieves this in his own unique and spectacular way, and this latest edition from Arrow Video is a testament to the lasting legacy of his work.
Read each entry in The Nasty File series here.
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