The House By The Cemetery
Title: The House By The Cemetery
Year Of Release: 1981
Running Time: 87 minutes
DVD Released By: Anchor Bay Entertainment
Directed By: Lucio Fulci
Writing Credits: Elisa Briganti, Lucio Fulci, Giorgio Mariuzzo, Dardano Sacchetti (screenplay)
Starring: Catriona MacColl (as Katherine MacColl), Paolo Malco, Giovanni Frezza
1. Can anyone survive the demented marauding zombies in...
2. Read the fine print. You may have just mortgaged your life!
The House Outside the Cemetery
Zombie Hell House (USA)
Review Date: 6.13.06 (updated 1.1.10)
Shadow's Title: "The Film That Makes No Sense"
Dr. Norman Boyle – I have no idea what it is this guy is supposed to be a doctor of. Medicine? Psychiatry? History? Considering his behavior in this film, I’d venture to say that he holds a doctorate in idiocy. It certainly would explain many of his decisions. Moves his family to New Whitby.
Lucy Boyle – Prone to overreacting. At least, when the definition means screaming incessantly for little or no reason. She isn’t thrilled with the move from New York city to New Whitby, even if the only real change for her is a lack of big name department stores at which to shop.
Bob Boyle – The poster boy for Ritalin, at least for the film's first half. Despite all the weird and freaky shit, this junior Spock wannabe exhibits all the emotional resonance of a punching bag. This is in direct contrast to his behavior in the film’s second half. Then he is annoying beyond belief.
Mae Freudstein – While Bob may be annoying, Mae here is just flat out creepy. Hell, I don’t even think the word creepy does her justice. Uber-creepy maybe. Ultra creepy? Whatever the best description may be, this is the kind of kid that is best avoided. Well, all kids are best avoided.
Laura Gittleson – The real estate agent that rents the old Freudstein house to the Boyles. To keep from scaring renters away she has renamed the place Oak Mansion. What house would you be likely to rent – Oak Mansion or The House Where Numerous People Have Died Hideously? I thought so.
Ann – Ann here is the babysitter than comes to work for the Boyles. She seemed to know more about what was going on in the house than anyone else (whether that also includes director Fulci is a matter of opinion) which isn’t much. In the end that knowledge didn’t benefit her at all.
Jacob Freudstein – A medical doctor that got his ass booted out of the good doctor club for engaging in some questionable and quite illegal operations. He has survived for decades by harvesting healthy organs from others to replenish his own failing body's tissues.
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We slowly pan away from a close-up of a headstone and then see a house not far away. It is night and the house is dark. Already the mood is set. A dark house and a cemetery at night…can things get any creepier? I mean without Michael Jackson becoming involved? I thought not. After a few seconds we can see illumination from within the home - the kind of soft light emitted by a candle or flashlight. It can be seen moving from room to room, so obviously somebody is up and about.
Turning our attention to the interior of the creepy house, we see a young blonde woman getting dressed. Her pants are on, but it's a couple seconds before she gets her shirt (blouse, whatever women call them) back on, affording us a quick look at her boobies (High Five!). She is calling for somebody named “Steve” and inquiring into whether this individual is dressed. I think it should be fairly obvious to anyone with functioning eyes that she and the aforementioned Steve have just recently concluded a bit of the old in and out, otherwise known as bashing the beaver, drilling the ditch, the horizontal mambo, riding the baloney pony or any other of the zillion crude appellations for sex. She continues to call for Steve, mentioning the late hour and how she needs to get home, not wanting to be placed on restriction again. This last bit makes it clear that she is supposed to be a teenager that still lives at home, though the actress looks more like she is twenty-something.
As Blondie calls for Steve, she begins moving around the house and we see that the place is a total mess. There is a thick layer of dust on everything. Well, almost everything. I’m sure wherever it is these two decided to screw on is now dust free and now soiled by other gross and sticky substances. Cobwebs hang everywhere and bits of debris litter the mostly empty rooms. It seems this place is deserted and is the chosen destination for young people looking for a place to bang each other. Anyway, Blondie pauses when she hears a creaking sound, as if the floorboards are protesting a fat guy walking on them. She looks through the doorway into the next room and sees some shadowy movement projected on the walls. Whoever or whatever it is that is moving about is currently beyond her sight around a corner. Obviously not ever having seen a horror movie in her life, she continues to loudly call for Steve and makes her way in the direction of the sounds and movement. If she were up to date on her horror lore, she’d know that the result of premarital and promiscuous sex is a violent and bloody death. Either that or an unwanted pregnancy (personally, I’d opt for the bloody death). Still, she should be running like hell for home right about now, Steve or no Steve. Alas, she is not that smart.
Blondie begins threatening to never come to this place with Steve again, as she is now getting scared and finding the situation patently unfunny. Assuming that he is playing some type of prank on her, she continues to talk out loud to the missing Steve, threatening to leave without him if he doesn’t present himself damn soon. She spies an open doorway that reveals nothing but darkness and it is somewhere beyond this door that she spots what looks like the light from a flashlight being played across the wall. Thinking it is Steve she calls his name, but the light promptly vanishes. Now comes the unmistakable sound of footsteps - slow, steady and unnerving in their relentless approach.
You know, if I may digress for just a moment, let me say that there are few situations I find to be more scary/creepy than being somewhere unfamiliar and then detecting footsteps that are obviously coming in your direction. Especially when it is still a mystery as to just who (or what) it is that is making those sounds. Once, a looong time ago (1978), my cousin and I were hiking through the hills near a relative’s home. We managed to get pretty far from any other signs of civilization and came across an area where the trees had grown closely together, their upper branches intertwining to the point where they created a near solid canopy over the forest floor. The lack of light penetrating through this canopy made for very little foliage in the area. It was a very nice and relaxing place to take a breather. We returned to this place many times over the next several days as we explored the area on subsequent hiking expeditions. Well, one day we were at this location, sitting in the low branches of one tree when we heard it – crunch…crunch…crunch: the sound of footsteps slowly approaching our position through the trees beyond the “canopy” area. We looked around but saw nothing. Crunch. Crunch. Crunch. Still the footsteps came closer. Well, we didn’t waste another second. We didn’t even debate our options. We both instinctively knew what we had to do and we did it without another second’s delay: we ran like hell. Now, in all likelihood, what we heard that day was probably just a deer out for a stroll, but since it was 1978 and it was Northern California and we were all of nine years of age…we were both utterly convinced that it was Bigfoot himself come to tear us limb from bloody limb before dancing a jig on our lifeless bodies and then dragging our corpses back to his cave in order to dine on us at his earliest convenience. My point to all this? Beats the hell out of me. I just wanted to say that situations like the one Blondie finds herself in are quite creepy.
So now let's get back to Blondie. She begins looking around the room as the foreboding footsteps continue to draw near. There is a long, slow creak as a door swings shut and revealed just a few feet away from her is Steve…impaled to the back of the door and wearing more of his blood on the outside than on the inside. He also seems to be missing a large portion of his skull, as his brain is exposed for all to see. Needless to say, Blondie lets out a horrified scream. Unfortunately for her, she has turned her back on the dark doorway through which she spotted that light just a few seconds ago…and from where the footsteps were originating. Behind her we see a decayed hand raised in the air, brandishing a kitchen knife. SWISH. The blade comes down. SPLAT. It impales the screaming Blondie right through the back of her head, the point exiting her open mouth. With a thud, she collapses to the floor. I'm gonna go out on a limb and guess that she's dead.
The camera zooms in on her hand and the ring displayed on one finger (why, I have no idea). Then her killer grabs her by the feet and we see that his right hand is decayed and rotting, whereas the left hand looks perfectly normal. The killer begins to pull and we watch as Blondie’s body is slowly dragged across the floor and through that darkened doorway, leaving a wide smear of blood in its wake. The door closes behind the body and all is still once again…
That is the cue to start up the music and the opening credits. We see the same house, only now it is broad daylight. After all the Italians who are responsible for this movie are named off, the camera zooms in on the house and its front windows. The curtain in pulled back and we see a young girl peering out from within. She reaches out to touch the window and her face adopts an expression that makes it look like she just pressed her hand against white-hot coals rather than glass. The image freezes and then fades to black and white. There is a dissolve to a very similar looking frame and then we pull back from this shot to discover that it is a large photograph hanging on the wall. The words “New York” appear to denote where we are now. Nearby, sitting on a bed is Bob, who will ultimately come to be known in this film as Annoying One. He stares serenely at the photograph of the house with the girl in the window. If Bob got any more of a blank look on his face, I’d swear his parents were feeding him massive doses of Ritalin. Considering what this kid’s behavior in the rest of the movie is like and that might not be such a bad idea after all.
Bob’s mother Lucy now enters the room, calling his name. She is in the midst of packing for a move and notices that Bob has yet to pack any of his toys. She asks him about this but he doesn’t respond. She calls him by name again, shakes his shoulder and implores him to “wake up,” but Bob still stares at that photo on the wall as if it was an X-Box. Finally he snaps out of his daze and asks his mother why “that girl” keeps telling him that he shouldn’t go there. Presumably "there" is the house featured in the photo. Lucy now gets an expression on her face as if her son just admitted to mutilating small animals for fun. She looks around and then asks to what girl he is referring. Bob points to the photo on the wall and says that it’s the girl at the window of the house. Lucy walks over and takes a closer look, the camera peaking over her shoulder and zooming in so we can see what she sees: that there is no girl at the window.
Lucy chalks it all up to her son playing a game, but Bob is positive that he saw a girl waving to him from within the photo. Furthermore, this girl warned him not to go to that house. Bob again asks his mother why the girl would do such a thing. Lucy admits that she does not know and then gets Bob to start packing his toys. The two leave the room and as they pass by the photo, the camera zooms in again and we see (well, after a couple of dissolves to similar and more clear prints) that the girl is once again in the window of the house. Now I don’t know about you, but I am already suspecting that young Bob is some sort of moron. When I was that age, if I had seen a figure moving and talking WITHIN a photograph…I would be freaking out big time. I doubt I would sleep for a month after such an experience and would have a very difficult time gazing at any photograph ever again for fear that the people in them would start talking. Bob here shows all the life of a blind person visiting a nudist camp. I swear, this kid is doped up on Ritalin something fierce.
The close up the photo slowly changes to a similar shot of the house, only now in color. The camera now pulls back and we see that same young girl standing in front of the place amongst the tombstones, holding a doll and gazing at the house. An older woman’s voice calls out, “Mae” and we then see an older woman standing not too far away in the trees. She tells Mae that it is time to go home, but Mae refuses to leave, saying that “it’s important.” Don’t ask what the hell all this means, cuz I haven’t got a freakin’ clue.
We now return to the Big Apple and to the New-York Historical Society. Up until now, I had lived my entire life thinking it was New York, but this movie has pointed out the error of my thinking and that it is properly written as New-York, with a hyphen between the two words. Go figure. You learn something new every day. Anyway, Norman Boyle is leaving this establishment, accompanied by a co-worker. We are now treated to some expository dialog that makes several things known:
Norman is preparing to leave town so that he can continue the unfinished
research and work of a recently deceased Doctor Peterson.
We now see Bob at the wheel of the family car, pretending to drive and making the usual car noises that kids produce when engaged in such an activity. His mother is loading suitcases and boxes into the car while his dad is struggling to collect a few potted plants to take with them. As they finish up getting the car loaded, Lucy asks Norman if he has been to see Mrs. Peterson. He says that he has not and that there is no need, as her late husband’s research is still in the library. Lucy points out to Norman how they were colleagues and that he should at least pay his respects to her, but he is unsure what to say to a woman who’s husband had a mistress that he killed before proceeding to hang himself. I don’t know about Norman, but the phrase, “Good thing it wasn’t you” springs to mind.
The Boyle family now gets into the car and leaves. While they cruise through several shots of New-York City, we hear Norman explaining to Bob (and the audience) that because Lucy changed her mind about coming on this trip at such a late hour, the home they would have stayed at was already rented to someone else. Thus they will be living in a different house altogether. Raise your hand if know what house that will be. Exactly! Some more driving follows and the word “Boston” now appears on the screen, letting us know that they have managed to get this far without Bob asking “are we there yet?” incessantly.
Now we cut to the young girl Mae standing in front of a small town shop, holding that hideous doll of hers and examining the mannequins in the store window. Is she contemplating an upgrade? Then it’s back to the Boyles, whose car can be seen crossing some railroad tracks. We here Norman say, “Welcome to New Whitby.” I don't know where this town is supposed to be, but considering that a few seconds ago they were in Boston, it must be somehwere in Massachusetts. Of course, the truth is that the filmmakers erroneously used the name Boston as a state rather than a city.
Once more we return to Mae staring at the Mannequins. With a disgusting squishing sound, the head of one female mannequin (with long dark hair) slowly slides off its neck, revealing a bloody stump. Mae just stares wide-eyed at it. We see the Boyles’ car driving down a street followed quickly by a close-up of Mae’s eyes and then we see the headless mannequin fall to the ground where the neck pours blood all over the floor next to the severed head. Mae seems to react (finally) to this and begins to cry and mumble something that sounds like, “don’t do it.”
At long last Norman parks the car and points to a real estate agency close by. He and Lucy get out of the car, the latter telling Bob to wait for them. The brat whines for some candy but Lucy tells him that he won't get any until after dinner. Inside the agency Norman and Lucy meet with Laura Gittleson. She has the couple review and sign the lease papers while she looks for the key and babbles on about how the place is still somewhat dirty and the poor, late Mr. Peterson. It seems the mentor who’s work Norman is planning on continuing lived in the same house that they are about to rent. Not a good sign, eh? Laura then looks at Norman and mentions how he has already been to the house. For his part, Norman looks slightly uncomfortable and after an uneasy silence, denies that he has ever been to the house in question. Laura doesn’t press the matter and asks a coworker for the keys. This guy refers to it as the old Freudstein place but Laura reminds him to now call it Oak Mansion. I think when this happens – locals renaming some old house in order to hide its sordid past – it is a very compelling reason to get your ass out of dodge. Plus, such ploys never work. A new name doesn’t mean that whatever evil force inhabiting the place is going to move out. Just as re-naming The White House "Dumb-Dumb Central" isn't gonna get Dubbya out any sooner.
Out in the car, Bob is playing with a toy in the back seat when he hears a voice calling his name. It’s Mae’s voice and she is as clear as if she was sitting in the seat next to him. However, she is not. In fact, she is on the other side of the street behind the car and informs Bob of this. He turns to look and says “hello” in a pleasant voice. Once again, proof that this kid has either been subjected to some serious shock therapy or his blood is just saturated with Ritalin. After the whole freaky girl-in-the-photo incident, any normal kid would be somewhat freaked out. Now, when confronted with that very same girl in the flesh, who seems to be able to throw her voice with more skill that the most experienced ventriloquist, most kids would be screaming up a storm, hollering for their mama and depositing a large amount of shit in their undergarments.
Bob just sits there all relaxed as Mae introduces herself and says that she has been expecting him. “My name is Bob,’ he says. Well, no shit you little turd. She already knows that as she just called you by your name! Mae’s tone now becomes more menacing and she mentions how she made it clear to Bob that he should not have come to New Whitby. Bob whines (he truly has no other pitch to his voice) and says he tried but his mother didn’t listen to him. “Parents never listen, they always do what they want,” he whines some more, to which Mae just says quite tersely, “You shouldn’t have come, Bob.” At this point I don’t know which one of these kids is more annoying, the whiny Bob or the creepy little Mae.
Norman and Lucy now exit the real estate agency with Laura. They are going to follow her in their car to the old Freudstein plac…er…excuse me…Oak Mansion. Lucy looks at the car and notices that Bob is missing. They look around, but there doesn’t seem to be any sign of him. Before you go getting your hopes up that the little shit has vanished from the movie, they spy him not far away, sitting on a patch of glass and cradling that hideous doll of Mae’s. In fact, he is stroking it in a very caring, loving and ultimately quite disturbing manner. Norman and Lucy run over to collect Bob, who babbles on about seeing the girl from the photograph and what not, but his mother is not hearing anything he is saying.
We cut now to the old Freudstein place AKA Oak Mansion AKA the title House by the Cemetery. Laura is bidding farewell to the Boyles, telling them to call her if they need anything. Anything, eh? I wonder if she has a script that makes sense? Hmm…I doubt it. Laura drives off, running over a nearby tombstone while turning around. “Damn tombstones,” she mutters. I’ll say! That tombstone just came out of nowhere and planted itself right in her path! I bet it doesn’t even have insurance!
Lucy and Norman begin to unload the car, but Lucy stops when she gets her first good look at the house. She realizes that it is the exact same house from the photo they had hung on the wall back in their New York (excuse me, New-York) apartment. She mentions this to Norman who stops, gets an odd look on his face and then just as quickly banishes it and returns to emptying the car. He passes it off as nothing more than an example of the local architecture and states that there are probably hundreds of homes in the region that look just like it. Lucy continues to stare at the place with an odd look etched into her features. Meanwhile, sporting a similar expression I continue to stare at the TV screen as this film unfolds.
Sometime later, the three of them are inside the house. Bob is playing with a remote controlled car and making annoying sounds, Norman has fixed a faucet and enabled the flow of water in the kitchen and Lucy suddenly announces that she and Bob should have stayed in New-York. Norman reminds her that they will only be here for six months and she should view it as a vacation. While he does his research, she and the Annoying One (Bob) can go out each day. She doesn’t seem too thrilled at the prospect of wandering around small-town USA looking for something to occupy her time, so Norman reminds her that “it means another five thousand dollars per year.” What he is referring to is somewhat unclear. It could be that the job of continuing the late Dr. Peterson’s work pays that much more. Then again, he could be referencing the pay increase he will gain once he has published the finished work. Whatever the case, he reminds her that with such money, they can redecorate their place back in the Big Apple.
Lucy now grabs that beat up old doll that Bob dragged home with him. She looks at it funny and Norman wonders aloud as to what is wrong. She throws it to the floor and gets upset. Norman advises her to take some pills that she had prescribed for her. She doesn’t react well to this, asking why he keeps wanting her to take them. He responds by saying that it well help calm her nerves. She stomps away, replying that her nerves are fine the way they are and that she read that those pills could cause hallucinations. Norman seems to accept her decision to not take the pills. I’m guessing that she has skipped taking them for quite some time now and has been grinding them up and putting them in Bob’s food.
Norman notices that the door to the cellar is nailed shut and offers to open it, but Lucy asks him to do it later. She would rather he get their rooms fixed up so that they can sleep in a real bed tonight. This is odd as she acts like the chance to stretch out in a bed is a welcome comfort after a long time without one. Since it only took them a few hours to get here from New-York, that just begs the question…were they sleeping on the floor in their apartment? No wonder Norman is keen on that extra five grand to refurnish their NY pad! The poor guy’s back is probably killing him from those hard wood floors. He heads off to do whatever needs to be done.
During this entire time, Bob can be heard in the background playing with his car and making racing sounds. It was just nonstop. The little snot never seemed to pause for air. I swear, I was expecting Norman to suddenly yell, “Shut up! Shut up! Shut the f*ck up!” at the little puke. I know I sure did. Lucy seems to notice the Annoying One now as well and informs him that it is time for his nap. She takes the controller for his car away from him while he cries, “No! I want to play.” She tells him not to whine (and needs to follow that up with a couple good slaps) and continues putting things away.
Suddenly she senses a figure standing nearby and turns to see a young woman with a suitcase in the doorway. A pretty damn hot young woman. The stranger asks if she is Mrs. Boyle. Lucy answers in the affirmative and then asks who the woman is. The younger gal says that Mrs. Gittleson sent her over and that her name is Ann, the babysitter. Now, when the camera zooms in for a closer look of Ann’s face, we cut back and forth between a shot of her and a shot of the mannequin that Mae was examining in the store window. First we see it with its head then we see it after it has lost it and fallen over, spewing blood on the floor. The only way that the foreshadowing could get any more blatant and obvious was if there were words scrolling across the bottom of the screen that read, “Ann will be decapitated before the movie is over.” And what is with the suitcase? Is she planning on moving in? Wouldn’t that make her more of a live-in nanny than a babysitter?
Night has now fallen and we see Lucy in bed. We hear the slow beat of footsteps on the wooden floor and a shadow slowly passes over her sleeping form. Alas, it is just Norman pacing back and forth. He takes a seat at a desk and locates a large folder labeled “Freudstein” in large black letters. He opens it but there is nothing inside. Suddenly he hears a creaking sound. He looks around the room but nothing is out of the ordinary. Lucy continues to sleep. Then slowly he discerns the sound of a crying child along with a couple more creaks. He gets up to investigate and rushes into the hall. Nothing there. He makes his way to Bob’s room but the Annoying One is fast asleep himself. Norman pulls the blanket up over his son and Bob stirs, but does not awaken. He hears another creak and now he begins walking through the house. The creaking increases in intensity as he approaches one door. He opens it and finds…Ann the babysitter prying loose the boards that had been nailed over the cellar door. How is that for a build up to nothing? We get extreme close-ups of their eyes, as if Norman and Ann were engaged in a contest of wills and/or trying to hypnotize one another. Finally, Norman leaves. Cut to an exterior shot of the house at night.
Pow. It’s suddenly daylight and we see Norman and Lucy walking down a street in town. Norman is heading towards the library and Lucy has some shopping to do. They are debating on whom should take the car and who should catch the bus home. Lucy spots Laura Gittleson walking not far away and waves, but the other woman does not respond. Lucy is unsure whether this is due to Laura not seeing them or turning away on purpose. I’d be avoiding these two as well, cuz you never know when they’ll have that annoying brat Bob in tow. Lucy and Norman then make plans for a candlelight dinner that night before the latter heads on into the library.
In the library Norman is being escorted to a private area by a Mr. Wheatley, who is talking about the late Dr. Peterson. He recounts how the Doctor came into the library less and less over the last two months and how he seemed changed: growing more and more jealous over Sheila, whom I assume is that mistress of his whom he murdered. Wheatley asks Norman what Peterson had been so eager to discuss with him “back then.” Norman looks puzzled and asks, “back when?” Wheatley is referring to a time around the previous October when Norman came to visit Doctor Peterson accompanied by his daughter. Norman now looks even more puzzled and says that he never made such a trip. In fact, he claims that he has never been in this town before now. He also mentions how he has a son and not a daughter. Mr. Wheatley is now puzzled as he was sure he had seen Norman on a prior occasion.
The King of all nerds now enters the room and Mr. Wheatley introduces him to Norman as Daniel Douglas and tells him that if he needs any books, documents or reference materials of any kind, Douglas is the guy who will assist him. Wheatley then leaves. Daniel informs Norman that the room has not been touched since Peterson was last there and that his notes are still on the desk. He shows Norman various documents that contain medical reports, death certificates and lists of missing persons. Norman wonders what Peterson needed such material for, but Daniel is clueless (in more ways than one) and only knows that Peterson gathered it for some of his private research. Daniel now opts to beat his own hasty retreat and ducks into the adjoining room, but not before pointing out the railing from which Doctor Peterson hanged himself. Cue sudden and foreboding (and freakin' LOUD) music.
Back at home we see Bob stumbling around the cemetery looking for his remote controlled car. He locates it but also finds a tombstone inscribed with the name Mary Freudstein. There is also a small picture of this Mary affixed to the headstone. Mae now appears behind Bob and tells him that this woman was the wife of Doctor Freudstein. Bob asks who he was but Mae neatly sidesteps the question without answering it. She just says that she knows that Mary Freudstein is not buried in the grave that bears her name. She also fails to mention how she knows this. You know, these kids are just creepy. At this point of the film, I was hoping for a meteor strike to take them both out with a single rock.
We return briefly to the library where Norman discovers a document from 1879 that details how a Doctor Jacob Freudstein was banned from practicing medicine for life.
At home, Lucy is mopping the living room floor when she pulls back an old rug and makes a discovery of her own: a headstone that has been incorporated into the floor itself. She dusts it off and sees the name Jacob Tess Freudstein. Suddenly she hears an odd sound, like someone scraping a metal pipe with something. She jumps up and walks around the house but cannot find the source of the noise (BTW, she is so not wearing a bra in this shot, as that flimsy shirt will attest to). She calls for Bob and Ann but gets no response. She enters the kitchen – the same room that has the door to the cellar. That particular door now begins to rattle as if someone was on the other side and in the midst of an all out seizure. More creaking and banging noises now follow as well the sound of a child crying. Lucy just stands their as the cacophony builds in intensity and then, no longer able to bear it any more, she lets out with a scream that would have made Fay Wray cringe.
Long about now Norman pulls up in the car (I guess they decided that she would take the bus home and he the car). He heads inside and calls for Lucy but there is no answer. He walks around looking for her and then finally heads upstairs when she cannot be located on the ground floor. Halfway up the stairs he hears her crying, stops and turns around. Lucy is in the living room, sitting in the floor half hidden by the couch and is weeping. He runs back down the stairs and over to his wife. He embraces her while she continues to cry.
Now we see a bunch of pills spilled all over the night stand and Lucy sleeping peacefully. She awakens and sees Norman. He asks how she is and she admits to feeling better. She wonders if Bob and Ann have come back, but Norman says no. They head downstairs and Lucy comments on Laura Gittleson failing to mention that the house had a tomb in its floor. Norman thinks nothing of it as most houses in the area probably have similar features. For now though, he wants her to focus on something else. It seems he has done some scrounging around and located a set of very old keys. He proposes that they use then to solve the “cellar door mystery,” which makes it clear that these yahoos have been unable to open that door since moving in. He tries a couple different keys but has no luck. Just as well, considering what is waiting in the cellar.
A female voice announces their return as Ann and Bob enter the kitchen. Bob is all excited to see his father and begins to recount how he saw his new girlfriend Mae and that she said to say “hi.” Norman accepts all this and shows Bob what he is doing with the old keys and the cellar door. Meanwhile, Lucy is not reacting well to the news that Bob has seen that mystery girl again. She walks over to Ann and asks her is she saw this girl, but the babysitter says no. Lucy questions whether Ann was with Bob the entire time they were gone and Ann says that she was. Norman now chimes in to announce that he has located the proper key for the cellar door. Now comes a weird moment where once again we see nothing but close-ups of their eyes as Norman, Lucy and Ann take turns staring at one another. Then Norman turns back to the door. He has managed to find the proper key, but the lock is so rusty, the key won’t turn. He uses a kitchen knife, inserted through eye of the key, to help turn it. After some effort, the door opens.
Norman grabs a flashlight and slowly descends the stairs while Lucy stays up top with Bob. Partway down he finds a ring on one of the dusty steps. Not just any ring, mind you, but the very same ring worn by Blondie in the opening segment that the movie made a point of zooming in on. Of course, there isn’t a single drop of blood to be seen anywhere, despite the fact that when Blondie’s body was dragged down this way, it left a big red streak behind it. The killer might suck when it comes to dusting, but is an expert at cleaning up unwanted bodily fluids. I know a former President, a White House intern and a dress that could have really benefited from such skills.
Now comes a moment that is utterly predictable. After building up the tension with the rattling door earlier and Norman’s cautious descent of the stairs just now, you just know that there is going to be a false scare popping up. Well, sure as shit, a rubber bat on a string appears out of nowhere to dive bomb Norman. Naturally, Norman being the manly man that he is…lets out a terrified yelp. This brings Lucy barreling down the stairs to ask why he shouted. Well, no sooner has she asked that than the bat returns and promptly begins dry humping her head. Well…that is what it looks like it is trying to do. It just hovers right over her and keeps trying to land in her hair or something. For her part, Lucy now engages in the accepted behavior when attacked by a rubber bat: she launches into that spastic dance people do where they scream, jump around and continually swat at the top of their heads with their hands. She runs around in circles, but the bat is not deterred one bit. It just stays right with her.
Before going any further, let me make a small confession. Normally such sudden “Boo!” moments have no affect on me, as I see them coming from a mile away. Now, it has been almost two years since I last watched this movie and only having seen it twice before now, I forgot all about this bat scene. While writing this, I paused the movie just as Norman found the ring so I could write down the action. I figured a false scare was coming up and hit the pause button to start the movie again. Well, no sooner had I done that than BAM! The bat attacked. The false scare coming so unexpectedly soon actually caused me to jump. That and the fact that I had the sound up rather high. I guess even after a lifetime of watching such films, they can still surprise you on occasion. Ok, back to the film now…
Norman finally gets off his ass, grabs the bat in his hands and pulls it out of Lucy’s hair, allowing her to run, still screaming, back up the stairs. The bat now bites Norman’s hand and he does his best to dislodge it, but the bat is resolute in its desire to not let go. So he runs with the damn thing all the way up the staircase to the kitchen. As Lucy, Bob and Ann watch in horror, he grabs a pair of scissors from a drawer, places his hand on the counter and after hesitating briefly, plunges the point of the scissors into the bat. Blood begins pouring out of the bat’s body; some of it from spots no where near where the scissors have pierced its torso. This still does not convince the bat to loosen its grip, so now Norman begins waving his bloody hand around the room, trying to fling the bat off. All this manages to accomplish is to spray blood all over poor little Bob, who stands there in shock with the same horrified expression on his face that women get when you fail to notice their new hairstyle. Norman uses the scissors again and after several more long seconds of stabbing at it, the bat at long last drops to the floor, dead.
Next we see Norman, Lucy and Bob down at the real estate office talking to one of Laura Gittleson’s flunkies. Bob sits in the background playing with that damn red-colored remote control car without which he seems unable to take five steps while his parents inform Mr. Flunkie that they want to move out and into another house by no later than the next day. He assures them that there should be no problem with their request and that he will call Mrs. Gittleson and have her stop by later on that evening. After the Boyles have left, he makes a call but gets a busy signal. He just shakes his head and mutters to himself. “That Freudstein house…that Freudstein house.” Like I said earlier, you can rename a place all you want but a new name is not going to erase any supernatural mojo at work.
Some time later Laura Gittleson is at the office, flipping through photos of possible places the Boyles can rent. She seems to be dismissing all of them as unworthy. Nearby Mr. Flunkie (whose name we now learn is Harold) says that it was inevitable that they would want to leave the old Freudstein house. She corrects him again, reminding him to call the place Oak Mansion. Harold retorts with something about giving the bad product a new label and adds that she call it what she will, the place will always be the old Freudstein house. At least someone in this town knows what I’m talking about!
Time for a surreal moment. We see the other freaky child in this movie – Mae, standing in a brightly lit room that is filled with dolls. In fact, the room she is currently occupying is a room in the Freudstein house, only the lighting is different and the place is not a dirty mess. I’m guessing that this is supposed to be what the house was like in an earlier time. She is gazing out the window when that same old woman that was talking to her in that earlier scene set in the cemetery is heard. The woman walks into frame, but we cannot see her face. In fact her entire head is out of frame, no doubt on purpose. I cannot believe that the cameraman on this film was that incompetent. Anyway, the old woman asks Mae what she has been doing and Mae answers by saying she has been watching the house. The woman now tells her that it is bedtime and begins to unlace the back of Mae’s dress. I don’t know about you, but that part I find to more disturbing that anything else in this scene…or in this movie for that matter. Mae looks relatively straight into the camera and mutters something about not “going into the house” before the scene ends.
Shifting back to the Freudstein place AKA Oak Mansion, we see the empty interior and hear the doorbell. Well, it’s more like the door buzzer. Someone is obviously at the door, but there is no one home to answer it. The door opens and Mrs. Gittleson lets herself in, calling for Lucy and Ann. Three things are immediately apparent. 1) Nobody is home, 2) Mrs. Gittleson is obviously the person Mae was just warning to not enter the house and 3) something extremely bad is about to befall Mrs. Gittleson. As she walks through the house and we hear the sound of heavy breathing, that last one is most assuredly confirmed. She makes her way to the front room and hears the sounds of hurried footsteps. She looks at the stained glass window and sees the silhouette of someone moving past it on the other side. Thinking it is Lucy; she walks in that direction, passing over the big tombstone that has been laid into the floor. As she steps on it, it cracks and her foot slips into it.
With her foot firmly stuck in the crack despite her efforts to free herself, all the lights in the house now go out. One wonders why so many lights were on if NOBODY WAS HOME! We get a POV shot of the killer moving through the place, extending his putrefied right arm to pick up a fireplace poker before advancing on the trapped Mrs. Gittleson. She screams and tries even harder to get loose, but has no such luck. Falling onto her back, she makes it even easier for the killer to walk up and impale her with the poker. After sticking it in her gut, he twists it back and forth while the blood flows, she screams and he moans as if near orgasmic nirvana. He then retracts it and slowly pushes it into her again, only this time into her chest. Lots more blood and squirming on her part. Finally, he pulls it out and stabs her in the neck. The blood really squirts out bigtime now. After a second or two she is still, but the blood continues to pump out of that neck wound a bit longer.
I must say that this is one of the most ridiculous death scenes I have ever seen. The woman didn’t even fight back! It was her foot that was stuck, not her hands. Yet, when the killer slowly lowers that poker to stab her, both of her arms are just flat on the floor. Most people would be trying to keep the poker away from them and/or fighting off their attacker. This woman just lies there and waits to be skewered. Idiot!
Now we see the body being pulled by that pair of mismatched hands again – one rotting and one normal. We also see that the killer mutilated the body some more after she died, as half her face is now missing. The sound of a child weeping fills the air as the corpse is slowly dragged through the cellar door and down the stairs, leaving another wide bloody trail behind it. Um, don’t you think someone is going to notice this?
After an establishing shot of the house in daylight, including a close-up of a black cat relaxing atop one of the nearby graves, we head inside to find Ann cleaning up the trail of blood. She seems to have gotten all of it except for the last couple feet that is in front of the cellar door. Long about now Lucy walks in and says good morning. She asks what Ann is doing. Ann just replies by saying that she made coffee. Now…how f*cking stupid is Lucy? She should plainly be able to see that Ann is cleaning up blood. There is no need to ask. No, the question she should be asking is, “where did all that blood come from?” or “whose blood is that?” She is obviously assuming that the trail of blood is what was left after Norman came hauling ass out of the cellar the day before with that bat attached to his hand and dripping blood all over. However, even she should realize that the amount of blood on the floor is far too much to have come from a small animal bite. Even cutting her some slack for not realizing that the blood trail originally began in the other room (since Ann has cleaned it up) she should still see that this blood was made by something being smeared against the floor and not dripped onto it like Norman’s blood would have done. If she was in detective school, she’d get a big fat F.
Then again, I think the entire Boyle family would get an F. Lucy now mentions how Ann did not join them at “the restaurant” last night, preferring instead to visit her family. This tells us where everyone was when Laura Gittleson was busy doing her human pin cushion impersonation. However…since Ann is only now cleaning up the blood, didn’t any of the Boyles see the big, red, bloody smear when they came home the previous night? Obviously not. Lucy tries to engage in some small talk with Ann, but the babysitter is not very talkative, choosing instead to fix her with another one of those I’m-trying-to-hypnotize-you stares. And by the way…why is the babysitter cleaning up the blood? Is that part of her duties? I think not. I would like to know why she is cleaning it up and NOT telling the Boyles about where the blood trail actually originated within the house. She seems to know more than she is letting on.
Lucy takes some coffee to Norman and whines about how Ann is a real “weirdo” and how she cannot get a word out of her. She theorizes that maybe Ann doesn’t like her…which given both her obvious stupidity and propensity for annoying panic attacks, is most likely the truth. Lucy inquires into what Norman has been reading and he launches into a short speech on the work the late Doctor Peterson was doing before he went bonkers. It seems Peterson was researching a turn of the century surgeon named Freudstein who had a penchant for illegal experiments. Lucy wonders what that had to do with Peterson’s work and Norman admits that it was completely unrelated and that perhaps Peterson was already going off the deep end when he undertook that line of research. Norman then informs Lucy that in order to follow up a hunch – that Peterson’s suicide was somehow related to this Freudstein guy – he has to return to New-York today and get the ok from someone named Muller.
Suddenly Norman is back in the local library rummaging through some stuff. Official Library Nerd Daniel Douglas enters and comments on Norman’s presence on a Sunday, a day that they are closed (then how the f*ck did he get in?). Norman doesn't really address his presence but in turn wonders why Daniel is there. The nerd mumbles something about his duties and checking over the library when it is closed before beating a hasty retreat. Then Norman takes another look at the hand rail from which Peterson hung himself.
Turning now to the woods near the Freudstein place, we see a POV shot that is following Bob through the trees. Bob is running and keeps looking over his shoulder. The scary music is in full force and then Bob takes a tumble and falls near the tombstone marked with Mary Freudstein’s name. His pursuer catches up and grabs him…but it is only Mae and the two annoying little brats were just playing a game. At least Bob doesn’t have that damn red car with him at the moment. He gets up and says that he has to go back inside or Ann will yell at him. It seems his mother has gone shopping and Ann is under the belief that Bob is in his room napping. Bob intends to head back in for a few minutes to establish his presence and then come back out to meet Mae again. Mae gives another one of her half-hearted warnings to not enter the house to Bob, but he pretty much ignores it.
At the library Norman has found a box containing a tape recorder and a cassette tape. Playing it he hears the voice of the late Doctor Peterson discussing his obsession with Jacob Freudstein. It seems he has reached a point where he can’t eat or sleep, but must continue his research. He rattles on about the warnings of the house, the crying he hears, people who have fallen victim to it and those doomed to follow, how the smell of the house terrifies him, how he must know the answers to some mystery concerning Freudstein and how he seems to hear Freudstein’s voice everywhere. Ultimately, Peterson’s voice degenerates into near incoherent ramblings as his mental state deteriorates and he ends the recording by screaming, “No! Not the children!” While this is playing, the film shows us shots of both the house and a POV perspective of someone approaching it at night, entering and then heading on down to the cellar. That cuts away to show us a tombstone with blood flowing over it before heading back to the POV in the cellar. Now we see pieces of bodies littering the floor with lots of blood. One piece is quite obviously the upper torso of a female – only it has no head, no arms, ends just below the bust line and one breast seems to be missing a large chunk of flesh. More bits and pieces can be seen as well as a couple of bodies from which many of these parts no doubt came.
For some reason we now cut to Bob as he plays in his bedroom. Yep, you guessed it…he’s playing with that same damn red RC car again. Aaargh!
Returning to Norman at the library, he removes the tape and then flings it into a nearby furnace. I’m not sure what a furnace is doing in the freakin’ middle of a library. Do they have regular book burnings in this town or was it there to help heat the place? Who knows. Norman now leaves the library and heads for his car, looking over his shoulder constantly as if he just robbed Fort Knox or something. He makes it to his vehicle and drives away, but not before being spotted by creepy little Mae. That girl gets around! A short while ago she was with Bob in the woods!
Speaking of Bob, we cut again to him as he plays with his car. We see Ann carrying what looks like laundry and stopping to watch him as he plays. Seriously now…WTF? She is a babysitter! Why is she doing laundry? First she was mopping up that bloody mess and now she’s cleaning the dirty clothes? Since when did the definition of babysitter mean, “indentured servant?” Oh and by the way…Bob is making those nonstop “car engine revving” sounds again as he plays and I was once again on the verge of yelling “Shut up! Shut up! Shut the f*ck up!”
In town we see Lucy exiting a store with bags of groceries. She sees Norman drive by in the family car, but he does not notice her. She just shakes her head and keeps walking.
At home Bob has driven his RC car around the corner and into the kitchen. He chases after it but cannot locate it. He looks under the furniture but eventually sees that the door to the cellar is hanging wide open.
Then we see Ann descending the stairs and calling for Bob. She cannot see him but she does hear the sound of a child crying. She enters the kitchen and sees the open cellar door. She walks through and standing on the landing, calls to Bob, asking of he is down there. She asks if he needs help but there is no clear reply…just odd sounds. Very, very slowly she walks down the stairs and calls his name again. Then ever so slowly…and with a very pronounced creak, the cellar door swings shut. She races back up the stairs and begins pounding on the door, screaming for Bob to let her out. Below in the dark cellar we see a hand brandishing a knife.
Bob, it seems, was never in the cellar. No, he is back upstairs in his room, having retrieved his toy car. He does hear Ann pounding and screaming for help, which now includes pleas for Mrs. Boyle to let her out. Why is Ann screaming for Lucy when she knows that the other woman went shopping? Anyway, the killer is slowly ascending the stairs while Bob is collecting a toy gun and a flashlight for his “mission” to rescue Ann. Several seconds pass and the killer reaches the top of the stairs. Ann turns to face him with her back to the door. The killer slowly brings the knife around from left to right, slicing open one side of Ann’s neck. Blood spurts everywhere. Then he brings the blade back in the opposite direction, cutting open the other side. More blood spurts everywhere. Meanwhile Bob is taking his sweet ass time coming down from the second floor. The killer makes another deep cut and this time among all that spurting blood, we hear what sounds like bones cracking (yuck).
Bob reaches the kitchen and calls for Ann. Behind him the cellar door opens and slowly swings open. After a moment’s hesitation, he passes through the door and heads down the stairs. For some odd reason, there is not a drop of blood to be seen anywhere in the immediate vicinity, despite all the spurting a few seconds ago. There is no sign of Ann, either. Bob reaches the bottom of the stairs and suddenly hears a thump-thump-thump from behind him. Turning, he sees an object bouncing down the stairs to rest just a couple feet away. A closer examination reveals it to be Ann’s severed head. Bob lets out a truly girlish scream and hauls ass back up the stairs. He reaches the top as the door is sliding closed again and manages to squeeze through it, though his left hand (the one holding the flashlight) gets caught as the door closes. He continues to scream like a girl and struggle as a POV shot shows the killer slowly walking up the stairs towards him. Just as he reaches the top and extends his rotting right hand towards Bob, the annoying little puke gets free and runs away as the door slams shut.
Now…before moving on, let us examine this sequence. Ann enters the cellar, gets trapped, attacked at the top of the stairs and beheaded. It is apparent that the killer then took her body back down the stairs to wherever he is hiding out, leaving the severed head at the top. When Bob enters a moment later, the head might have been partially hidden by the door, making it difficult to see it. Then once he is down the stairs, it comes bouncing down and scares the shit out of him. At this point I am really surprised the film didn’t flash back to the headless mannequin from earlier just to drive home the point that “we told you so.” Still, I have a number of questions about this scene. If the killer took Ann’s body down the stairs, where is the trail of blood? We see none when Bob descends a moment later, yet people having their neck sliced open repeatedly tend to create quite the mess. Was Ann’s body still at the top of the stairs, propped up behind the door when Bob entered? That would explain the lack of blood on the stairs, but given Ann’s position when attacked, Bob should still have seen, if not walked right through, a large puddle of the red stuff. Another thing…if the killer was already below in the cellar, just what in hell was causing the cellar door to open and close? Did he have it rigged up to the clapper or something?
Now we see Lucy walking home with her bags of groceries. She enters the house calling for both Bob and Ann so they can help her. Hey, it looks like she got all the way from town to home without help, why should she need it the last few steps? As she enters the kitchen she hears the sound of a child crying. She rushes up to Bob’s room and finds him cowering in the corner. She comforts him and amongst the tears, whimpering and sobs the Annoying One manages to babble out what happened. We can see that Lucy isn’t sure if she believes this tale, but knows something is seriously wrong for Bob to be reduced to gibbering idiot (as opposed to normal idiot). So she does what any sensible mother would do: she goes to investigate the cellar for herself.
With Bob close at her side, she descends the stairs and looks around. Alas, there is no blood, no Ann, no severed head, and no killer…nothing. She implies that Bob was making it all up, but he insists his story was true. In the darkness we see a pair of spooky eyes open and stare at the two. Before anything else can happen there is a thud of some kind from upstairs, so Lucy and Bob head back up. They reach the kitchen but nothing seems out of the ordinary. I have no idea what that thud was supposed to be. The cellar door was open when they went back up top, so it could not have been it slamming shut.
Next we see Norman walking around a cemetery, but not the one located next to the Freudstein place. This one is bigger, better maintained and looks to be situated somewhere in town. The caretaker comes running up, wanting to know what he is doing there since the place is closed. Norman says that he is looking for the tomb of Doctor Freudstein, to which the caretakers replies, “oh you, too?” Norman wants to know what he means by that and the caretaker explains that he is not the first to come here looking for that particular grave. Norman says that he has come over two hundred miles to find it and that the medical reports indicate that Freudstein was buried here (wherever “here” is…two hundred miles definitely puts it out of the town limits). The caretaker tells him that it's all a bunch of “bunk” and that Freudstein is not buried there before hustling Norman out of the cemetery. In fact, he is pretty forceful about it, grabbing Norman’s arm and pulling, causing Norman to jerk his arm away.
Back home Lucy is putting Bob to bed and giving him some milk to drink (no doubt laced with a liberal amount of Ritalin). She tells him that Ann will be back, having most likely gone to visit her parents. Bob just shakes his head no at this idea. Lucy tucks him in, switches off the light and leaves.
later in the middle of the night, a fully dressed Bob enters the kitchen.
Why he has chosen to put on the exact same clothes he was wearing earlier,
rather than stay in the pajamas he was wearing to bed is a mystery.
He turns on the light and approaches the open cellar door. He looks
down the stairs and calls out, “Ann…mommy says you’re
not dead. Is that true?” Then he begins descending the stairs,
calling her name out some more. Almost like clockwork, when he reaches
the bottom, the cellar door swings shut. Then he sees those glowing
eyes in the dark and hears some labored breathing, as if whoever it
is down there with him is suffering from a major case of emphysema.
Bob freaks out, calls for his mommy and runs up the stairs. Too bad
for him the door will not open.
Elsewhere in the house Lucy hears Bob’s plaintive cries. She comes rushing but cannot get the door open, either. Bob continues to pound on the door and scream, but does offer up a good idea for her: use the same key that Norman used to unlock and open the door. She sees it nearby and puts it to use. While she is trying desperately to get it to work – using scissors to thread its eye and then turn it – she applies too much pressure and the key breaks in two, one piece still lodged in the lock. Now she grabs a knife and tries to slip it in between the door and the frame and pry it open, but all this does is break the knife blade. A crash alerts Bob that someone is moving below in the cellar and he really begins to go into hysterics, crying that there is someone in there with him. A POV shot shows the killer slowly ascending the stairs towards him. I must say that as cheesy and goofy as this film is at times, this particular scene is most effective in raising your heartbeat. Seeing the killer ever so slowly ascend the stairs, complete with the THUD of each step he takes, increases the tension and really gets you on the edge of your seat. Or is that just your pressing need to go to the bathroom and be sick?
At this point Lucy is banging on the door herself, as if that is going to help the situation at all. A shadow can be seen moving in the house behind her. She turns and lets out another one of her patented wake-the-dead screams, but it is only Norman. I thought he was two hundred miles away? Maybe when he said that he was referring to the distance from New-York to this hole in the wall town. He rushes over to Lucy and soon realizes that Bob is trapped on the other side of the cellar door. He grabs a nearby axe (every kitchen should have one) and yells for Bob to keep away from the door.
Bob acknowledges this, but before he can move away he is grabbed by the killer, who presses his head sideways against the door. Norman swings the axe and the blade pierces the wood just an inch or so in front of Bob’s face. Another swing and another near miss, this time inches from the back of Bob’s head. A third swing and Norman finally connects with something fleshy: the killer’s hand. The limb is severed and then we see him grab Bob with his rotting hand. Bob lets out a muffled scream, which in turn causes Lucy to yell some more.
While all this is going on, Norman explains what he has learned. It is Doctor Freudstein in the cellar and it was he that killed Doctor Peterson’s mistress, Sheila. Peterson learned the truth and killed himself. How Norman came to these conclusions is beyond me. My only guess is that he got his hands on the film's script for a few fleeting seconds.
In the cellar we see Bob stretched out on the floor, unconscious among several small pools of blood. Not far off there is a figure sitting on a cot, plainly missing its right forearm and hand. This must be old Doc Freudstein himself. He sits there and weeps; his cries sounding exactly like those of a child. It was him that so many people heard on those other occasions. Freudstein gets up and stumbles into the light just as Bob wakes up and gets a good look at him. The old Doc’s face is pretty jacked up; looking like a huge piece of moldy cheese that has been shaped into a head.
Now for some reason, we cut to an image of freaky little Mae screaming “Noooo!” amidst her large collection of dolls.
Back in the cellar Bob is confronted by the shambling living corpse of Doctor Freudstein. Naturally he lets loose with another round of his girlie screams. Norman is still hacking away at the door above while Lucy stands there helpless. Below, Bob has discovered Freudstein’s collection of corpses. Hanging from the ceiling is Laura Gittleson and Ann, the latter’s head placed on the floor under her body. Freudstein, still making that child-like weeping sound in addition to the heavy, labored breathing (now there is a party trick), comes shuffling towards Bob who proceeds to back up against a table and discover another body – a male – laid out on top and cut wide open like a high school biology lesson. Who is this guy? Is that the body of that Steven guy from the very beginning of the film? Who knows.
At long last Norman manages to get the bloody door open and before charging down the cellar steps with Lucy, informs her that Freudstein needs “Human victims to renew his cells,” as it is how he stays alive. Freudstein has now reached Bob and clamped his rotting hand over the little puke’s face. Then Norman and Lucy burst onto the scene, distracting Freudstein. Lucy runs to her child while Norman swings his axe at Freudstein, but the zombified Doctor grabs Norman’s arm before the blow can land. The two struggle, the axe is dropped and Norman is pushed aside like last week’s trash.
Everyone now just stares blankly as Freudstein picks up the fallen axe. Me? My ass would have been up the damn stairs, out the front door and half a block down the freakin’ road by now. Not this family of morons. They just sit there, frozen into inaction. Finally Norman grabs a crimson-stained knife from a nearby table loaded with an assortment of bloody cutlery. He walks up to Freudstein and promptly plants the weapon deep in the Doctor’s guts, twisting and turning it for good measure. Now, this next part is a wee but gross. Since Freudstein is essentially a zombie that needs to feed on fresh flesh (say that part five times fast), his innards are not exactly what you would call healthy. Thus, instead of blood pouring from the wound or chunks of flesh falling to the floor, what we get is a thick, dark, pulpy mess that looks like week-old shit and which is loaded with worms and maggots. Yuck. In fact, double Yuck.
This is something that is never really clear: does Freudstein physically consume (in other words, eat) the flesh and body parts he takes from others? Or is he transplanting them to his own body? All Norman says is that he needs “Human victims to renew his cells.” That’s not really clear on how the process works. If transplanting, how does he deal with possible organ rejection and how the hell is he performing these delicate operations…with rusty garden tools and duct tape? If he is eating the organs, does he prepare them in some special fashion…is there a secret sauce? Somehow I doubt than if I ever took a bite out of the neighbor in a fit of starving madness, that such a simple act would prolong my life. Freudstein must be doing something to the flesh if he is in fact consuming it.
Norman retreats, horrified by the sight. This allows Freudstein to step toward him and swing his arm towards the camera. He grabs Norman by the neck and using nothing but his fingers, rips the poor bastard’s throat out, blood predictably spurting all over. Lucy shields Bob from the sight of his father dying and falling to the floor. Again, a perfect opportunity for her to grab Bob and get the flying f*ck out of there…but no. She ain’t that smart. Now, realizing that her husband is dead and that the way out is once again blocked by Freudstein, she looks around and sees another staircase. Made of metal it leads up to the ceiling. In fact, it is situated directly under that tombstone that has been laid into the floor in the living room above. The crack in said tombstone, made by the late Laura Gittleson, is still there. Lucy pushes Bob up these steps and follows. When they reach the top she tries to open the crack in the tombstone even wider by beating and pushing on it.
Footsteps alert them to the fact that Freudstein is approaching. Bob lets out another girlie scream and more POV footage of Freudstein ascending the stairs is thrown our way. Lucy struggles but cannot get the tombstone to budge an inch. Eventually Freudstein grabs her and pulls her back down the stairs, her head bouncing off every step on the way down (at least fifteen that I counted). Evidently this cranial trauma is what does her in because once at the bottom, Freudstein lets go of her feet and she just lies there quite still, a huge pool of blood around her head. Freudstein now begins another ascent so he can get Bob. Bob begins clawing at the tombstone and trying to squeeze his head through the existing crack. He manages to get his head through but while trying to get the rest of his body to fit, Freudstein grabs him from below. More high pitched girlie screams ensue.
Then out of nowhere, hands appear to push the tombstone aside and lift Bob to safety. Why, it’s that creepy little Mae! Bob catches his breath but before too much can be said, that older woman’s voice can be heard again. She tells Mae that now that Bob is safe, it's time to go home. Then we see who is talking. It’s Mrs. Mary Freudstein, whom we recognize from her image on the tombstone outside. She reminds Mae to act “like a Freudstein” and mentions the possibility of other guests dropping in. Then she takes each child by the hand and leads them outside, the sounds of Doctor Freudstein’s child-like crying filling the air.
one will ever know
What the hell? That is the question (or variations of) that is most often uttered upon the conclusion of this film. It was certainly my reaction after my first time viewing it. And it just didn’t stem from the confusing ending, but the entire sequence of baffling scenes that preceded it. More than any other film I have seen, this one represents the best case for an explosion occurring in the editing room and the filmmakers scrambling to assemble a passable movie with the bits that were not destroyed. Alas, while there are certainly decent moments in the film, the end result is just too horribly disjointed to feel like you’ve just watched something worthwhile.
The story here is pretty darn straightforward when we get down to it: family moves into creepy house, then weird shit happens. It’s pretty much the basic outline for most haunted house flicks, though in this case what is lurking within the abode is nothing supernatural. Now, while it may seem like this simplistic storyline makes for an uncluttered and focused film, that could not be any farther from the truth. This film is a freakin’ mess, simply put. There are so many things that happen that just don’t seem tied to anything else in the film. Then there are the elements that pop up that are never referenced again, let alone explained in any fashion. One truly gets the impression that in some cutting room floor somewhere, are several missing scenes that would tie everything together a bit more.
For example, what is the deal with all the meaningful looks exchanged between Norman and Ann? Some believe that the two are having some type of affair, but that notion is never plainly spelled out as true, so the audience doesn’t know what to make of the glances they keep throwing each other. Likewise with the fact that more than one person references Norman’s previous visit to town with his daughter. What the hell is that supposed to mean? Don’t expect any type of explanation, cuz you will not be getting one. Another mystery that is brought to light but never resolved is the house’s previous occupant, Doctor Peterson. Why did he suddenly begin researching Jacob Freudstein? More importantly, upon learning the horrifying truth about the house, why did he hang himself rather than call in the authorities to deal with Freudstein? The whole cycle of violence could have been averted right there! Speaking of the aforementioned Ann, she certainly seems to know more about what is going on than the others, yet this doesn’t prevent her from meeting a grisly demise. Why hint at her possible complicity with Freudstein if she is just going to be another piece of expendable meat? Who or what is Mae and how does she communicate with Bob? Why is he the only one who sees her? Fulci throws these things into the film, but they are never explained.
On top of all that, are the lapses in logic. There is no way a killer like Freudstein could operate in the cellar like that and go undetected for decades. Hell, the murders he commits in the film were the most sloppy I have ever seen in a movie. Talk about leaving clues behind! For Freudstein to get away with murdering people for as long as he has not only points to the worst police force in the history of the world, but it also shows just how stupid the townspeople are when it comes to noticing the clues that something is wrong – like all the missing people and the deaths associated with the Freudstein house. I think Helen Keller could have pieced together the mystery and bagged the culprit, yet everyone is blissfully unaware of the murderer living under their very feet. Even after they enter the damn cellar, they find no evidence of his presence…evidence that is in plain sight later when the story calls for it. That is sloppy filmmaking if ever I saw it. This film is a classic example of a script that needed some major fine-tuning as well as someone on board who knew the meaning of the word continuity.
However, the very end of the film represents the crux of these mysteries. I am going to be dealing with major spoilers, so anyone who doesn’t want the end ruined for them can skip the rest of this paragraph. I’ll be straight and to the point: What the f*ck happened? One minute Bob is clawing his way out of the cellar, desperately trying to escape Doctor Freudstein and then…then he’s safely in the house as it used to be, with Mae and Mrs. Freudstein. The trio leave and are seen walking down the road, no doubt to have a freakin’ picnic somewhere. The end. WTF? Where Mae and Mrs. Freudstein real or ghosts? Did they truly rescue Bob or was he caught and killed by Freudstein and now his spirit has joined Mae and her mother in the afterlife? If so, where are the spirits of his murdered parents? Did Bob’s parents truly exist or were they imaginary, as he doesn’t seemed bothered one bit by their brutal deaths before his very eyes? There is so much open to interpretation here. Personally, I’ll go with the idea that Bob was killed and his spirit joined the others in some funky afterlife.
This is a horror film, thus characterizations and acting take a backseat to the “story.” Since this is a cheap horror film, characterizations and acting are nearly non existent. Since this is a cheap Italian horror film from Lucio Fulci, the characterizations, when they are noticeable, are damn near nonsensical in nature. The acting on display is of the standard fare for films like this: nowhere near excellent, but merely adequate given the subject material. Then again, given the fact that the film is dubbed into English, it makes it somewhat harder to measure the performances turned in by the actors. So much is conveyed with one’s voice that the horrendous dubbing negates an subtleties in inflection and line delivery that the actors may have given. The worst of this is the horrible voice used to dub the character of Bob. I cannot imagine the child actor giving a great performance, let alone a stunning one; but the dubbing job transforms him into one of horror cinema’s truly annoying kids (then again, I find ALL kids to be utterly annoying). There are moments where the sound of his high-pitched, whiny voice is only slightly less annoying than nails (the kind you hammer) raked across a blackboard or listening to a Yanni album.
It’s when we come to the characterizations that the film takes another dive off the deep end. To phrase it mildly, these people are idiots. Granted, they are not gifted with idiocy on the same level as the group of morons in Burial Ground, but this gang isn’t much better when it comes to doing things, especially taking note of what is going on around them. I don’t know of anyone who would rent a home and not make a thorough inspection of every single damn room before signing the contract. At the very least, they would go over the house with the proverbial fine-toothed comb on their very first day, yet the Boyles take their sweet ass time in getting the cellar opened and unlocked. Completely unbelievable actions if you ask me. More than one person hears Freudstein’s child-like whimpering, but do any of them investigate? Nope. They just assume it’s whiny Bob and move on. More straining believability. Even in their day to day routines the Boyles come off as slightly dysfunctional, with Lucy suffering from jittery nerves and both her and Norman dismissing out of hand all the warnings Bob mentions. It’s hard to muster up any sympathy for these people because they are either so annoying or just flat out incomprehensible in their actions. In the end, they don’t behave like real people, the plot guiding their actions rather than any sense of true characterization or reality.
the type of film this is, the bulk of the FX is made up of the blood,
guts and gore. Some of it was no doubt considered extremely gross and
unnerving back in 1981, as it still looks quite effective by today’s
standards. The scene where one character has their throat slit repeatedly
with a knife, leading to a decapitation, is an example if this. Another
is near the end when Norman stabs Freudstein and the Doctor’s
wound pours forth a dark, slimy stream of putrefying guts along with
a large amount of live maggots. Quite sickening. In fact, the use of
the live maggots possibly makes it the grossest moment in the film,
by simple virtue of featuring something very real and very gross. However,
there are still a few instances where the artificial nature of a severed
body part is quite apparent. I think the most glaring example of the
gore’s shortcomings is one death caused by a fireplace poker.
Never have I seen a more perfectly round wound left behind by a weapon.
Since gore has never bothered me, it is hard for me to gauge the gore
quotient of any given film. While I admit that Dead-Alive
did have a lot, I still don’t think of the gore when that film
is mentioned. Thus, what one person would consider a liberal amount
of blood and guts might not even register on my radar. That being said,
I can only guess that to mainstream audiences, this film probably has
a higher gore quotient than usual.
I actually thought some of the music here was pretty good. Much of the work here is easily forgettable, not even on par with most horror films of the era, but there are several moments where the music is quite good, easily invoking a creepy feeling and sense of otherworldly unease for the film. Of course, these moments are few and far in between. The soft and slow piano theme that seems to accompany so much of the film gets rather tiring after a while, though it doesn’t ever reach the levels of annoyance set by the Spanish guitar-driven Mesa of Lost Women. Overall, the music definitely helps rather than hinder things.
Have I mentioned that this film is a mess? While confusing narratives are the hallmark of a Lucio Fulci film, they are also often notable for their look and feel. Fulci may not always know how to tell a coherent story, yet he certainly knows how to convey it in visual and stylistic terms. At least, much of the time he does. I would venture to say that the majority of his films are known more for their atmosphere rather than their plots. This is certainly the case with The House By The Cemetery. The plot here is a meandering, erratic and disjointed series of scenes that don’t always seem to be related. On the other hand, the film has its fair share of spookiness to lend to the proceedings. Fulci is quite good at utilizing sounds, shadows and inventive camera angles to make many scenes effectively creepy. The moving shadows glimpsed by the film’s first victim in the opening segment along with the dull thud of approaching footsteps is a classic example of maximizing the fear of the unknown. The only thing more frightening than being in a dark, isolated location is realizing that you are not alone and not knowing exactly who or what is lurking just out of sight.
Additionally, Fulci uses a few POV shots from Freudstein’s perspective to amp up the intensity of more than one scene, but for the most part these fall somewhat flat. The best use of this technique are the POV shots of Freudstein ever so slowly ascending the cellar stairs towards his intended victim. While in the case of Ann it works quite well, when it comes to the scene where Bob is locked in the cellar, the method loses some of its luster by simply over doing it. A little POV goes a long way in my book. The most heavy handed of Fulci’s techniques is how Ann’s fate is foreshadowed with the mannequin in the store window. Not only is the scene somewhat pointless and gratuitous, but when Ann is first introduced later in the film, Fulci flashes back to this moment just to make sure that the exceptionally dense in the audience are afforded ample opportunity to put two and two together and see the correlation. The only way to be more obvious with his intentions is run text along the bottom of the screen explaining the situation.
I have a hard time categorizing this film. I admit that there is quite a bit to it that just screams “crap” in bright neon letters. Yet, this is the first Fulci film I ever saw, so for some odd reason I feel a wee bit more enamored of it than I suppose I should. Plus, my tastes are pretty wide and inclusive of stuff that most people would instantly dismiss, so despite the movie’s many drawbacks, I still like it. Be advised that this film bounces around more than a crack addict on a Hoppity-Hop and that few of the plot elements touched upon are ever explained or even returned to more than once or twice. The House By The Cemetery plays out more like a student film by a sixth grader, seemingly assembled on the fly from a list of what the producers thought were good ideas and scenes rather from a script that was finely tuned before the first frame was ever shot. What the film lacks in substance it makes up for with style, but even this pales in comparison to other films and isn’t really enough to elevate the movie beyond mediocre at best and terrible at worst. This is not to say that the film is a total loss, cuz it ain’t. There are several great moments to be seen and experienced, but overall the entire affair is somewhat of a letdown. Go into this movie expecting a blood soaked masterpiece of contemporary gothic horror and you will be sorely disappointed. Go into it expecting nothing but crap and you may be surprised. Then again, you may not.
Animals Gone Berzerk - We get a single bat that goes absolutely…um…batty. After dive bombing people, it attaches itself to Norman’s hand and doesn’t let go for anything.
Annoying Kids - Two of them here, Mae and Bob. Mae is just creepy, the way she seems to know things that others don’t. Bob on the other hand is just annoying.
Cannibals - Freudstein needs flesh from others in order to stave off death and slow down his perpetual decay. Of course, that is contingent upon him actually eating the body parts.
Crazed Killers - Freudstein may not be crazy, but he sure acts like the crazed killers from other films: killing without remorse or thought to the chances of being caught.
Extreme Violence - Flesh gets stabbed, cut, sliced, and hacked. Heads are pounded, impaled and removed. Throats are slashed, pierced and torn open.
Ghosts - We learn that the Freudstein house is home to two ghosts. By the end of the film that number may now be three. It depends on one’s interpretation of the goofball ending.
Gore - Lots of blood spurting from various wounds as well as guts yanked from torsos. We even get a tour of the killer’s den where we see mutilated and hacked up bodies.
Haunted Houses - The Freudstein house is inherently creepy. I mean just look at it! It sits rights next to a freakin’ graveyard and has a tombstone set in its living room floor!
|Nudity - Not much. One brief look at some boobies at the very beginning when two horny teens use the Freudstein house as a place to get it on.||Zombies - While a case can be made that Doctor Freudstein is a zombie – he certainly looks decayed enough – we don’t know that he actually ever died. Still, just in case.|
6 (7 depending on your interpretation of the end)
07 Mins - Where the hell is New-York?
09 Mins - Lucio Fulci cameo!
15 Mins - Bob is caressing a doll. Time to get him some therapy.
21 Mins - Foreshadowing! We have foreshadowing here!
25 Mins - Is he trying to hypnotize her?
34 Mins - There is a pill for everything, apparently.
39 Mins - Rubber bat on a string!
40 Mins - Somebody call PETA!
44 Mins - It's Killer Cam.
45 Mins - Have you ever heard of fighting back, you idiot?
56 Mins - And I thought my HMO had poor health care.
67 Mins - Eyes glowing in the dark. A real Suspiria moment.
76 Mins - I’d cry too if I lost an arm.
83 Mins - WTF? Is he in a different movie now?
85 Mins - HUH? WTF?
Shadow's Drinking Game: Every time Ann and Norman exchange a significant glance or Bob the freakboy screeches like a banshee, you take a drink.
for larger image
Lucy and Norman discuss Doctor Peterson’s widow.
“You could have at least gone to pay your condolences.”
Shadow’s Comment: Tough break?
Bob asks the most asinine question of all time.
Bob: “Ann? Mommy says you’re not dead.” (long pause) “Is that true?”
Shadow’s Comment: And just what exactly would he have done had Ann answered, “Yes, Bob I’m quite dead?” Shit his pants and screamed like a girl?
on Doctor Freudstein.
Norman: “He needs Human victims…to renew his cells. It’s how he stays alive.”
Shadow’s Comment: Dick Clark’s secret is out!
Film & Me
Not long after I first got internet access and started exploring the World Wide Web, I “met” my friend Dan on one of the very first message boards at which I ever posted. Dan hailed from London, England and taught English as well as film studies at the college level. His knowledge of film greatly surpassed my own and in chats with him he would bandy about names like Dario Argento and Lucio Fulci. I was utterly clueless as to who these people were, as my horror film viewing tastes had never ventured much beyond the American mainstream. Over the intervening years I have delved into many subgenres of horror cinema from various countries and would like to think that I know a thing or two more now than I did then. Anyway, at one point I did some research and learned about Lucio Fulci and what he was best known for. Still, armed with such knowledge did not make it easy to find any of his films for viewing. Eventually the DVD boom meant that anything and everything was being hauled out of dusty vaults and made available. It was then that I started seeing Fulci’s films in the racks of new DVD’s. Being on an extremely limited budget at the time, I had very little disposable income and really could not afford to spend the twenty to twenty-five bucks for a new DVD (of course the notion of locating a used copy never even entered into my brain), so I was forced to bypass his films on several occasions. Years later I ultimately found myself in a much better financial situation, now with a few extra bucks for DVDs. One day early in this “Golden Age” of DVD purchasing, I was in Best Buy and found a double disc set entitled Horror Rises From The Grave and which featured no less than four films – all for five bucks! I couldn’t pass that up! The four movies contained within were the Paul Naschy flick Horror Rises from the Tomb, Zombie Flesh Eaters which was just an edited, retitled version of the third Blind Dead film, The Ghost Galleon (though I didn’t know any of that at the time), the Peter Cushing vehicle Night of the Ghoul which was originally known as just The Ghoul…and a film called Zombie Hell House. It was when watching this last film that I noticed the credits listed Lucio Fulci as director. Wait a minute! I didn’t recall seeing any Fulci films listed on the DVD case, so a wee bit of research led me to the realization that Zombie Hell House was actually The House by the Cemetery. After watching the film I concluded that the film was both good and bad: Good gore, good atmosphere but very little sense. Little did I know that such an appraisal was almost exactly what most other people think of the film after seeing for the first time. More research clued me in to how the film is both treasured and reviled. I watched it a couple more times and decided that I really did like – enough that I placed it at number 100 on my one hundred all time horror film list. Since that time I have not watched the film too often (ok…only once until this review came along), but I still regard it with a bit of nostalgia, simply because it was the first Fulci film I ever managed to see.
Shadow's rating: Five Tombstones