The third and final installment in Lucio Fulci’s Seven Doors of Death trilogy, House by the Cemetery is generally considered to be the poorest entry in the series. It’s a real tragedy, too, considering how many fantastic ideas were in this film as well as some inspired use of sets, lighting, pacing and make-up effects. Unfortunately, at the end of the day, all that matters little when the cast is so absolutely, inconceivably terrible that you’d sooner sodomize yourself with a brick than finish the movie.
The House by the Cemetery
The Boyle family have just moved into the creepy Freudstein mansion in the hopes of figuring out why their old friend, Peterson, mysteriously killed himself while living there (this sort of rational situation happens all the time). While Norman (Paolo Malco) investigates the history of the house and the Freudstein family, his wife Lucy (Katherine MacColl) begins to go nuts as she hears bizarre sounds echoing from the boarded-up cellar. Meanwhile, their son Bob (Giovanni Frezza) is having visions of a friendly young girl named Mae (Silvia Collatina) warning him that something terrible lurks within his new home.
I guess I’ll get the bad out of the way first. The acting in House by the Cemetery will make you squirm worse than any of the gore effects. Lucio Fulci has never been known for casting quality actors in his films, but these players mark the lowest he ever reduced himself to. Katherine MacColl and Paolo Malco are horrendous, to be sure, but their laughable performances pale in comparison to Giovanni Frezza’s skull-splittingly obnoxious presence. Every word out of that kid’s mouth will have you in unrivaled agony. And damn, does that little fucker love his racecar. I think half his dialogue consisted of “Vroom! Vroom!” The Seven Doors of Death trilogy, if you can’t guess, was originally intended to be a seven film franchise. With the acting this bad, it doesn’t take long to understand why the series never progressed past this point.
If you can manage to battle your way past the performances of the cast, House by the Cemetery actually has an amazing atmosphere. The Freudstein mansion is a genuinely creepy estate and although you don’t get to explore much of the manor, it has a haunting presence just the same. The use of sound is excellent, with all the horrible noises, such as various pounding effects and the disembodied crying of a tortured child, really building the tension.
I think for the first time in Fulci’s career, he didn’t dwell too heavily on the kills. The movie is violent as all get-out, don’t misunderstand me, but when you compare it to the other installments of the trilogy, such as City of the Living Dead, decapitations and knives through the skull are a tad mundane. A few of the kills are rather superfluous, particularly the entire opening sequence featuring the two teenagers making love in the empty mansion. Still, this is a horror movie, so one could argue that there’s no such thing as a “superfluous kill”.
The best part of the movie is without a doubt the climax. When the rotten Dr. Freudstein finally reveals himself in the basement of the house, his appearance may actually shock you. The ending was built-up extraordinarily well, with Bob at first screaming to get out of the basement (as his mom struggles to unlock the door) followed by Freudstein holding his head against the door as his dad tries to chop it open with an axe. Like all the other movies in the series, the last scene of the film will make you go “Yeah-buh-WHA?!” While it wasn’t quite as annoyingly random as the endings to City of the Living Dead or The Beyond, it’s still a little wacky.
And yet all the positive attributes of the movie can be easily overlooked or forgotten thanks to such a nauseatingly untalented cast (especially that damn kid). They without question ruin the movie.