It’s best to think of the Gates of Hell trilogy as something unofficial, rather than a planned thing. Catriona MacColl is in all three films, under three differently-spelled version of her name. She’s the heroine in each, but a different character each time, but always fighting creatures from hell. One would like to think Fulci planned this to create some sort of through line, but’s far more likely just because she was available.
The other two films in the trilogy are absolutely sane, compared to House By the Cemetery. I’ve seen it half a dozen times and read the plot summary on Wikipedia, and I still have no idea what this is all about. It doesn’t help that I have a pretty rough copy of the film, likely edited all to shit. However, I’ve little faith that a better DVD release would make even the slightest improvement.
That’s mainly because even with a better transfer and edit, you can’t get past the fact that the dubbing is … rough. The sync is pretty awful, the voices are flat, and there is also, of course, Bob. Bob is the epitome of the kid in a movie who’s constantly in danger, but rather than fear for his safety, you’d rather he die. Terribly. Repeatedly, if possible.
Additionally, while the film has a great stabbing in its opening moments, after that, it’s a patient viewer who can make it to the next big thrill without audibly complaining. Then, given the next big thrill is a rubber bat, one’s patience is sorely tested. It’s a long wait ’til the going gets good, and you have to deal with so much Bob to get there.
Once Dr. Freudstein appears, though, the film kicks into batshit high gear, and I think that’s what always makes me regard this movie so highly when I’m thinking of it. I mean, it’s really fucking dull for a solid hour, if not annoying, but Freudstein and the madness that accompanies him is just magnificent. It’s pretty much worth the preceding hour for the ten solid minutes of “WHAT THE FUCK?!?” that conclude the film.
Walter Rizzati’s score is creepy as hell. It’s ponderous, with these electronic flourishes that go right through you. As little actually happens in the movie’s first hour, you’re still on edge and watching because Rizzati’s music has you thinking somethign awful has to be right around the corner. The way Rizzati blends pipe organ with pulsating Carpenter-style arpeggiated synths really drives home the idea that this is almost a modern-day version of Henry James’ Turn of the Screw (seriously: creepy kid seeing weird shit in a strange old house).
Alessandro Blonksteiner’s work on the score is especially unnerving, adding to it these descending note progressions on electric guitar, which always end up denoting some sort of impending doom. Death Waltz Recording Co. re-released this a couple of years back, and you can still grab copies from Light in the Attic on red vinyl.
You can stream House By the Cemetery on Hulu below.