A researcher for the New York Historical Society, Doctor Norman Boyle has been asked to continue the work of his colleague Doctor Eric Peterson who murdered his mistress then hanged himself in the local library while resident in Oak Mansion, New Whitby, near Boston, once the home of his subject, the disgraced Jacob Allen Freudstein who in 1879 had his medical licence revoked, moving there with his wife Lucy and their young son Bob.
Beautiful but dilapidated with covered porches and tall gable ends over the three storeys, the house by the cemetery is a curiosity with a tombstone in the middle of the hall next to a fireplace with no chimney, a cellar which is locked and boarded up, and strange noises in the night; stranger still, the house is identical to one in a photograph which the Boyles had in their New York apartment where Bob believed he could see a young girl stood in the window who warned him to stay away.
The final part of director Lucio Fulci’s “Gates of Hell” trilogy following City of the Living Dead and The Beyond, the creation of the script for The House by the Cemetery (Quella villa accanto al cimitero) was a complicated affair, based on a story by Elisa Briganti and written by Dardano Sacchetti who was also inspired by The Turn of the Screw, with revisions by Giorgio Mariuzzo and Fulci himself who wished to bring in aspects of the work of H P Lovecraft, a writer often more concerned with effect than explanation.
The result is a work disjointed to the point of incoherence despite the promise of the opening scenes of the dislocation from the modernity of New York City to New Whitby, frozen in another time where Bob (Giovanni Frezza) is the only person able to see the mysterious Mae (Silvia Collatina), the only tangible evidence of her a creepy dismembered doll, while babysitter Ann (Ania Pieroni) resembles not only a shop window mannequin Bob saw decapitated and bleeding but also seems to have a connection with Norman (Paolo Malco).
The locals convinced that Norman has visited New Whitby a year before, Lucy (Catriona MacColl, credited as Katherine MacColl) has little to do but housework and crying, tortured by the noises in the house at night and paralysed whenever a crisis occurs, her husband attacked by an oversized and particularly persistent bat and crucially in the finale when the truth of the Freudstein’s basement experiments is subject to a last-minute reveal, Norman’s research presumably having paid dividends off-screen when he wasn’t destroying evidence for no discernible reason.
Fulci more concerned with long pauses punctuated with extreme violence than narrative structure, The House by the Cemetery was one of the notorious thirty-nine films prosecuted as a “video nasty,” significantly cut on cinematic release and on early home video releases before finally being restored to its full length in 2009 and now presented in a 4K restoration from the original negative supported by a plethora of new and archive material including commentaries, interviews and festival appearances by cast and crew.