A quick plot set-up (no spoilers): A professor moves his family of three from New York City to a small New England town to continue the research of a recently deceased colleague.
An obvious influence on this film is Stephen King’s The Shining, specifically in the form of a ghost who speaks telepathically with the little boy in the film. Themes of relocation and alienation are present as well. When the family first arrives in the small New England town, the ghost is actually standing across the street and down a ways talking to the boy just as King had his ghost stand waving on the horizon, calling to Danny in a distant voice. It’s fair play because Stanley Kubrick decided to leave things a bit more subtle in his film adaptation of the book and as the old adage goes “it’s okay to steal from outside the medium you are working in”. It’s assumed that not every film goer reads novels and had film audiences only just witnessed the same scene in Kubrick’s take on the novel of a year and a half earlier, it wouldn’t have worked. Well it works here and I recognized it instantly. See, one other tool in the storyteller’s bag of tricks is to reference other recognizable works to put a spell on the reader / viewer / audience. As the mind recalls the more well-known story, it also brings back the feelings of the original. Done well, this technique adds layers to a story and gains sympathy from an audience (see my review of Uncle Acid’s recent abum ‘Mind Control’ wherein this same technique is used to admirable effect). Done poorly however, and this technique is simply wretched thievery (see another 'flower-themed' band who shall remain nameless).
Fulci has Ann, the babysitter who is originally introduced to viewers as a red herring, meet a grisly demise in a similar locked cellar scenario. Images of dismembered children are there in the lead up to this scene. Of course, it’s probably best that Fulci didn’t exploit the scene’s full potential with such a set-up because he would have been relentless about it, showing the dismemberment in explicit detail, crossing a line into truly poor taste. There are certain lines that shouldn’t be crossed and an on-screen child murder is one of the thickest, boldest lines one can imagine. The dismembered corpses of children colors pretty close to outside the borders as is and was one of the elements which gave this film its infamous ‘video nasty’ rating in the UK. Anyway, in spite of the careful build-up the scene just falls flat. How long can it possibly take for Dr. Freudstein to walk up a dozen steps anyway?
Of the four Fulci films I’ve viddied, this one is right up there among his best work, though, and once the climactic scene gets moving it leads to some of the most memorable moments in the film. Although I would have liked to have seen the cemetery aspect of the film’s title emphasized a lot more one can’t fault the man’s overall storytelling capabilities. Pacing and execution are a little off at times, but that’s as is expected. At the end, he delivers on the horror director’s promise of a few key unforgettable images (who can forget the knife twisting into Dr. Freudstein churning out a nearly endless ream of maggots?) while padding the memory with a bed of imagery and moments. But, can anyone tell me just what the hell happens at the very end?
As always, this being a music blog, we've got to talk about the Walter Rizzati film score. Beautiful and haunting, Rizzati broadcasts waves of paranoia through moviegoers by his use of grating static-y drone which is turned up to 11 in key scenes, then has the rug pulled out from underneath it by a hard cut, just dangling the audience on a frayed string. It's an effective technique when used at the right moment, but I'm afraid it's overdone here and goes from being a potential legendary masterpiece of Italian horror soundtrack to something that becomes really distracting and ultimately annoying. Here's a lesson kids, know when to hold 'em and know when to fold 'em. Just because something works one time doesn't mean you've got to go back to it every time. Now, I don't know how much input Rizzati had in these decisions but I suspect they were Fulci decisions, a man who seems to have lived by the credo, "if something's worth doing, then it's worth overdoing".
|Directed by||Lucio Fulci|
|Produced by||Fabrizio De Angelis|
|Screenplay by||Lucio Fulci|
|Story by||Elisa Briganti (as Elisa Livia Briganti)|
|Starring||Catriona MacColl (as Katherine MacColl)|
|Music by||Walter Rizzati|
|Editing by||Vincenzo Tomassi|
|Release date(s)||14 August 1981|
|Running time||87 min.|