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Archive for November, 2011

The Last Circus (2011) DVD Review

Sunday, November 27th, 2011

The Last Circus (2011)
Original title – Balada triste de trompeta -Spain
Stars: Carlos Areces, Antonio de la Torre, and Carolina Bang
Director: Álex de la Iglesia
Released by Magnolia Pictures, Magnet 2011

Reviewed by Steven Ruskin

Every once in a while, it is a healthy thing to have your mind blown. The Last Circus is a stunning experience filled with striking visuals. It is a delightful but decidedly dark and adult vision. If you love challenging and exciting Cinema, drink deep of this brew.

There is an opening sequence set in 1937 with two clowns performing for a tent full of kids and their families. Suddenly rebels rush in and press the clowns into service, handing them weapons and rifles. There is no time to take off the make-up, the army is coming. The film has barely started and we are witness to the sight of a clown in full costume and make-up tearing his way through soldiers with a machete. And he’s real good at it, too! After he is captured, thrown in prison and years pass his son asks if he can carry on the family tradition and become a clown, too. The father tells him his childhood has been misery so he can’t be a happy clown. He must be a sad clown. That’s the one that gets beat up by the happy clown so the kids howl with laughter. We jump forward to 1973 to see how this poor kid’s life turns out. It makes Greek tragedy look like a picnic.

A word about that transition. Under the credits there unfolds a montage taking us from the violent war years to times of prosperity and happiness. We see couples having fun, bits of romance and a sprinkling in of plenty of recognizable pop culture singers, clothing styles and American television shows. We’re being set up for a vast array of influence that the director freely draws from. He’s clearly got his own style, however you can spot plenty of references to movies as varied as Nightmare Alley to a certain Hitchcock film with the characters hanging on for dear life as they fight on a national monument.

Javier, our sad clown, joins a small European traveling circus that is run by Sergio, a happy clown who beats his girl friend and abuses the entire outfit. The girl, Natalia is an aerialist. She hangs from long sashes, tantalizingly just out of reach of the audience. She’s like that with Sergio and Javier too. While the circus performers are all gathered and gorging at an all-nite diner, Javier stands up for Natalia. Sergio easily throttles him for his effort, but the hook is set. He will rescue this beautiful woman and save her from her life. It’s a doomed triangle that promises crushed hopes and a lifetime of regret and sadness. All three walk that road. However the telling of the tale is far from simple and the characterizations are rich and deep beyond your wildest nightmares.

We never actually see them perform any of their acts. In a running joke we see the Ghost Rider whose has apparently ridden his motorcycle into the air only to come continually crashing down outside the tent. We see the sad clown carried out, his head surrounded by the remnants of a piano that has been crashed over him. The happy clown walks by and remarks that the kids loved it, we’ll keep it in. We see dogs everywhere and the big elephant. Most of the time we spend with our clowns, except for the dressing rooms where they apply and remove their make-up, is spent outside. Javier takes Natalia out to an amusement park where they take in the rides and the fun house. We can see Javier is totally smitten behind those huge glasses over his puppy dog eyes. Sergio is always on the prowl, looking for a fight and at one point actually hurls a midget act out of his dressing room. In a truly inventive and depraved development we see both Sergio and Javier gradually start to look like actual clowns. Through a painful series of events their faces take on the grotesque permanent visage of the clown faces they used to paint on.


Javier and Sergio’s battles have become so intense they destroy the circus. Javier is hospitalized having hallucinogenic visions that are breathtaking in their beauty. The rest of the crew is forced to make their act fit into a small nightclub, called Kojak’s. What an image it is to see Natalia swinging out above the boozed up patrons as Telly Savalas’ smiling face beams out at her from the back wall. Director Álex de la Iglesia may have grown up in Spain on a diet of comic books and art films, but the common ground he draws on here will be a delight to cult film and TV fans.

Early on, Sergio interviews Javier for the clown job at his circus.

Sergio – What made you decide to become a clown?
Javier – um… What about you?
Sergio – If I wasn’t a clown, then I’d be a murderer.
Javier – … me, too.

That’s beautiful writing. The film delivers on that premise in ways that are rewarding beyond any reasonable expectation. It can not be emphasized enough what a visual treat this is. Some scribe would be totally justified in plastering a banner headline that reads, “Tantalizing Tale of Terrifying Tent Life Tops El Topo.” This is not for everyone as there are several graphic and unsettling scenes. However if the combination of a real painter’s palate, incredibly bold vision and a director who seems to thrive on very dark fantasy, comic books and Kojak sounds appealing, this may just be one of the coolest and gorgeous looking films you’ll see all year. Highly recommended. If you are on this site, you need to see this now!

Video – 2.35:1, enhanced for 16×9. This is an absolute visual treat on all accounts.
The digital photography renders the director’s vision in a kaleidoscope of colors, textures and just plain gorgeous compositions. Wonderful use of the scope format. Much of this looks like European paintings that you’d see in a museum or an art book, save for the content. The film almost looks like you’d get paint on your fingers if you touched the screen.

Audio – 5.1 Dolby offered in both the original Spanish language with English subtitles or dubbed in English. The titles were all legible and easy to follow. There’s a nice use of the rears in the surround mix.

Extras – There was CGI used here. It was integrated very well since with all the frenzy going on I barely took any notice that Igelsia had grabbed yet another paint brush for this canvas. You can get more detail on that and the director’s overall vision in The Making of Last Circus, Behind the Scenes and The Visual Effects featurettes. Both the International and US trailers are on hand. The US one is well worth a look.

On a scale of Poor, Fair, Good, Excellent, Classic

DVD – Excellent

Movie – Excellent

Island of Lost Souls (1932) Blu-Ray Review

Sunday, November 13th, 2011

Island of Lost Souls (1932) Blu-Ray
Stars – Charles Laughton, Richard Arlen, Leila Hyams, Bela Lugosi and
Kathleen Burke as The Panther Woman.
Director – Erle C. Kenton
Released by Criterion 2011

Reviewed by Steven Ruskin

Arguably the most highly anticipated film to make its belated DVD debut, and at the same time its Blu-ray appearance, Island of Lost Souls has remained at the top of countless most wanted DVD lists for many years. Even dating back to its premier on film screens in the thirties the movie has had a very difficult time. Right out of the gate the film was banned and denied public showings in Britain. The Board of Film Censors refused to issue a certificate for exhibition for many years likely due to animal cruelty and the very Frankenstein-like line uttered by Charles Laughton as Dr. Moreau, “Do you know what it means to feel like God?” These were the pre-code years when motion pictures could tread on many taboos that were later forbidden. But like Todd Browning’s Freaks this one may have taken one or two steps too many on the other side of the tracks. Vivisection, beastiality, sadism, and the wanton carnality of the panther women let alone the really creepy looking make up of not one monster but an entire island full of them may have been too much even for those heady swinging times. Still this was an A picture shot on massively built sets on studio lots. Richard Arlen (Wings) was a real big name then, not to mention the tremendous appeal that an adaptation of a popular book by H.G. Wells carried. Erle Kenton did not carry the troubled reputation for pushing things too far with the studio bosses like James Whale or Todd Browning. He was a steadfast director who went on to make two Abbott and Costello films, House of Dracula, House of Frankenstein and many others. He did not set out to rock any boats, but turned in a wonderfully made film that pushed the boundaries of the horror genre while moving at a breakneck 70 minute running time. There is no fat on this film. Lean, mean and captivating from start to finish.

After its theatrical debut the original negative seems to have been misplaced. Prints that played in theaters, having run through film projector sprockets from Manhattan to Minneapolis were all that were left. These became the sources for the murky Telecine transfers that most of us first saw on television. Even though intriguing stills from the film were found on the cover of Famous Monsters magazine and turned up in numerous books on the history of the horror film, those same sad prints had to carry this magnificent reputation on their tattered backs. The movie seemed to appear less and less on television until it became a childhood memory, at least in the New York area. When home video arrived there was a poor VHS in the market for a while, then a double feature laser disc with Murders in the Rue Morgue. With the leap in quality that DVD promised and delivered anticipation brewed and mouths watered, salivated even. Island of the Lost Souls rightfully belongs in that same pantheon of early classic horror that includes Universal’s Frankenstein (1931), Dracula (1931), and The Mummy (1932). It should sit proudly on the shelf next to Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde (1931), maybe rubbing shoulders with another Wells classic, The Invisible Man (1933). I could even see it hanging out with that other thirties island of mayhem film that it has so much in common with, The Most Dangerous Game (1932). Time passed. For years tales of print materials that were not good enough floated. Hopes were built on rumors of a clandestine collector’s print that was located only to be dashed on the rocks like a miniature ship. Word has it that two 35mm prints of good quality were enhanced by the judicious insertion of sections from close to pristine 16mm prints to create the fully restored film that has been oh so carefully stitched together. Presumably the folks at Criterion hoisted their creation up over the roof to catch a good luck blast of lightning before release. We can now purchase Island of Lost Souls some 14 years after DVDs first appeared on these shores. Well, Dr. Moreau it’s about time.

The movie wastes no time as we move from the credits splashed on the rocks to a fog enshrouded ship making its way through the ocean. A survivor from a shipwreck is picked up and taken aboard a very beat up ship. The cargo is wild animals and the crew is a strange mix of very hairy rough looking characters. Since Richard Arlen slugged the captain he is let off at the first port, or what passes for one. When we first meet, Dr.Moreau he is dressed in a white plantation type suit with a very stylish goatee. He is very hospitable to the stranger that is thrust upon him. We see Moreau wield a whip with amazing skill as he leads him from the jungle to his house. Charles Laughton plays Moreau so well. He’s got a smile that is so inviting, so charming, so cultured and so not to be trusted. In short order the hook is set and the good doctor has set Arlen up with Lota, a very beautiful young girl. The audience is let in on the whole set up right away. No mystery here, just a surging narrative plot that covers ground that had to have set people on edge back then and maybe even now. Moreau has been doing surgical experiments to transform these jungle animals into men. The jungle is full of his rejects and his house is full of the trainable ones who have become his servants. H. G. Wells had intended this doctor and his operations performed without any anesthetic on the animals to serve as a repulsive argument against vivisection. His House of Pain, where these transgressions are performed stands as a fearful threat to the mutated creatures living in the surrounding woods. The politics of that long ago debate do not have a current resonance but we can easily feel the fear, the pain and the subjugation these animals have had to endure. The motivation becomes emotional and the horror of it remains very strong indeed.

When Arlen realizes that the beautiful Lota was created from a panther the effect is jarring. Is he shocked because of the horror and pity he feels for her? Is he scared because he senses just how crazed this doctor is? Or is he really freaked out because he has kissed her and now fully understands that Moreau wants him to mate with his creation to see what they could produce. However before any of those truly strange realizations sink in he snaps into true adventure hero mode and tries to help her, tries to find a way off the island. There are plenty of plot machinations that serve this well, however what really makes this title stand out are the performances, the make up and Kenton’s direction and excellent pacing.

Charles Laughton has been rightfully recognized for this insidiously creepy performance. There is a scene when he is giving Arlen the tour of the island. He points out some huge flowers and vegetation that he has transformed from what they once were. He brags that he has pushed their evolutionary development forward. He strokes the leaves of one, possessively. These are his plants, his creatures, his island. Laughton communicates his reign over all that we see constantly. If there was a top ten list of cinematic mad doctors, Laughton’s Moreau belongs right at the top along with Dr. Pretorious and other twisted favorites.

Bela Lugosi was the perfect choice for the Sayer of the Law, his accented voice booming out as he leads the chorus of manimals in that classic call and response. He bellows out, ”What is the Law?” and they answer. “Are we not men?” he chides. It’s almost an admonishment the way he lashes out the law like it’s his turn with the whip. Bela is in control. Leila Hyams plays Arlen’s fiancé who charters a boat to rescue him. She was also one of the circus performers in Freaks. A word has to be said for the casting of the denizens of the island, the beast-men. They are a mix of misshapen and highly athletic types. The amount of people that were made up for this is staggering. Some are overly hairy but many of them have strange little quirks. Bits of an owl or part of an animal you recognize. That one fellow with the foot and the hoof is truly unsettling as he hobble skips along. Wally Westmore gets the credit line but he had to have had a large team on this one. Outstanding work. I urge you to carefully scan these creatures in their group scenes. Peppered in with the masses there are individual make up achievements that are jaw dropping. Highly original, clever and deliciously twisted combos of beast and man.

Towards the end of the film when all hell is breaking loose and the beasts are coming after Moreau, director Kenton shows us a very skilled sequence. We see that the tide has turned and that the creatures are no longer under Moreau’s control. His voice and his whip can’t make them behave. We see a fleeting look pass Laughton’s face and then Kenton gives us this great trifecta of Point of View shots. A group of three rush at the camera with the last one getting so close he blurs out of focus. We see this again from a slightly different angle. Three charge at us with the last going out of focus as he is upon us. Then a third time. The effect is a truly terrorizing feeling of being literally overrun by these beasts. When Kenton cuts back to Lauhgton and they have him in their clutches, we feel it. Erle Kenton did a wonderful job with this film.

To those who’ve not yet seen this I can candidly offer that this is not some creaky relic to be revered. You can put in the disc, sit back and have a great time with it. It moves fast and the performances are killer. To those who know the film, you’ve finally got a very damn good looking version to cherish.

Video
1.33:1 B & W. One has to be aware of the checkered and troubled past this film has gone through to really appreciate how big a deal it is to finally have this one at all. There have been many announcements and rumors, news leaks from all manner of sources and tales of people spotting “foreign’ sourced DVDs that turned out to be just like the one you saw on TV. Some even had those same commercials on them. Old movies can look fantastic in this medium and Blu-Ray can bring out some extraordinary detail from black and white 35mm sources. The plain old lack of substantial sources it what has held up this release for so long. The negative that you’d use to strike a brand new pristine print no longer exists. Criterion has elected to do the best they can and push the restoration process to make the best of a bad situation. I for one am very glad they did. This Blu-Ray is perhaps better categorized as more of a rescue than a standard release. The picture looks fine. Some of the scenes are a bit on the soft side. However every once in a while you’ll catch a shot that is marvelous. There are times when the detail I spotted in the beast’s costumes and makeup was remarkable. Sure the white of Laughton’s jacket can wash out a bit but part of that is due to the lensing and lighting when it was shot. The other truth is that that detail is simply not there, if it ever was, for anyone to bring out for you to see. Put simply this is a perfectly acceptable picture with moments that are outstanding. The overall look of the film has that early thirties feel. If you have never seen the film, parts may strike you as a little soft. If you know the film well, you’ll delight in the many instances of enhanced clarity and rich detail to be found in the sets, costumes and make up. To those who are real monster fans, the monsters have never looked better on home video, or on any television set for that matter, than they do with this Blu-Ray edition. (The publicity pictures used here do not reflect the quality of the Blu-Ray itself)

Audio
Monaural track. The track is fine. Everything is easily audible. Nothing has been tweaked or upgraded beyond its natural and original intention. The sound on the Blu-Ray drew no attention to it and required no adjustments, apart from volume.

Extras
Audio commentary with author Gregory Mank, who did that massive Lugosi/Karloff book, David Skal is interviewed and gives some good context on Wells, Richard Stanley who almost directed one version recounts his experiences. Two of the guys from Devo talk about their connection to the film and show a short. The best extra to me was a free for all discussion with John Landis, Rick Baker and horror fan Bob Burns. Landis dominates the first part but
eventually Burns’ affection for the genre comes through and he and Baker talk about Charlie Gemora who has a bit part in this in one of his famous gorilla suits. This was fun and it was nice to see them all so jazzed and enthusiastic about getting a word in. There is a trailer and a booklet. The cover is classy. The plastic case is clear and of the regular Blu-Ray size.

On a scale of Poor, Fair, Good, Excellent, Classic

Blu-Ray – Excellent

Movie – Classic

Lloyd Kaufman’s Produce Your Own Damn Movie! DVD Review

Wednesday, November 9th, 2011

Lloyd Kaufman’s Produce Your Own Damn Movie!
Stars: Lloyd Kaufman, Roger Corman, Joe Dante, David Cronenberg
Director: Lloyd Kaufman
Released by Troma 2011

Reviewed by Steven Ruskin

Two disc set

The First disc is a hodge-podge of the kind of material that you’d see filling out the extras section in any number of Troma releases. Lloyd Kaufman is very affable and has managed to get walk-ons for himself in a bunch of indie flicks with people he helped out at one time or another. We get to see quite a few of these little scenes. He’s a game player and has a good time with them. However there’s really not very much to glean from these. Lloyd comes off a bit too silly at times and no one pauses to reflect on any kind of a teaching moment. The second disc has interviews with many working people in the film business. For those more interested in what the title promises this is the disc for you. One note. The camera work, especially from someone who has been around the business for so long is terrible. Lloyd has an easy gift of gab and gets along with most of the interview subjects, but please bring along a cameraperson on these or at least get a tripod and lock it down. That dinky little camera is very lightweight and bobs around a lot.

To be fair none of this serves as any kind of a primer on how to produce your own damn movie or anyone else’s for that matter. Essentially what you get from this collection of interviews is some inspiration, several good anecdotes and some contemporary views on the state of the business that vary wildly in depth. Lloyd manages to ask most of them for advice on how to break in to the field. The commonality in the answers is that is was much easier then than it is now. I enjoyed some of these much more than others.

Roger Corman – Every time he is interviewed you can sense the enthusiasm he has for the business. He takes his time with the questions and gives thoughtful answers. He is a font of knowledge and has great anecdotes. He personifies that do whatever it takes to get it done attitude. Creativity is free so figure it out. Lately Corman feeds a lot of his productions to the SyFy channel and is able to finance them through his own company, something he states is in direct violation of the normal producer’s rule to never put your own money into a film.

Joe Dante is another great interview though it he makes it clear that the way to get into the business or to get your movie noticed and sold is much harder now. He came up at a time when drive-ins needed pictures and if one was not quite put together all that well, you could still get by and make another. Like Corman he combines the willingness to work hard and a boundless dedication to the craft that still lights him up when he talks about it. If you look at the amount of talent that worked for Roger Corman’s New World Pictures back in the seventies and early eighties it was clear that he attracted bumper crop. Unfortunately that training ground or anything like it is hard to come by these days.

The new kids on the block, the Duplass Brothers testify on the value of making shorts. They rightfully claim they are easy to produce and serve as a cheap as a way to cut your teeth. They give some insights on the growing value of the Sundance Festival as one of the best chances, albeit a long shot to get you film seen. They maintain their film, The Puffy Chair was able to stand out on its own merits and earn them a shot. In an unusual segment Lloyd follows Monte Hellman around as he prepares breakfast. We learn that the cult director of films like Two Lane Blacktop starts each day with a pretty damn healthy appetite. David Cronenberg all but ditches Mr. Kaufman when he corners him at a convention. Avi Lerner is the guiding force behind Millennium Pictures. He’s got posters for Rambo, The Expendables, The Mechanic and many other recent films up on his wall. He is a heavy hitter and a very smart man. He sits down on a couch on holds court on financing, how to mount a picture and how to parcel off the rights to different markets. He makes the very simple observation that if you do your work well you will know how much you have to make your movie. Do not spend more making it than you can count on to sell it for. He says this simple logic eludes most major studio executives. His was a terrific segment. He’s likely too big a player to have much relevance to the DIY crowd though. Others extol the value of how to promote your film.

The only time you get any real brass tacks on day to day production is when a former worker at Troma holds up her production notebook and walks through the pages explaining what all the endless lists mean and how she had to have back ups for everyone incase they did not show up, which was apparently pretty regular on that particular shoot. Caroline Baron was the production manager on The Toxic Avenger. Going through that book of hers, her very first production book was a good idea and we could have spent more time on that. Line producers and production managers don’t get much recognition and this disc barely touches on the work that they do to get a film going. When you see a film’s credits roll by in the theater, there are so many producers it seems everyone was promised some kind of a producer’s credit to get some deal done. It would have been nice to hear from more of the folks that actually do that work in both low budget and mainstream films.

Video – Low grade hand held video camera material. Serviceable.
Audio – You can hear the interviews though they are sometimes tainted with echo and location interference.
Extras – None (unless you count the entire first disc as one)

On a scale of Poor, Fair, Good, Excellent, Classic –

DVD – Poor

Movie – Fair

The House by the Cemetery: Blu Ray Review

Sunday, November 6th, 2011

The House by the Cemetery (1981)

by Troy Howarth

Directed by Lucio Fulci; Screenplay by Dardano Sacchetti, Giorgio Mariuzzo and Lucio Fulci; Starring Catriona MacColl, Paolo Malco, Giovanni Frezza, Dagmar Lassander, Ania Pieroni, Silvia Collatina, Carlo De Mejo, Daniela Doria, Giovanni De Nava, Lucio Fulci

Dr. Boyle (Paolo Malco) moves into a mysterious house with his family in order to do some research; things do not go as planned, however, and soon the family finds themselves terrorized by an ancient evil that continues to dwell in the basement…

Following the success of Zombie (1979), Lucio Fulci found himself crowned as a master of the horror film.  Fulci had flirted with the genre in his brutal gialli of the 1970s – notably A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin (1971) and Don’t Torture a Duckling (1972) – but the success of his gory Dawn of the Dead cash-in sealed his fate.  The writer/director would go on to explore the possibilities of the genre in a string of loosely plotted supernatural horror films, all of which offered rabid fans a series of gruesome, eye popping shock highlights.  City of the Living Dead (1980) kicked off an unofficial trilogy of sorts, which could be referred to as Fulci’s extended homage to literature’s own master of horror, H.P. Lovecraft – the homage continued with The Beyond (1981) and would culminate with The House by the Cemetery (1981).  All these films, like Zombie, featured an emphasis on the living dead – but whereas Zombie was more clearly indebted to George A. Romero’s American model, these follow up efforts were far quirkier and more distinctively European in their sensibility.

Fans continue to debate the merits of these films – some view them as transcendental masterpieces, while others deride them as tacky garbage.  Similarly, while some favor City of the Living Dead or House by the Cemetery, the general concensus is pretty clear – The Beyond remains Fulci’s most popular title, bar none.  It can be argued that House by the Cemetery has been somewhat neglected as a result, but seeing the film objectively it becomes apparent that it is far more problematic than its companion pieces.

Much of the difficulty with the film stems from its confused and confusing screenplay.  Fulci cowrote the picture with his favorite collaborator of the period (Dardano Sacchetti), but there’s a sense of conflict here that isn’t present in the director’s other horror films of the period.  Say what you will about City of the Living Dead or The Beyond, but they are basically consistent in their vision – eschewing conventional narrative and logic in favor of exploring a hazy dream like atmosphere of oppression and decay.  Some critics have accused the fans of using the dream like argument as an excuse, but it pays to remember that Fulci, with his background as a writer, undertsood only too well how to structure a narrative.  Those two films were deliberately scattershot and bizarre – whether that’s a good thing or not is, of course, wholly subjective – but it’s still evident that it was precisely the effect Fulci and his collaborators were going for.  House by the Cemetery is far more problematic, precisely because it does attempt to deliver a more conventionally structured narrative – and even more problematically, because it trots out a half-assed logical explanation at the end to justify the existence of its fearsome monster, the irresistibly named Dr. Freudstein.  Fulci’s previous supernatural horror films simply accepted the presence of the supernatural and expected the audience to play along with the game, but here the attempt at rationalizing the horrors seems forced and wholly illogical.

The film is also riddled with strange happenings that border on the sloppy.  The most infamous example is the sequence in which leading lady Catriona MacColl calmy stands by as her housekeeper mops up a very noitcable pool of bright red blood on the living room floor.  Sure, we know that MacColl’s character has a history of neurosis – but to not even comment on such a bizarre spectacle?  Excuses of dream logic can do nothing to justify such a ludicrous moment – especially when the sequence itself is more or less expendable.  Surely Fulci had his reasons for leaving the scene intact, but still one can’t help but wonder if he just lazily figured that nobody would bother to notice or comment on it.  Similarly, there’s also an instance of gory foreshadowing involving a mannequin… but the fact that it occurs for only one minor supporting character and never crops up again makes it seem completely gratuitois, as if Fulci had accesss to a gory effect and was determined to use it no matter what.  It simply doesn’t add up, and it helps to contribute to the film’s uneven quality.

On the upside, Fulci and cinematographer Sergio Salvati create some memorable images and tableaux.  Some of the shock sequences are brilliantly handled, and the blood flows free and red, for those who enjoy that sort of thing.  It’s a great looking production altogether, with handsome sets and art direction, and generally convincing makeup effects.  Walter Rizzati’s score (augmented by some uncredited contributions by Alessandro Blonksteiner, who scored Antonio Margheriti’s notorious Cannibal Apocalypse, 1980) is eerie and effective, helping to maintain the right air of doom and gloom.  However, it’s the (comparatively) subtle touches that really linger in mind, from the perfect evocation of childhood fear as young Giovanni Frezza (as fan ‘favorite’ Bob) descends into the cellar only to see a pair of glowing yellow eyes stare back at him from the darkness to the wonderfully ambiguous final scene which conveys a sweet but mournful sense of the afterlife.

The performances are generally effective.  Catriona MacColl is particularly good in the last of her three appearances for Fulci, following City of the Living Dead and The Beyond.  MacColl really gets a chance to act this time, playing a woman desperately holding on to an already tenuous sense of reality.  Paolo Malco (The New York Ripper) is very good, too, as MacColl’s often absent husband, whose devotion to his research is balanced out by a palpable sense of concern for his family.  Malco and Fulci conspire to make the character seem a bit shady at times, but this comes off as a bit of a cheat in the end.  Giovanni Frezza is very effective as Bob, though his performance is completely sabotaged in the English dub by one of the worst vocal performances imaginable; it literally sounds as if an old woman trying to pass herself off as a prepubescent boy is saying the lines.  Just bear in mind, however, this isn’t Frezza’s fault – if you look at his physical acting and reactions in the film, it’s apparent that he does very well indeed under the circumstances, in what must have been a tricky role.  The supporting cast includes small roles for such familiar faces as Dagmar Lassander (the beautiful heroine of Mario Bava’s Hatchet for the Honeymoon, 1969), Carlo De Mejo (City of the Living Dead), Ania Pieroni (the bewitching Mater Tenebrarum in Dario Argento’s Inferno, 1980), and Fulci himself, as a pipe smoking colleague of Malco’s character.

The House by the Cemetery is richly atmospheric and stylishly filmed, but the problematic screenplay and sometimes sloppy inconsistencies make for an uneven final result.  It may not scale the same heights as Fulci’s best realized work, but it’s also vastly superior to much of what he would make in its wake, as dwindling budgets and mounting health problems conspired to reduce his output to a mere shadow of its former glory.

Video:

Blue Underground’s new blu ray release of House by the Cemetery is a winner.  The 2.35/16×9/1080p transfer is very attractive on the whole.  Colors are vivid and there is grain in evidence.  Some of the shots appear a little soft, which could be the result of over aggressive DNR, or simply a by product of the original cinematography.  Given that the image is fairly sharp and detailed, however, it seems more likely to be the result of the latter.  The film is presented fully uncut, with all the gory fully intact and accounted for.

Audio:

Audio options include the English track, in 2.0 DTS-HD, and the Italian track in its original mono.  The English track is naturally a bit punchier, but Blue Underground have missed a major opportunity with the Italian track.  Given that the dubbing for Frezza is so horrific in the English track, it is great to be able to appreciate his work in the Italian dub – wherein he really does sound like a little boy!  However, Blue Underground have not commissioned English subtitles for this track – instead, one is forced to use English closed captioning, based on the dialogue of the English track.  Not only is it distracting to have screen directions for the various ambient sounds in display, but the dialogue is clearly very different (and more minimally applied) in some scenes of the Italian track.  The English SDH subtitles do no give a proper idea of what the Italian track is all about, making it little more than a distraction in the long run.  That said, the Italian track does sound a little muffled; the English track is clean and clear… but boy does that kid’s voice wear on the nerves!

Extras:

Extras are plentiful, putting the previous DVD release from Anchor Bay (later reiussed by Blue Underground) to shame.  In addition to the theatrical trailers, TV spot, and still gallery already present in the previous release, there are six brand new featurettes, all presented in HD.  Meet the Boyles interviews MacColl and Malco, both of whom recall Fulci and the film with great nostalgia.  Children of the Night interviews the now fully-grown child stars, Giovanni Frezza and Silvia Collatina; both seem very fond of the film and appear to be having a blast reliving their experiences making it.  Contrary to Malco’s contention in the first featurette that Fulci hated kids and disliked working with them, both Collatina and Frezza recall him as a kind, if stern, presence on set.  Tales of Laura Gittelson allows Dagmar Lassander to recall her work with Fulci, as well as some comments on Mario Bava and Hatchet for the Honeymoon – a nice bonus, as DVD releases of that film have been pretty light on extras thus far.  My Time With Terror allows Carlo DeMejo to talk about his experiences working with Fulci – in addition to this film, he was also in City of the Living Dead and Manhattan Baby, and he seems to have been very fond of the filmmaker.  A Haunted House Story features interviews with husband and wife writers Dardano Sacchetti and Elisa Briganti, the latter being credited with ‘story’ on this film.  Finally, To Build a Better Death Trap rounds up cinematographer Salvati, makeup artist Maurizio Trani, FX artist Gino De Rossi, and actor Giovanni De Nava, who plays the frightening Dr. Freudstein in the picture.  The cumulative effect of these featurettes gives one a great insight into the film, as well as its legendary creator.

Film: ***1/2 out of *****

Blu Ray: ***** out of *****