The House by the Cemetery / Zombie

I wanted to catch it on the big screen during a midnight showing at Fantastic Fest in Austin, Texas, last month, but it was sold out (not to mention, I can't stay up that late); in hindsight, home is where the art is. For the Boyle family, however, home is where the disembodied heart is. The married couple (Paolo Malco and Catherine MacColl, neither strangers to Fulci's filmography) and their single-digit son, Bob (Giovanni Frezza, ditto), move from New York City into some sweet digs by Boston, dubbed Oak Mansion.

For the viewer, the first red flag they should stay rooted in the Big Apple is the opening prologue, depicting the brutal murder of a horny young thing in the abandoned abode. For the Boyles, however, it's Bob's insistence that a little girl in a black-and-white photo of Oak Mansion's exterior is warning them not to move in. His parents dismiss it, but we see her wailing from the window, and the simple effect is a chilling harbinger of things to come.

Those things, of course, are more brutal murders, with the culprit unseen to us until the tail end. Naturally, this allows Fulci to focus his lens on the grisly details; the neck getting sliced open is particularly gruesome, but the most memorable image may be the swath of red left behind the mop of hair of a fresh kill being dragged across the wood flooring by God-knows-what.

Let's just say it's far more formidable than the bat that attacks Mrs. Boyle's hairdo. It also resides in the basement, which makes for some genuinely tense scenes when Bob gets stuck in it behind a locked door, and Fulci refuses to cut or pan over to let us see how much time the poor kid has left.

The Blu-ray is beautiful, despite the bloody subject matter. This "House" was built in a time and place whose look can not be replicated properly, so to have it preserved like this is appreciated. I think I have a new annual Halloween favorite. New bonus interviews with five of its stars — all three Boyles included — reveal two interesting takeaways:
1. Fulci yelled a lot.
2. His movies aren't so big a deal in Italy.

Really? Not even 1979's "Zombie," which tried to pass itself off in that country as an official sequel to George A. Romero's "Dawn of the Dead" (itself made more Italian-friendly by Dario Argento's longer, gorier cut)? Weird!

Perhaps the country just needs to take in Blue Underground's new transfer on the double-disc "Ultimate Edition." Previously, I'd seen "Zombie" only on VHS, and the difference is nothing less than startling — a solid reminder that sometimes, picture quality can be the only element standing between your enjoyment of and indifference to a movie.

Such was the case for me when I first caught it a decade ago. Initially, I got into its story of a boat sailing into New York's harbors unmanned (well, unmanned by the living, that is) until Fulci's frenzied flesh-eating carnage began, which resembled some amateur-hour, Super 8 stuff. It simply looked too cheap.

No more! This print is so vibrant and detailed, it'll get under your skin, to a point where you'll demand it to stop "messin' me up wit' your voodoo." And good luck with that, as Fulci piles on one utterly grotesque scene atop another. "Zombie"'s famous WTF scene comes when a topless scuba diver is saved from being eaten by a shark when a zombie capable of breathing underwater then wrestles with and bites said shark.

However, "Zombie"'s most memorable moment is the one you'd like to forget. Good luck with that, too, as poor, pretty Olga Karlatos ("Cyclone") gets her right eye penetrated rather goopily by the world's longest, ungodliest splinter. It is one of the sickest scenes you'll ever see — not merely of ocular trauma, but all moving-picture images in general — provided your peepers are still open at the point of contact. And dragging. (Argh, the dragging!) My orbs itch just thinking about it.

I wish Ms. Karlatos were present amid disc two's numerous featurettes to discuss the splinter scene (and/or its preceding shower scene, if she so chose), but "Zombie" super-fan Guillermo del Toro (director of "Mimic") is, bringing such an informed and insightful perspective to Fulci's work that I wished he provided a full-length commentary. (Usually, I wish he'd just shut up.)

For newbies wanting to choose between the two, I'd recommend starting with "Cemetery." It's the better film. Note, however, that neither is for pussies. —Rod Lott


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