Żuławski's 1981 shocker POSSESSION is a definite, grim bit of horror. It also serves a metaphor for several things; least of which is not the power of male jealousy.
The House by the Cemetery. 1981. Directed by Lucio Fulci. Screenplay by Lucio Fulci/Giorgio Mariuzzo/Dardano Sacchetti, from a story by Elisa Livia Briganti.
Starring Catriona MacColl, Paolo Malco, Anioa Pieroni, Giovannia Frezza, Silvia Collatina, Dagmar Lassander, Giovanni De Nava, Daniela Dora, Gianpaolo Saccarola and Carlo De Mejo. Fulvia Film. Rated R. 87 minutes.
I came to Lucio Fulci about ten years ago, after seeing City of the Living Dead. His classic look, the effects, an insanely nasty sense of style – how could I not enjoy his films? After that one, I found The Beyond, which is tied with A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin as my favourite of his work. So I made my way through everything by him I could find. Though his movies aren’t perfect, I find them perfect for me, for horror. They’re not full of grand metaphor, they aren’t even particularly complex in plot. What Fulci offers is a visually pleasing aesthetic, crossed with the brutal qualities of his own personal horror movie madness.
The House by the Cemetery isn’t his best, though, it’s nowhere near his worst. While many might have you believe it’s overrated, or that it’s “typical Fulci”, I say that’s nonsense. Especially those who think it’s “typical” of him – what’s wrong with typical Fulci? He’s a classic horror filmmaker, his style is all his own. Added to that, there are always solid gore effects, you can count on that. This film has all the earmarks of Fulci with a bit of inspiration from H.P. Lovecraft and other sources.
Essentially, this is Fulci’s version of the haunted house horror.
Norman and Lucy Boyle (Paolo Malco/Catriona MacColl), along with their young boy Bob (Giovanni Frezza), move into a home belonging to a colleague of Norman’s who committed suicide; he plans on researching the house itself, as well as the other previous owners. Soon enough, Bob sees a young girl named Mae (Silvia Collatina), but only he can see her. She tries to warn him of the danger in the house. No one will believe him, certainly not his mother. Eventually a woman comes to take the position of babysitter for Bob – Ann (Ania Pieroni) shows up out of nowhere for the job.
Things slowly get scarier in the old house, as Norma and Lucy discover a Dr. Freudstein once lived in their new home, around the turn of the century. He was a Victorian era doctor who performed illegal surgeries and experiments. This leads to more gruesome discoveries around the property, as the past comes alive and tears its way into the present.
When the movie’s filmed in English, yet still dubbed in post-production for some odd reason, you can’t expect it to be an outright masterpiece. Can you? No. So, when you watch The House by the Cemetery I’m not saying you’ll be blown away by all the technical aspects. Nor am I saying the story makes perfect and complete sense. Not in the slightest. What I am saying is that Fulci manages to do excitingly eerie things with atmosphere, as well as the fact he does his best to include some proper gore to wet the whistle of all those gore hounds out there.
My favourite part of this film is that atmosphere. The overall tone is grim. There’s something common to Fulci, I think. Every movie feels hopeless, not an ounce of actual happiness and figurative light manages to make its way into these stories he tells. Which is perfect for horror, and why I’m always inclined to enjoy so many of his films. The House by the Cemetery has the pretense of having those happier moments in the beginning, but the immediacy in Fulci’s presentation of the horror going on inside the house sets the tone quickly. It reminds me of how George Romero starts Day of the Dead with that neat, brief little dream sequence; sets us on edge from the start, almost like a visual manifesto. From there, Fulci works on us with his imagery alongside an unusual and exciting score from Walter Rizzati. The aesthetic of the film is, again, very Fulci.
I mean, even the scene where Norman (Paolo Malco) gets attacked by a bat becomes something intensely horrific. It latches onto his hand for what seems like ages. Finally, after a tough wrestle with it as everyone watches in horror, Norman stabs the things, blood pumping everywhere. The mark it leaves is savage. Such a normal event like finding a bat in the basement – something which happens plenty to people around the world – transforms into the stuff of nightmares. Such is the power of Fulci. He doesn’t have to be doing anything extraordinary in terms of plot or story in order to make things interesting, or in this case pretty nasty.
I’ve seen a lot of people complain about the story, like the plot is completely nonsensical. Not sure why so many complaints. There’s not much going on here to really need to comprehend. It’s a haunted house style horror movie, there are reanimated corpses in the house – chaos and supernatural terror ensue. What’s so tough to get? Not saying that everything is tied up into neat little packages and the screenplay rounds off every edge it fashions. But seriously – I don’t get the labels of incoherent other reviews have put out there. Does not make sense. There’s a surreal nature to this creepy house of Fulci’s, I feel The House by the Cemetery is like a fever dream full of haunting images. As I said earlier, this is like the past meets the present. The visceral entities of the house’s past come alive to keep taking lives, to keep Dr. Freudstein in business and corpses for experimentation, surely. Is that not the whole point? Just can’t get my head around why people feel the need to criticize Fulci here when the movie isn’t trying to be anything more than it is: a creepfest with nasty kills and a grim tone.
Despite all my love for this Lucio Fulci film, I do find a lot of the acting – aside from Catriona MacColl who is always fabulous – pretty damn bothersome, and tiring most of the time. Regardless, I still say this is a 3.5 out of 5 star horror movie. It’s got a nice dose of gore, the typically awesome and gnarly horror expected of Fulci. Not only that, the story is creepy enough to keep things going; no matter what people say about its supposed incoherence. Mainly, it’s just not an overly complex plot or anything. It has the goods to satisfy a haunted house movie craving, on top of that the blood and vicious bits will keep the hounds at bay. Not Fulci’s top horror, but like I said it’s light years away from being the worst. This is a good flick for Halloween and it’s a generally good one to take in if you’re getting into Fulci, or if you’re into him and have yet to see it because of Negative Nancies and Davie Downers saying this is overrated, or yadda yadda whatever else they say. Judge for yourself! Let me know what you think in the comments, I’d love to hear other perspectives, as long as you’re civil – then this Dude abides.
Halloween II. 1981. Directed by Rick Rosenthal. Screenplay by John Carpenter & Debra Hill.
Starring Jamie Lee Curtis, Donald Pleasence, Charles Cyphers, Jeffrey Kramer, Lance Guest, Pamela Susan Shoop, Hunter von Leer, Dick Warlock, Leo Rossi, Gloria Gifford, and Tawny Moyer. Dino De Laurentiis Company.
Rated R. 92 minutes.
★★★★★ (Blu ray release)
There are very few sequels which come out living up to the greatness of the original film. Especially when we consider horror movies, there are not too many franchises that end up pumping out sequels that match the first.
However, I’d argue that Halloween II is more than a worthy sequel compared to its predecessor. I don’t like this more than the first Halloween, but all the same I think it’s one of the most flawless slasher horrors out there, and definitely a favourite of mine out of the 1980s; an era that held so much great, as well as shlocky and awful, horror from start to finish.
While John Carpenter only returned to this film in the form of screenwriter, I still find that Rick Rosenthal attempted to keep up with a particular style laid out by Carpenter in the original. In that way, with a build of tension and suspense alongside the continuously solid acting from both Donald Pleasance and Scream Queen original Jamie Lee Curtis, my opinion is that Rosenthal made a worthy sequel that should stand next to the original and not be derided as some less than decent sequel trying to capitalize off the success of Carpenter’s first film. Though Carpenter expressed more than once he wasn’t too pleased about a sequel, I think that in 1978 with an ending such as the original Halloween had, there was no way they couldn’t make a continuation. Today, it’s easy to say “no more sequels” because everything is a sequel, a remake, a reboot, a rehash – but in 1981, I bet tons of people wanted more Michael Myers. Maybe going on for over half a dozen movies was not the perfect concept, however, I love this sequel and I think it has enough of all the good stuff to warrant it being an excellent horror movie on its own, even without riding the coattails of Carpenter completely. Luckily, the script works well and it doesn’t come off as a needless movie, and I’m happy that at least Carpenter put his mark on things, even if only slightly through the script with Debra Hill.
Beginning immediately after the events of 1978’s Halloween, we pick up as Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) is brought to the hospital. Dr. Loomis (Donald Pleasence) is somehow still trying to convince the authorities of Michael Myers’ impending danger, while the masked serial killer continues on stalking through the darkened streets of Haddondfield, trick-or-treaters still running around in their own costumes. Police are out, looking for the murderer, but Loomis still can’t get through to everyone how Michael is essentially the physical embodiment of evil.
With a quiet and isolated setting in a cold, sterile hospital, Halloween II gives us a claustrophobic romp through terror, as Michael Myers wants to find Laurie Strode – for reasons we come to discover – and he will stop at nothing to find her. Moving through the dark halls of the hospital, Myers cuts and cracks his way through everyone and every single thing in his way, until it’s only him, Dr. Loomis, and Laurie Strode left.
Really dig how the story starts right after the original events. This makes the tension and suspense feel as if it’s still lingering. Even years and years later, starting from the night of Michael Myers’ return and heading right into the plot of this film, I think it was one of the smartest screenwriting choices they could’ve made. It’s as if we’ve never left the streets of Haddonfield, like Michael Myers has been continually stalking Laurie, Loomis, all of us, ever since we last watched the 1978 original. Every time I watch it, the opening scenes from Carpenter’s Halloween that work into the official first scenes of Halloween II really put me back into that terrifying seat where last I sat. A great effect.
A few wonderful Steadicam shots throughout the halls of the hospital. I think not only does Rosenthal stick with a structure of suspense, he also goes for a similar visual style to the first film, which helps again to keep us in that mood extending out of Carpenter’s Halloween. There’s just enough of the movie sticking close to the 1978 classic while still remaining a separate film that I sort of love Halloween and Halloween II as a pair. Though I love the original most, there’s something perfect about how these two horror movies come together. They’re different beasts, but cut from the same cloth. To me, Halloween II becomes a logical extension of the first instead of merely coming off as rushed piece of work to be forced into the market, hoping to spawn more movies. Maybe others see it that way. Me – I love this and think it’s a great addition to the first, making Halloween into a legitimate series. Some say Halloween III: Season of the Witch ought not be considered as a part of the series – it’s more of a stand alone picture – however, I think it works in wonderfully. A lot say the series falls off heavily after this one, but I find the 3rd, 4th, and 5th instalments a lot of fun. That’s just my opinion. Not as good as the first two, but these first two films made it possible for Michael Myers to become that never dying embodiment of evil. At least in Halloween II, we’re treated to an excellent slasher film that works as an impressive double feature with the first.
Apparently Carpenter went back, after believing Rosenthal’s version didn’t have enough blood, and re-shot some extra nasty parts to make it more visceral. Even though Rosenthal did not like it; he planned to go the same route as Carpenter did in the original, with little-to-no blood. So the story goes, Carpenter thought that with the newer slashers coming out and going for heavy gore, nasty kills, this sequel would fail to compete with the others and get washed away in a tide of new horror movies. I don’t think it detracts at all from the film, and even while Rosenthal didn’t approve I believe Carpenter did the right thing. There’s still a ton of suspense and genuine tension built up through the cinematography and how Rosenthal has that dark, fluid sort of movement with the camera going from one shot to the next. So in the end, I really don’t think Carpenter’s decision to add in a little more bloody stuff was a bad one. Stepped things up a notch while also not trying to imitate every last little detail of the original. Sets it apart slightly from the film it follows.
The kills add another dimension to this movie. I love Carpenter’s style in the first, but again, I think he’s totally justified in making this one a slight bit messier – on the blood side. Not that it’s outrageous, not at all. Though, there are a couple worthy moments of blood and terror, it isn’t anything over the top. It’s like that cherry on the top of all that succulent, delicious icing.
One of my favourite kill scenes is the part where he scalds the nurse to death. It is vicious, but it also starts off so subtly. First, in the background as the nurse towels off, we see her male companion get offed by Michael, almost in a fuzzy view. Then he works his way out and up behind her, as Myers so often does. She’s lulled into a false sense of security, thinking it’s her man back again for a good time, but then he
Note: amazing to have included Samhain in what is most likely blood on a chalkboard in the school. Thought that was an expertly creepy touch. Not sure if it was Carpenter, Hill, or Rosenthal who came up with that one. Either way, it adds another level of creepiness to Michael Myers as a killer. Almost as if there’s something… supernatural at work. Though, there’s no effort to linger on that. And I think it’s why I love that moment – there’s no explanation, we’re left with only the weird word of Samhain: the beginning of the darker part of the year, a celebration at the end of harvest season. Is this meant in terms of Michael out harvesting his crops, cutting down victims? Or is it merely creepiness the child in Michael picked up along the way? Something he grafted onto his personality, the savage terror that sits behind his blank mask. Who knows. Regardless, it’s great.
The hospital setting really does it for me. One reason I enjoyed the modern slasher Fritt Vilt II is due to its reminiscence, but not carbon copying, of the setting and suspense from this movie; it really pulls off an excellent Halloween II vibe without stealing anything or trying to replicate it. A lot of that has to do with that setting of the hospital – it’s a place we’re meant to feel safe, a haven, somewhere the bad people and things aren’t supposed to be able to get us. However, Michael Myers always manages to go where he is not wanted, where others do not go. He will find a way in. And that’s what I find worming under my skin – the fact Myers is virtually unstoppable. Not even so much that you can’t kill the guy, but the idea there’s nowhere he cannot find you. He’s the ultimate apex predator.
Once inside the hospital, there comes all that claustrophobia, the stuffy feeling of not being able to get away. Not only that, Laurie Strode (Curtis) is also banged up, needing a little medical attention, so there’s a vulnerability to the hospital setting which ratchets up all that creepiness and makes the suspenseful moments inside the location all that more intense.
Like I’ve continually pointed out, I love this movie. Both as its own scary movie, with much more on-screen killing and blood/graphic horror than the original, as well as the perfect companion to John Carpenter’s 1978 masterpiece of slasher horror Halloween. Certainly there’s enough of the DNA from the original film to make it work, I think Rick Rosenthal crafts his own thing here, making Michael Myers his own for 92 minutes.
And who can complain about getting more of Laurie Strode and Dr. Loomis? Donald Pleasence continues to make Loomis one of the best horror movie heroes out there – part madman himself, the doctor is unstoppable almost like his evil counterpart in Myers. All the while, Jamie Lee Curtis proves she has the chops even more in this movie than the first. There’s another aspect to Laurie Strode here once bits of her past are revealed, as well as the fact she’s injured and medicated in the hospital. Great performances once more from these two fine, fine actors. They bring real legitimacy to these first two films and I think it’s another big part of the reason why I’ve enjoyed it so much over the years.
No matter what the case, Halloween II lives up to what I think it should be: a tense and unsettling, claustrophobic romp through slasher horror. Myers is ever frightful and dangerous, while the revelations Laurie Strode faces bring new life to the young girl we saw emerge from the terror of Michael’s killing spree at the end of the original film. A bit of good nasty stuff with the kill scenes and excellent cinematographic choices on the part of Rosenthal, as well as a couple pieces shot by Carpenter himself, and you’ve got a great hour and a half of slasher madness. And never forget the always eerie music of Halloween, another significant element to the liquid terror oozing out of nearly every single scene.
I always recommend this as one of the best sequels out there in the horror genre. I’ll continue to do so, even if people think that’s foolishness. This is a great slasher and stands up there alongside the best, including its predecessor.
The Blu ray is pretty damn solid all the way through from picture and sound quality to the additional features included in the release from Universal Pictures. There are deleted scenes, an alternate ending, as well as the documentary film Terror in the Aisles, which is hosted by the ever fabulous Donald Pleasance and Nancy Allen; it’s a big compilation of scenes and trailers from crime, drama, horror, and sci-fi films from the 1930s up to the 1980s. Excellent addition to the Blu ray. Also, the quality is beyond incredible! What a great transfer. The scenes are so crisp, you just feel all the atmosphere leaking out from each scene. Most definitely worth a purchase. A solid part of my horror movie collection.