Friday, February 19, 2016

039. Cathy's Curse and 040. House By the Cemetery

Jump to House By the Cemetery (1981)

039/ Cathy's Curse (1977)
Director: Eddy Matalon
Writers: Myra Clément, Eddy Matalon, and Alain Sens-Cazenave
From: Chilling

Cathy gets possessed by the spirit of her dead aunt who hates all women and doesn't want anyone getting in between her and her father.

I'm having trouble saying anything about this movie. It's not particularly good, not particularly bad, not particularly boring either. The film is around 80 minutes and I can say that with conviction!

We open in 1947, as a title card tells us, where George and his mother have left, abandoning his father and sister. The father comes home, finds Laura alone, stuffs her into the car shouting, “Your mother's a bitch! She'll pay for what she did to you!” and then crashes when Laura makes him swerve to avoid a rabbit. The car catches fire and they both die. We, by the way, never learn what the mother did to Laura unless it was the leaving thing, but wouldn't that have been done to both of them?

Jump to 1979—a bold move seeing as this was made in 1977—when George is moving back into the old family house with his wife, Vivian, who recently suffered from a nervous breakdown, and their daughter, Cathy. Cathy finds a ratty doll with its eyes sewn shut and Vivian shouts at George about having had a nervous breakdown but being okay now.

Vivian shouts everything, by the way. That's how you know she's both serious and too hysterical for George to ever listen to or treat with any sort of credibility whatsoever because otherwise we wouldn't have the movie we barely have.

The doll carries the spirit of Laura, or channels it, or is possessed by it, or something, but Cathy gets mind powers and starts messing stuff up, kills a few people, tries to kill her mother, and then the doll is defeated.

The movie never commits to the elements it brings in. For example, people keep finding the doll and wanting to take it from Cathy because it's “filthy.” She refuses to give it up and the person gets hurt. The climax has Vivian realizing in a fever dream that the doll has to be burned to save Cathy. Of course, the spell is broken when Vivian removes the doll's eyes.

?

Likewise, Cathy, when possessed, just wants to have her father all to herself and hates all other females regardless of species. She even hates the dog because it's female. That misogyny, though, seems to come from Laura's father, not Laura. Even if it is from Laura, this isn't her father, it's her brother, so shouldn't the relationship be more sibling than father/daughter? All of which goes back to the inciting incident: why did the mother leave and only with George?

The movie has hints of The Omen and The Exorcist in that it features a demon child, but, to be fair, seems to be more within that genre than borrowing from either of those. There are moments of unintentional comedy as well. No one seems to notice the growing evil even when it's happening right in front of them. One scene features Vivian yelling at Cathy only to have Cathy literally vanish and then reappear somewhere else. Vivian doesn't react like she's seen teleportation, she continues to yell at Cathy telling her to stop “hiding.”

This is the kind of movie that a good riff group or horror host could do something interesting with, but isn't enough of any one thing to grab attention otherwise. The archive.org forums say this is covered by GATT, but also that it's TV-safe. If I get confirmation that it's PD, I'll upload my muddy, poorly-preserved copy, but until then, there is a copy on archive.org here.



040. The House By the Cemetery (1981)
Director: Lucio Fulci
Writers: Lucio Fulci, Girogio Mariuzzo, and Dardano Sacchetti from a story by Elisa Briganti
From: Pure Terror

After a colleague's murder/suicide, a man moves his family into the colleague's house to continue his research. Only there's a malevolent presence in the basement and a ghostly girl keeps warning the son to leave before it's too late.

This is the third of Fulci's Gates of Hell Trilogy (following City of the Living Dead and The Beyond) and, since I haven't seen those, I can't speak to how it relates to them. I can say that there are heavy hints of The Amityville Horror and The Shining here: a family ignorant of a house's dark past suffering from hauntings, a psychic child having ghostly premonitions. Likewise it feels like the movie influenced—in tone if not in content— the Silent Hill franchise and the first season of American Horror Story, respectively.

I don't have much to say about it, though. It's enjoyable, but it feels derivative, like Fulci was tapped to do his own version of Amityville and The Shining. That's closer to my exposure to Fulci as well.

I first learned about him from Anchor Bay's Lucio Fulci collection around 2002, the same time I learned about Dario Argento and the same way. I saw the “special collector's editions” of their DVDs for sale at Best Buy and that piqued my interest enough to buy the 3-disc numbered “Limited Edition” of Suspiria (portrait of a life with disposable income and no student debt) and I really enjoyed it. As I mentioned when talking about Deep Red, I like Argento's use of color, tone, and the over-arching fairy-tale/dream logic of his works.

Fulci isn't working in the same way. I never did buy any of his DVDs (or any other Argento ones), but kept coming across them at other Best Buys and independent video stores. Something I really miss about the end of video rental is the way a cover could sell a movie, even colonize part of your dreams. Fulci's Zombie (or Zombi or Zombi 2) did that for me until I finally rented it from, the now, sadly shuttered Incredibly Strange Video in Pittsburgh.

Zombie is famous for a lot of things, most notably the underwater zombie vs. shark sequence, but is mentioned here because of its marketing and release. In Italy it was sold as a sequel to Night of the Living Dead (Italian title: Zombi, hence Zombi 2) even though it's not related to NotLD at all. That's why House By the Cemetery feels, not derivative, but as though it has clear echoes and influences of other horror movies and that really draws the line, for me, between Fulci and Argento.

Both are known for their roles in the Italian Giallo genre, but Argento feels much more like a storyteller. He has a specific vision and tone and is able to really paint pictures with film. Fulci seems to have a better understanding of genre film and excels at it. Whereas Argento makes images that are new and unnerving, Fulci precisely creates and recreates previously unnerving images. Fulci is like Sam Rami in that he knows exactly how horror works and hits all the notes with precision, and that is something to praise.

The House by the Cemetery is fun and more than competently done. The opening sequence of a woman wandering an abandoned house looking for her boyfriend only to be stabbed through the head really tells you everything you need to know about the tone of what's going to follow. There are nods to domestic distress, townspeople keeping secrets, and obvious premonitions of death that are completely ignored, but that's part of the fun of the genre.

Fulci is a canonical director in his own way so I don't know if recommendations even apply. My copy was a little uneven, something that seems to happen with these dubbed late-70's/early-80's Italian films, and may be solved by finding one of the more recent blu-ray releases, but I enjoyed it well enough. I've been wanting to see The Beyond for ages and this hasn't diminished that urge at all so maybe there's a Gates of Hell trilogy in my future.

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