The House by the Cemetery


*31 Nights of Horror (#14) | 2017*

On this episode of The Nightly Chill:

Cinematico Magnifico continues his search for late-night scares beyond the walls of The Last Video Store on Earth. Tonight, we look at the third and final entry in Lucio Fulci’s “Gates of Hell” Trilogy, The House by the Cemetery!


When the Boyle family moves to a quaint New England town, the last thing they expected to find were graves in the basement of the new house. But just when they thought that was the only dark secret haunting their home, a series of mysterious, grisly murders begin in The House by the Cemetery.

INTIMATE, BUT…

The House by the Cemetery, by horror icon Lucio Fulci, is the third and final movie in his unofficial “Gates of Hell” trilogy.

And the short of it is that The House by the Cemetery is not much more than a typical haunted house movie. There is some dark, sinister force haunting the new home of an unsuspecting family. A number of people die grisly deaths. And instead of running at the first sign of trouble, the family sticks around until the bitter, confusing end.

The House by the Cemetery is the most intimate yet least stylized movie in Fulci’s unofficial trilogy of films. There’s little in the way of that Italian horror flair present in Fulci’s other movies. The music is loud and omnipresent, but is easily forgettable. There’s not much in the way of special effects or interesting lighting and framing. The story is easily the most straightforward and functional from start to finish. But it’s also the least interesting. Whereas City of the Living Dead and The Beyond played with big, wild ideas, The Last House on the Cemetery really is a by-the-numbers haunted house movie.

This isn’t to say that the movie is necessarily bad or unenjoyable. Or that it’s forgettable. Instead, it’s simply and plainly uninspired. In fact, the only thing that could have possibly made this movie even more cliche and unoriginal would be if it started on a dark and stormy night.

STRANGE, BUT…

The movie is certainly strange enough. It’s certainly a decent viewing in and of itself. And the focus on a small family of three rather than an entire town or multiple groups of people is a welcomed change of pace.

But, in the end, The House by the Cemetery feels incredibly safe, especially in comparison to Fulci’s own filmography. And while safe isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it’s never a good thing either. Especially when fans have so many more options available to them.

So if for no other reason than there are far too many better, creative movies you can choose to watch in it’s place (even if they’re not quite as well-made), The House by the Cemetery is, unfortunately, a NO CHILL.

The Beyond


*31 Nights of Horror (#12) | 2017*

On this episode of The Nightly Chill:

Cinematico Magnifico continues his search for late-night scares beyond the walls of the Video Store With No Name, aka The Last Video Store on Earth. Tonight, we look at Italian horror classic, The Beyond (the second entry in the unofficial “Gates of Hell” trilogy)!

NOTE: All movies reviewed for “31 Nights of Horror” are currently available to stream in the US via Shudder, a horror-centric streaming service.


Catriona MacColl is Liza, a young woman who has recently inherited an old hotel in the heart of New Orleans. But as she attempts to restore the hotel and carry on its legacy, a frightening series of events soon reveals that the hotel was built atop the gates of Hell. And the gate, of course, is now wide open in The Beyond.


MIDDLE-CHILD

The Beyond, from iconic horror director Lucio Fulci, is the second movie in the unofficial “Gates of Hell” trilogy. And, as might be expected, it suffers greatly from middle-child syndrome.

City of the Living Dead dealt with the dead rising from the grave, starting as a small-scale series of events and turning into a large-scale uprising. The House by the Cemetery is, at its core, an intimate tale of a family living in a haunted house.

The Beyond, meanwhile, is a series of loosely connected stories. Each story follows one of several group of characters who all have some connection to a hotel that rests above a literal gate of hell.

STUCK IN THE MIDDLE

Unfortunately, none of the many different roads the movie follows feels grand nor intimate. They all just sort of drift about in the middle.

We never spend enough time with the woman who owns the hotel nor the family of the man who initially dies at it. Nor do we get to see the sheer scale of the chaos surrounding any of this. And as result, aside from some key special effects shots, nothing about The Beyond is all that interesting. The story and the characters are just sort of there. There’s never enough tension or drama. Things just sort of happen but hardly ever build to anything.

And the strange thing is that everything that plays out is fascinating in concept. I just never felt like I cared about any of it. 87 minutes is just not enough time to show us everything that plays out in the movie and make us care.

A two hour movie might have been able to pull that off, it might have been able to flesh out everything just enough to give some sort of meaning to it all. Or it might have been squandered on simply following even more characters and even more half-hearted stories.

But all we have is this 87-minute movie that overwhelms and underwhelms in almost equal measure.

YEAH, BUT…

This is one of those rare instances where I want to somehow defend my loving of the movie strictly for the concept alone. The actual movie itself isn’t very good because it feels half
there. But what’s there is still an enjoyable if not necessarily fun watch.

And as a result The Beyond is certainly worth CHILLING with. Just don’t be so sure you’ll feel that way immediately after having done so.

Contamination


*31 Nights of Horror (#11) | 2017*

On this episode of The Nightly Chill:

Cinematico Magnifico continues his search for late-night scares beyond the walls of the Video Store With No Name, aka The Last Video Store on Earth. Tonight, we look at Italian sci-fi horror flick, Contamination!

NOTE: All movies reviewed for “31 Nights of Horror” are currently available to stream in the US via Shudder, a horror-centric streaming service.


When a transport ship carrying otherworldly cargo arrives in New York–its crew somehow mysteriously dead–it’ll take a government agent and a local police officer to get to the heart of this deadly mystery in Contamination.


Contamination, from writer-director Luigi Cozzi, is a fairly odd bit of sci-fi horror. The movie itself is fairly innocuous. In fact, it’s largely forgettable.

It’s a sci-fi movie that isn’t all that interested in delivering a science-fiction narrative. It’s a horror movie that isn’t all that interested in delivering on scares or even a general sense of dread or uneasiness. And unlike many other Italian horror films of the era, it’s not very stylish outside a few key shots.

Though like many Italian horror movies, Contamination doesn’t have so much a story as it does a paper-thin plot that rationalizes a series of loosely connected scenes that play out in a longer, slower fashion than necessary.

MYSTERI-WHAT?

That said, Cozzi’s slow-burn mystery that actually unfolds in its entirety is a much welcome change of pace from the non-mysteries that plague Italian horror films.

The mystery of the alien cargo–which is incredibly ridiculous in presentation, danger, and purpose–is at the heart of the movie. The movie opens with it, the main characters focus on it, and it keeps the movie trotting slowly but steadily forward until the main characters–and us, the audience–get the answers we’ve been searching and waiting for.

Now, stating that a movie has a respectable purpose and direction seems like faint praise–and in most cases, it would be. But in the style and genre that Contamination belongs to, such things are a rarity. And, as a result, such a clear, well-developed framework is much appreciated.

The movie does, unfortunately, steer into territory worn-out even by 1980, reducing even its few redeeming factors to token alterations to a tired formula.

There’s the one man, one woman pair of leads forced to solve a mysterious threat that sort of unfolds and solves itself. The rare use of special effects is highlighted with odd, questionable stylistic choices, such as extended slow-motion shots. And, of course, the barely there story abruptly concludes with little sense of closure.

But if Contamination‘s real issues can be boiled down to just one glaring fault, it’d be that the movie is simply not that interesting. The premise it sets up–this deadly alien threat that literally just appears seemingly out of nowhere and casually makes its way into one of the most densely populated cities in the world–is incredibly interesting. There’s a lot of dread and paranoia to cultivate. There’s plenty of mileage to get out of this–either in the small scale or the large.

But Cozzi didn’t seem to have much left in the tank after he got through with the premise and inciting incident. Because no one in this movie seems concerned or scared, even in the face of death. There’s no tension. There’s no real emotion to find in the movie whatsoever.

Bad acting, bad dialog, and suspect direction are a prolific aspect of Italian horror. It often provides a lot of the charm in such movies. But, in the case of Contamination, it’s simply flat across the board. It’s as if no one, Cozzi included, cared about the final results.

It really feels as if everyone involved with the movie were satisfied with phoning in a day’s work–all day, every day. And it’s a shame, because there’s a good core to be found at the heart of Contamination. But unless you’re running low on options, you’d be fine skipping this one.

Contamination is a NO CHILL

Demons


31 Nights of Horror (#7) | 2017

On this episode of The Nightly Chill:

Cinematico Magnifico continues his search for late-night scares beyond the walls of The Last Video Store on Earth. Tonight, we take a look at classic giallo film, Demons!

NOTE: All movies reviewed for “31 Nights of Horror” are currently available to stream in the US via Shudder, a horror-centric streaming service.


When a group of people are invited to a free screening of a mysterious new horror movie, they soon discover themselves in for the fright of their lives when everything that happens in the movie also happens to them in Demons.

DEM-ON, DEM-OFF

Directed by Lamberto Bava and written by horror icon Dario Argento, Demons is yet another Italian giallo film that presents a highly stylized audio-visual experience with very little substance.

Because while the premise of a movie-within-a-movie unleashing a private Hell on our main cast of characters sounds like a lot of fun, like an opportunity to do something different–something a little insightful regarding the movie-going experience, perhaps–there’s simply little done with that premise or these characters.

In fact, all that’s really done with the premise is using it to explain why zombie-like demons are suddenly unleashed on a literal captive audience. Once that finally gets going, that’s all we get for the next hour.

And it really does take some 25 minutes for the movie to get started. The first half-hour is mostly comprised of long, static shots of people in the subway, walking down hallways, and, eventually, gathering in a local movie theater. We meet our core group of would-be victims, yes, but we’re not given much of anything interesting to look out, hear, or experience. It’s framed nice. And the music is that classic, catchy, moody sound you’d expect from these sorts of movies.

But none of that makes up for the fact that there’s no real story to speak of–only this stretched out series of moments that eventually lead to a non-ending. The characters simply prattle on and scream at each other until the next one dies. And then, once the movie finally decides it’s all out of ideas, the credits roll.

ALL SIZZLE, NO STEAK

But while it would be easy to dismiss the movie entirely as one that’s “all sizzle and no steak”, it has to be made clear that the giallo-style is cranked up high. The sheer amount of “sizzle” almost entirely makes up for the distinct lack of “steak” present in Demons. Almost.

Little is done with the premise or the titular demons themselves, yes. But they do have a fascinating look that is brought to life by incredible make-up design. And a number of the violent, stylized death scenes they’re always present for make great use of some creative practical effects.

Even the unnatural acting and line-delivery of the human characters bring to life what could have otherwise been some of the worst dialog ever written.

Of course, all the fantastic and bizarre lighting and violence and monster make-up in the world doesn’t fully make-up for a lack of pacing, purpose, or anything remotely resembling good acting. But, when done right, as Bava does in Demons, it makes for one hell of a viewing experience.

Demons is a definite CHILL.

Zombie Holocaust


31 Nights of Horror (#5) | 2017

On this episode of The Nightly Chill:

Cinematico Magnifico continues his search for late-night scares beyond the walls of The Last Video Store on Earth. Tonight, we take a look at giallo zombie flick, Zombie Holocaust!

NOTE: All movies reviewed for “31 Nights of Horror” are currently available to stream in the US via Shudder, a horror-centric streaming service.


After several bodies are desecrated and several patients are killed in their beds, a group of doctors and journalists head for the East Indies to uncover the truth behind this recent string of cannibalistic behavior in Zombie Holocaust.

ANCIENT ZOMBIE SECRET

Zombie Holocaust, from director Marino Girolami, is somewhat of a mystery to me. Despite sharing so many traits found in other giallo-styled films, Zombie Holocaust seems to lack whatever “I don’t know what” that allows those other movies to succeed in raw entertainment in spite of their numerous issues.

The acting, the dialog, the story, and the pacing are, at best, subpar. And at worst, they’re abysmal. But this is fairly common in the genre. It’s very much a matter of style over substance. Saturated colors. Odd, comic book-like framing and lighting. Melodramatic, on-the-nose dialog and performances. And a singular, focused hook or gimmick.

And Zombie Holocaust does indeed capture the stylistic flair of the genre. Everything on screen pops in the style’s distinct manner. There’s an inherent pulp feel to everything, with characters looking and talking like they popped out of an old horror magazine or comic book. The film’s color pallet is largely desaturated until something of dramatic importance is on screen, at which point key colors are heavily saturated. The lighting will even go from natural or over-lit to hyperstylized, with swashes of greens and reds and dark, ominous shadows falling across shots.

The movie even features a fairly barebones, predictable hook. Cannibals appear in a major, modern city. A small group of people with a death wish make it their business to venture
into the wildness halfway around the world for answers regarding the cannibals. And, once on some isolated island, everything goes wrong for everyone involved, and they have to survive somehow.

It’s a simple, basic premise and structure. But it’s one that’s worked across dozens and dozens of films.

PALE IMITATION

So what is it exactly that leaves Zombie Holocaust feeling like a pale imitation?

Well, the only thing I didn’t feel with Zombie Holocaust that I feel with many other giallo films is this sense that, in spite of the film’s small budget, the director had the creativity to keep things interesting and popping off the screen often enough.

So much of the movie is waiting for something to happen–blood, violence, a cheap scare, or even some odd, gratuitous sex.

But even the gratuitous sexual content is so lifeless. There is more than one extended sequence where we see Alexandra Delli Colli’s Lori stripping or getting dressed or simply walking around naked. But none of it comes across as particularly titillating. There’s no sense of voyeurism to any of it. There’s nothing outright sexual about what we see, despite that clearly being the only reason it’s there.

And that sort of lacking is there when it comes to the effects and the scares. The titular zombies don’t really look all that interesting. At times, they even look like they’re wearing a cheap mask purchased at a corner drug store. The blood and violence are there, but none of it feels like its meant to entertain us. It’s simply there because it has to be there.

Perhaps it’s Girolami’s framing. Perhaps its the soundtrack, which never really seems to hit quite the right note. But whatever it is, there’s simply something that doesn’t feel authentic about Zombie Holocaust. And when there are so many other better representations of the giallo style–even if only barely–I can only suggest that you avoid this one without a second thought.

Zombie Holocaust, while not an entirely unwatchable film, is a firm NO CHILL.

Nightmare City


31 Nights of Horror (#4) | 2017

On this episode of The Nightly Chill:

Cinematico Magnifico continues his search for late-night scares beyond the walls of The Last Video Store on Earth. Tonight, we take a look at giallo horror flick, Nightmare City!

NOTE: All movies reviewed for “31 Nights of Horror” are currently available to stream in the US via Shudder, a horror-centric streaming service.


When a plane makes an emergency landing, it soon unleashes its cargo of blood-thirty, irradiated mutants upon the world in Nightmare City.

WE BUILT THIS CITY

Brought to us by director Umberto Lenzi, Nightmare City is yet another zombie-not-a-zombie movie. Its monsters, for the most part, look and act like any other George Romero-styled zombies. They feast on living people. They multiply by infecting those they injure but fail to kill. And these creatures can only be killed with a bullet to the brain.

Like Romero’s films, the creatures are never called zombies. But unlike those movies, the creatures in Nightmare City are not the living dead. They’re people altered through radiation. They can use complex tools and weapons. They can even operate vehicles.

And the reason I mention all this is because despite having such incredibly dangerous monsters, not much is really done with them.

The vast majority of the film is spent highlighting a location–an airport, a TV studio, a house–and then unleashing this army of mutants on unsuspecting victims. They bite, claw, stab, and shoot everyone in their path until no one is left alive. Wash, rinse, repeat.

But then why make the monsters so functionally human only to utilize them like any other stereotypical ghoul?

OH, **** YOU

And this really does highlight the issue plaguing Nightmare City. Despite such a great twist on a common idea readily abused by the giallo subgenre of horror, Lenzi and company didn’t bother to do anything with it. There’s nothing unique or creative done with any of the movie’s otherwise creative ideas.

The monsters are more than a mindless horde driven by their desire for human blood. The main character is a TV news reporter constantly at odds with his producer over ethics in journalism. And this character’s wife is a prominent doctor at a major hospital.

So why is the wife nothing more than a character in need of being saved? Why is nothing made of this conflict of a reporter trying to warn the public of a very real, very deadly threat in the face of a government cover-up? Why are these bloodthirsty, violent people capable of devising and executing a tactical strike against all of humanity still used like little more than bread-dead zombies?

The cheesy violence, music, and performances fans might expect of the giallo style is present. And there’s plenty of fun to be had with such things.

But between a refusal to do anything different with all the great ideas present in the material and an incredibly lazy and insulting ending, even the most dedicated horror fan would be better off watching any of the other more experimental movies available in the genre.

Unless you’ve already burned through the rest of back-catalog of horror movies, City of Nightmares is a NO CHILL.