House by the Cemetery (Lucio Fulci / Italy, 1981):
(Quella Villa Accanto al Cimitero; Zombie Hell House)

The Shining is the obvious basis (it starts with a soul entrapped within a black and white photograph), but a deeper formulation might include Frost's "The Witch of Cos," with a fake final quote credited to Henry James but really evoking Borges. The creature is an unwrapped mummy in a tattered Victorian coat, named Freudstein in Lucio Fulci's finest jest; a medic disgraced for "illegal experiments," he sets up shop underneath a boarded-up Boston manse, carved corpses are gorily dragged into the basement to the sound of childlike whimpers. A psychiatrist (Paolo Malco) moves in with his wife (Catriona MacColl) and mop-topped, chipmunk-voiced son (Giovanni Frezza), and the arresting, Scope-framed hallucinations take off. A freckled little girl (Silvia Collatina) stares at a window display dummy until its head falls off and oozes chocolatey blood, the girl turns up as the boy's ghostly confidant and the mannequin as the thick-browed babysitter (Ania Pieroni); MacColl meanwhile sweeps the parlor under elongated, stained-glass windows, lifts the rug and finds a tomb ("It's something you'll have to get used to. This ain't New York," she's told). Fulci keeps his cards close to his vest but reveals wonder after grimy wonder, employing a late-autumn palette to paint the image of the splintery kitchen door hiding a dungeon -- on the other side is the decomposed scientist, futzing dolefully with body parts and bleeding maggots when pricked. The casket-and-axe gag from City of the Living Dead appears, so does the rolling noggin from Toby Dammit and Escher's staircases, splendid frissons all. "I've lost all critical perspective," a doomed former tenant cries through a tape recorder: Voices from the past and, judging from the majority of reviews, from the future. With Dagmar Lassander, Giovanni De Nava, and Daniela Doria.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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