Zombie Hellhouse By The Side of Cemetery That Dr Freakstein Got All Weird In

For fuck’s sake.  It’s been a year.

I said I was going to keep up, but I didn’t.  Look, it’s just been fucking chaos.  Some good, all sorts of bad.  Even a fracture.

It hasn’t been easy, but we’re trying to keep the faith.  Today, I offer proof.

One of the more challenging aspects of producing “Afterhell” is sharing inspiration.  Jamie isn’t a die-hard horror freak, like I am these days.  She has a limit.  There’s only so much gore and weirdness she can take.  And she doesn’t see the same things I do, even when it’s something she can look at.

Now Jamie loves monsters and weirdness as much as the next gently warped individual.  But she could barely get through the first two of George Romero’s Dead flicks, for example.  “Hellraiser?”  It was a revelation for me.  For Jamie?  Outta the question.  Stuff like Lucio Fulci’s notorious entries into the horror genre, tarred in European circles as video nasties?  All mine, baby

Not that I’m the biggest Fulci fan.  I’ve seen only a few of his movies.  And it turns out I’m a lot more demanding than the average horror fan.

So when a local theater ran a Lucio Fulci freakfest, she and I debated the merits of going out to see it.  Jamie is nursing a fractured ankle.  (There, see?!  Fracture!  Real and everything!  Shut it!)  We decided to stay home and put her foot up, but we were still curious about the movie.

I took it upon myself to find it online and see for myself.  Curious, Jamie asked me to tell her about it later.

The results were… interesting… so much that Jamie insisted that I post here, for your amusement and bemusement, my notes to her.

Horror fans might be stunned.  Movie aficionados might lose their monocles.  Defenders of Lucio Fulci’s genius, maybe you should go out for drinks or something.

Okay, here’s the edited version of the notes I sent to Jamie about this movie.  Just accept it.

Yeah, this was pretty much the splatterific slogfest I was expecting.  I admit, I rather like the idea of Lucio Fulci actually being Italian for, “We can’t have nice things.”

“Zombie Hellhouse” aka “The House By The Cemetery” aka “The House Outside The Cemetery” aka “Freudstein.”

(Alias John!  Alias Johnny!  Alias Jack!  Alias Jackie!!!)

This was part of Fulci’s horror trilogy in the mid- to late-80s.  All of his work is fairly infamous, especially in the UK during their video nasties moral panic.  Some fans consider it one of his weaker entries into horror.  Others disagree, for reasons that I’ll get into later.

Most people just figure this is nasty shit that makes not one lick of sense.

I don’t hate the film, but I hardly consider it a classic either.  It drags in places and dangles plot threads that rarely go anywhere.  The story logic is weak.  The characters are unintentionally silly, so much that it undermines everything else.

We start with a rather titillating teaser, some T&A followed by a really over-the-top knife kill that supposedly impales someone‘s skull.  The butcher knife apparently becomes a kukri because of the way it curves halfway through — piercing the top of the girl’s head and then coming out of her mouth.  Because… reasons.

Enter Bob.  Yes, Bob.  I have to say again, who the hell calls their son Bob?  Not Bobby, not Robert, not soulless homonculus.  Just Bob.

He’s a blond, blue-eyed moptop that looks like a cross between Billie Piper and a Cabbage Patch doll.  And it’s not his fault.  I get that.  But he stares at everything with that empty expression (probably because none of the adults on the set have adequately explained half the nonsense going on in this film.)

And he shrieks the dumbest dialogue through some poor VO actor’s voice, probably hired because he/she can scream really really well.  And when combined, all those things turns little Bob into a genuinely unsettling, often irritating presence.

And he carries the film.  The whole damn thing.

According to the film’s biggest and intellectually ambitious fans, Bob is the bubbleheaded Danny Torrance knock-off that ties the whole film together.  They argue that the whole story is from this child’s psychological POV, that this is all filtered through a child’s understanding of the world.  Is the movie a nightmare or the pipe dream make-believe of a disturbed child?

Or maybe he’s just a Danny Torrance clone.  In a movie that rips off “The Shining.”

So yeah, we meet Bob while he stares deep into a picture of the very house his family is about to move to.  With his microscopic x-ray vision, he sees a girl screaming at him through the front window.  (This ties into the child’s POV theory, that Bob is puzzling together this strange fantasy from the slightest of inspirations around him.)

This girl turns out to be Mae, who lives in that old house.  Only Bob can see or hear her.  Apparently she’s been shouting at him, warning him not to come.

But of course, Bob is a wetbrain.

I say this because most children can quite capable of sharing a message with a grownup.  Especially if it’s a warning.  “You shouldn’t come here.”

But Bob is dumber than a pita pocket full of Tic Tacs.  I’m serious.  His first reaction is to stare for hours and idly ask, “Why would she tell me not to go there, mommy?”


And then when Bob meets Mae for the first time, he actually thinks that was a sufficient warning.  “I did my best, only Mommy wouldn’t listen to me!  Parents never listen!  They always do what they want!”

What a whiny little shitbag.  He speaks in riddles, thinks with his freakin’ hands like a toddler, and he wonders why no one understands him.

He’s so dumb.   When Mae calls out to him by name and introduces herself, he says, “My name’s Bob!”

She just called you Bob, you mop-headed snot factory.

And he’s the heart of the film.  Our focal point for the whole damn thing.  Too stupid to be Cassandra.  Too derivative to be Danny Torrance.  Too irritating to be a panty liner.  Fuck, I hate this kid.

So yeah, sweet little Bob is pissing me off.

The truth is that his parents aren’t bright either.  At the real estate office to get the keys for their new haunted house, they leave him in their car to wander off and talk to ghosts.

Later, while trying to unlock the cellar, his father cheerfully accepts a butcher knife from the boy.  And uses it to force the lock.  (Instead of putting it away, telling the kid not to do that again, and looking for a crowbar or something.)

And when his wife — with a history of mental illness — stresses out about weird shit going in the house, the father tells her, “You’re just tired.  You really should take those pills your baker prescribed.”


From the BAKER.

Welcome to Doctor Chad Feelgood’s Bakery and Illegal Compounding Pharmacy!!!  Lick the brown corner of your receipt and try our new flavor of the FSCKING OWLZ CLAWIN AT TEH WINDOZ OF MAH MIND!!!!

Oh, it gets worse.  A little research reveals that Fulci deliberately gave the film no structure, only some over-arching themes to hold it all together.

And it shows.  Really does.  Character motivations change with every scene.  People are creepy for no reason.  Doing things for no reason.  Ideas are thrown in like random spice.  Maybe it’ll help, maybe it’ll make everything taste even weirder.  Who cares?

There’s my problem with the film.  Sure, it delivers on spectacle.  But Lucio Fulci didn’t really care.  This is a horror movie Shake ‘N’ Bake.  Fulci slapped a bunch of crap together and didn’t care how it came out.

I can’t help comparing it to “Hausu.”  It’s a surreal take on girls growing up, at least in my mind.  It comes off as bizarre and incoherent, but they’re going for a specific effect.  It’s disorienting, creepy but goofy, with an odd sense of understated sexual tension.  Boys aren’t unwelcome, just far outside their purview.

But Fulci’s film, by whatever fucking name, comes off as irritating and self-absorbed.

Stuff happens.  Why?  Fuck you, that’s why.

Sorry, I think this descended into a movie review screed.  I don’t hate the film nearly as much as Fulci’s attitude about it.  At least with other Italian filmmakers, they had a goal and a desire to defeat the limitations of their embryonic industry.  When asked whether Fulci was a genius or a hack, the female lead of this film said he was both.  And that really nails it.  He was talented, but he was a lazy fuck.

How might Afterhell figure into this equation?  I’d love Afterhell to approach the levels of lunacy and perversity that Fulci could.  But when we reach them, I want it to be for a reason.  Because the characters had to go there.  Because the story demanded it.

If gore was the end-all be-all of horror, I’d be cranking out chickenshit versions of Afterhell every few months.  I’d just record foley people tearing and smashing melons for days on end, then base the scripts around the results.  I don’t want to do that.  I want to write about what frightens, shocks, amuses, and outrages me.  About what tears at my insides.

To do anything else — in my mind, deep in my heart of hearts — would be lying.