A Journal Of The Dark Arts
The House By The Cemetery was a horror film from 1981, by infamous Italian giallo legend Lucio Fulci, completing his Gates Of Hell trilogy, began with The City Of The Living Dead and The Beyond. It tells the story of The Boyle family, who move into a creepy, rambling estate in Upstate New York, called Oak Mansion, known as “the Freudstein place” by the locals. The son, Bob, meets a mysterious young girl named Mae, that apparently only he can see, who warns him not to go into the house. There is some ominous signs, within the house, like the fact that the cellar door is nailed shut, and there’s a tomb in the living room.
Like most giallos, The House By The Cemetery is not a great movie. It does, however, have a number of wonderful details about it. There’s a great creeping atmosphere of dread, in the decaying gothic grandeur of Oak Mansion, rivers of gore and a number of creative kills, and the stellar soundtrack from Walter Rizzati. Fulci had used Fabio Frizzi for 8 out of the last 10 movies, but opted to go for Rizatti, who had only done music for a couple of sex comedies so far.
Rizzati’s score is a compendium of ’70s horror music tropes – spooky organs, ritualistic percussion, spectral choirs, flanged guitar, and discordant proto-industrial electronics. It stands on the threshold between the orchestral grandeur of earlier scores, and the ’80s solo synth auteur soundtracks that would be popularized by John Carpenter. Take the case of “Blonk Monster End,” which sounds like it could be something from Wendy Carlos’ A Clockwork Orange soundtrack, that sounds like a pipe organ through a dense prismatic fog – a true missing link between European gothic decadence and ’80s sci-fi synth futurism.
The double-headed opener of “Quella Villa” and “I Remember” really set the mood, and tell you all that you need to know about The House By The Cemetery. “Quella Villa” is a model of unsettling proggery, with a dry bass wandering aimlessly, upsetting the harmonies, shifting the ground beneath your feet, as if you were walking over some secret laboratory. There’s a muffled pulse throughout, that imitates the sound of a racing heart, causing your organ to do the same. It all builds to an almost unbearable tension, with a frantic, frenetic climbing organ riff and atonal honky tonk piano warbles, while orchestral drums reinforce the feeling of a bloodsoaked ritual orgy. Nothing resolves, everything is unsettled.
“I Remember” is a true classic theme. You can practically see the title screens roll past your ends, in faded, vaseline-soaked ’70s splendor. A haunting, bittersweet melody, that still creates a sense of adventure, is supplemented by the barest touch of a rock drum kit, and those ethereal choirs.
This combination of ’70s ritualistic funk; classic eerie atmosphere from scrapes, clangs, and modulated choirs; and ’80s synth is a decent approximation of the wonders in store on this mandatory reissue.
Other standout tracks are the Alessandro Blonkstein penned “Blonk Monster End”, a truly excellent example of early ’80s synth organ creepiness, and the two Terrores, “Voci Del Terrore” and “Verso il Terrore”.
“Voci Del Terrore” alone is worth the cost of admission, with more mysterious plodding melodic uncertainty, from the bass and piano, painted over with starlight electronics and truly ghostly choirs, that’ll stand yr hair on end.
“Verso il Terrore”‘s use of synths are restrained and effective. Hammer Horror organs sound as if they are underwater, while the rest sounds like some unholy amalgamation of The Rites Of Spring and The Mahavishnu Orchestra.
I would like to challenge the diggers and the DJs to make something of this, drop some of this giallo greatness into yr samplers or onto yr mixtapes, and let this cyberpunk thriller infect the world.
As with almost all old horror movie soundtracks, The House By The Cemetery reminds us that there’s so many great things out there to discover. So many odd and thrilling delights to be taken in the small details. Even in a sub-par movie (which The House By The Cemetery is not), there are incidental moments of inspiration, or of use to people working in the field. Whether yr a writer, a musician, a director, there is wisdom to be taken from the most unlikely sources.
My favorite thing about The House By The Cemetery soundtrack is that it takes us back to a time when films still used original music. Horror movies hadn’t succumbed to generic production music, or pop rock produce placement soundtracks. Instead, composers were able to apply music theory, performances, and sound design to create their unsettling effects. Horrorscores can be this maddening, infernal take on classicism. Musica et Diabola indeed.
If yr a fan of Goblin, Fabio Frizzi or other Italian film composers, as well as ’70s library grooves and heady prog weirdness, look no further.
The House By The Cemetery got the lavish reissue treatment from the ever essential Death Waltz Recording Co., showing up here for the first time, although they’ve been doing some of the best work out there, in terms of giving attention and legitimacy to classic horror soundtracks.
Printed on transparent red vinyl, with a 24″ x 24″ foldout poster, and featuring liner notes from Coil‘s Stephen Thrower.
You can also watch The House By The Cemtery, in its entirety, at Hulu.
If you like this kind of thing, be sure to check out some Italian Occult Psychedelia, which is a movement of modern bands who are inspired by this era of film music, as well as the newest album from The Night Terrors, for more organ-led giallo grooves.
The archive theory series is an ongoing reflection on sampling and culture, going beyond the defeatism of retromania, looking for the future, and how to make the most of today.