Apologies, friends, but I just don't have the energy to do a two-part write-up on Lucio Fulci's 1981 unconventional monster movie HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY. Suffice to say that it was the final film in his "Trilogy of Death" with Katherine MacColl, wears its The Shining inspiration with pride, and has some of the most infamously irritating child-dubbing in the entire history poorly dubbed children (regardless of what language the film seems to be dubbed in, no less). With more than a pinch of Lovecraftian shenanigans and a healthy dose of the surreal, it ranks as both one of the stranger and more entertaining Fulci supernatural tales, being nowhere near as scattershot as City of the Living Dead but also not as batshit wild as The Beyond. I can't sensibly argue that it's a particularly good movie, but there's something strangely fascinating about it all the same, with an escalating sensation of literal madness and a breakdown between the worlds of the living and the dead so ill-defined that it's all but impossible to decode the eldritch comfort of the film's final minute.
There was a fantastic dissection of the film is available at Brain Eater written some years ago, and anyone hungry for a serious look at Lucio Fulci's impressively chaotic work in general should give it a quick read through.
Blue Underground's 2011 Blu-ray was released the same day as Fulci's Zombie, but for whatever reason I didn't get my copy until about a week later. I took a quick peek at it on Halloween and was left severely wanting, but in the interest of fairness I've done a very brief comparison with the EC "Ulratbit" DVD from 2004, a transfer that was universally banned as being inferior to the Anchor Bay release, but was worth hanging onto for what might be the only surviving video interview with Lucio Fulci himself. I'll throw up a few quick examples, just for fun:
Top - Blue Underground BD / Bottom - EC "Ultrabit" PAL DVD
I can't stress enough that the EC transfer was pretty poor, even for DVD - caked in print damage, overly pink, cropped and with boosted contrast, just to name a few of its flaws. In terms of overall resolution, color grading, print damage, and so much more the new Blue Underground HD transfer is a clear improvement over the EC DVD, and is reputed to be just as substantial an improvement over the old Anchor Bay DVD. I'd love to provide a comparison for that, too, but I just don't have it on me - DVDBeaver COMPARED the Anchor Bay and Blue Underground releases, but their BD caps are softened out for one reason or another, so it's not nearly as reliable a comparison as I'd like...
Even if the EC release wasn't especially good, it still suggests that the new HD master might not be all that it could. Note that in the scene of the girl being dragged across the floor in the first comparison, the Blu-ray has some very digital smearing on her arms and shoulders, while the DVD does not. You can clearly make out Lucio Fulci's fingernails on the SD resolution transfer in the third comparison, but they've been somehow smoothed away in the leap to High Definition. You can clearly see that despite a heavy dusting of "grain" on the HD version, there isn't that much added detail in many of these close-ups. I feel we've established for some time that most of the 'grain' coming out of Italy is really just analog video noise, but it's almost shocking to see how little of the actual high-frequency information we have on this HD presentation could ever be described as "detail". You can also see just how out of control the video noise gets around edges in the final comparison - if you can look at the fuzzy, harsh edges of the out-of-focus seat to the right of the frame and not immediately wince, you're a far happier bastard than I'll ever be.
This in no way makes the DVD the lesser of two evils, but once more it gives us just a brief glimpse into what might have been in the hands of a better film lab. But even without a point of comparison the new HD transfer is inconsistent, at best. Some scenes - such as the entire pre-credit double murder - are awash with some pretty blatant DVNR that's left us with a static layer of video noise that's a bit like you're watching the action unfold through a screen door. Others - such as the scene with the decapitated mannequin - are extremely grainy and, dare I say it, almost film-like underneath all of that extra CRT garbage. Detail is marginal and smearing is evident on a great number of scenes, though at least it's considerably less "waxy" looking than it was on Zombie.
The image fidelity drops considerably during optical effects (as expected). All of the print damage I've noticed is consistently white outside of those already 'iffy looking dissolves, so just as with Zombie I have little doubt that BU's claim of having used the camera negative is accurate. Minor bits of dirt and minimal scratches are present through the film's runtime, but I wouldn't call them particularly distracting - especially not having had a chance to compare them to the EC transfer, which makes it look like the negative was stored in a washing machine full of razor blades and kitty litter. Color timing has improved compared to all previous releases, and while it seems doubtful that BU would have Sergio Salvati oversee the transfer and then not mention it on the box, the results look consistent and largely natural compared to the overly pink shadows of the EC transfer or the crushed gamma of Anchor Bay's old DVD. The transfer's bitrate weighs in at about 33 Mb/s using AVC, and as expected there are no compression related mishaps to speak of.
The English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 (16-bit) track is, essentially, the film's vintage mono mix with the haunting Walter Rizzati score presented as it was recorded in glorious stereo. Italian mono is also provided for those of you who want to try and escape Bobby's horrific dubbed voice, though sadly the only English subtitles included are of the Hard of Hearing variety, so as such any matching they do to the Italian dub is purely coincidental. (French and Spanish subtitles are included, presumably, for the English track.) I'd say the film sounds better than it looks, and honestly I'm satisfied to see a Blue Underground release that doesn't include a ridiculous 7.1 surround remix. There's a pretty nasty audio dropout after the opening opticals, but it's present on the EC release, too. It surely could have been fixed (and is so jarring it probably should have been!), but being an error native to the original English dub I'm more or less willing to let it slide.
Fulciphiles and Eurohorror completists who have been satisfied with Blue Underground and LVR's most recent offerings like Cat O' Nine Tails and Torso will surely be overjoyed with the transfer, while those who have thought that everything after Deep Red has been a bit of a crapshoot will likely disappointed, so upgrade accordingly. It's honestly starting to piss me off that the two year old BD release of The New York Ripper remains the single best looking Fulci title on home video...
A host of new HBTC-themed interviews are included, with a particularly informative piece with Gino de Rossi being my personal favorite - though there's certainly something to be said for an interview with the grown-up Bob who says "Don't blame me! That's not my voice!" with a big smile on his face. The animated menus are cute enough, and the film is packaged in a standard BD keepcase with one of the film's better pieces of key art. I think my favorite is actually the old US one-sheet as featured on the EC Ultrabit slipcover, but at least that's been included in an SD still gallery - one of several odds and ends BU saw fit to port from their decade and change old DVD release, along with the silent deleted scene that was once an easter-egg.
As always, the Blue Underground presentation is all class... too bad the transfer's kind of a letdown. Arrow Video in the UK has the film lined up for an early 2012 release with what's sure to be some exclusive new bonus features and a myriad of different covers, but knowing it won't look any better than this I'm going to have to pass. It's a shame that Blue Underground's Italian sourced transfers are getting generally worse and not better, but I suppose the fact that I can chalk this up as looking better than Zombie or Torso is better than nothing.