The House By the Cemetery (DVD/ Blu-ray Comparison)

In the upper echelon of spaghetti horror films is Lucio Fulci's House By the Cemetery. Consequently, there have been many releases of this film over the years. And today, there's primarily two blu-ray releases of this film, competing for the top spot: Arrow's in the UK and Blue Underground's in the US. They're both pretty fancy special editions with all unique extras, so I'm going to get in close and see which tops which in a proper comparison. I've also got the film's original DVD debut disc, from Diamond Entertainment, so we can see how far we've come. Oh, and I've also got a Mill Creek DVD from one of those 50 film sets, so I guess I'll throw that in, too.

Update 4/5/17: Added the 2001 Anchor Bay DVD so we can see the full range from Diamond to the blu-rays.
House By the Cemetery comes right in the sweet spot of Fulci's career, and is all the better for it. Fulci had already just recently experienced the surprise, break out success of Zombie, and made pretty much all of his biggest hits in short succession immediately after, including The Beyond, City of the Living Dead, and this one right here. It stands out in being the only one that takes the time to for a slow build, creating suspense and particularly atmosphere before jumping into most of the wild set pieces that pretty much come at you non-stop, beginning to end, in those others. It's a haunted house film where the new family slowly catches onto the creepy vibes permeating their home. It's something a little different for Fulci.
That said, it's not a subtle film. Awesome special effects create gruesome kills convincing enough for the camera to linger on and ogle. A big film score, dramatic cinematography and a monster named Freudstein carry this film right out of the stratosphere. It still has one of those not entirely logical and certainly not spelled out plots that will have you guessing why characters are making decisions and things are happening. And the answer just might be nothing more than: it looks good on camera. Maybe that's all part of the fun, or maybe it's going to drive you up the wall, but nobody's going to hold your hand through it either way. It's just a crazy 80s horror with bleeding mannequins, werewolf howls taken from dusty old sound effects records, little boys dubbed by grown women, characters who may or may not be supernatural, rack focus, mysterious floating eyes, super strong bats, blood and guts. Sounds like a recipe for a great time to me.
So, yes, House By the Cemetery debuted on DVD from Diamond Entertainment group, one of those no frills grey market DVD labels that's since gone the way of the dodo. But back then, we were just happy to get the film on disc, uncut and widescreen even. But then Anchor Bay jumped in and gave it a nicer disc in 2001, which lead to a whole chain of releases from a Blue Underground reissue in 2007 to a Vipco disc in the UK, Laser Paradise in Germany, and shady grey market labels in the US like Madacy and of course Mill Creek (as part of their 2010 Pure Terror 50 pack). When we got to blu-ray, Blue Underground tackled it first in 2011, followed shortly by Arrow in 2012. Other labels have issued it in their own countries since (Shock in Australia and XT in Germany), but for most international buyers, you're probably deciding between the Arrow and BU. Oh, and since Arrow's is a blu-ray/ DVD combo pack, I've putting their standard def disc into the mix, too.
Diamond's 2000 DVD first; Mill Creek's 2010 DVD second; Anchor Bay's DVD third;
Arrow's 2012 DVD fourth; Blue Underground's 2011 blu-ray fifth; Arrow's 2012 blu-ray sixth.
So, where to begin. Despite 10 years and many improved DVDs in between them, Mill Creek hasn't improved on the old Diamond disc. They've both got this sickly greenish coloring (though Diamond's is slightly better in some shots), but at least they're 2.35:1. Well, almost... Diamond is 2.25 and Mill Creek is 2.22:1; but regardless, they're non-anamorphic tiny little images floating in the center of your screen, and interlaced to boot. The blu-rays are a comparative revelation, with Anchor Bay splitting the difference.  It's anamorphic and non-interlaced, with more clarity than the previous discs, but it's still got that greenish color timing and of course standard def compression. The Blue Underground actually is 2.35:1, but it's slightly letterboxed to achieve that ratio. Anchor Bay and Arrow's are even slightly wider at 2.39:1, lifting the pillar-boxing to reveal a bit more picture on the left and right sides.

Beyond from that, you'd be hard-pressed to tell the blus apart. BU's blacks are a hair darker, but I could only tell when I got them into this direct side-by-side comparison. They also suffer from the infamous scanner noise that was plaguing HD transfers coming out of Italy for a while (BU and Arrow seem to be using the same source). And yes, you can make it out on Arrow's DVD, too. It's mild, though; there's a good chance you'll never notice it unless you have an especially large TV or are looking for it like I was. But it is there. It's like a light digital grain floating on top of the actual film grain, giving everything a more static-y feel. I mostly noticed it on tight close-ups, giving a macro-blocking effect to peoples' skin. It's not heinous, but it is a flaw, and it would be nice if it weren't there. I wouldn't let it put you off picking this up, though, if you're a fan of the movie. I mean, you certainly won't be getting a better image by hanging onto your DVD.

The DVDs, of course, feature nothing but your basic English audio stereo track, and pretty hissy ones at that. Both blus, however, give you the option between the English and Italian (where Bob's dubbed voice is decidedly more natural) audio tracks in much clearer, more robust quality, as well as optional English subtitles. BU also offers Spanish and French subs.
And of course, the old DVDs have nothing. In fact, House By the Cemetery has traditionally been light on extras. The Anchor Bay and Blue Underground DVDs only had a deleted scene, stills gallery and a couple trailers. Obviously Vipco didn't break out the goods. There's an Italian DVD with some interesting extras, but they're not subtitled, so that's no use. But when it came time for blu-ray, both companies decided it was time to stop toying around and play for keeps. Arrow's release is even a 2-disc set (technically 3, but one is just the DVD copy of the main blu).

Blue Underground:
  • On-camera interview with stars Catriona MacColl and Paolo Malco
  • On-camera interview with Giovanni Frezza and Silvia Collatina
  • On-camera interview with Dagmar Lassander
  • On-camera interview with Carlo De Mejo
  • On-camera interview with Dardano Sacchetti and Elisa Briganti, the film's writers
  • On-camera interview with cinematographer Sergio Salvati, effects artists Maurizio Trani and Gino De Rossi, & Giovanni De Nava, the man inside the monster suit
  • The deleted scene 
  • Stills gallery
  • Trailers and  TV spot
  • Introduction by Giovanni Frezza
  • Audio commentary by Catriona MacColl, moderated by Calum Waddell
  • Audio commentary by Silvia Collatina, constantly interrupted by Mike Baronas
  • On-camera interview with Giovanni Frezza
  • On-camera interview with Catriona MacColl
  • On-camera interview with with Sergio Stivaletti about directing Wax Mask
  • On-camera interview with Gianetto De Rossi, a decent little chat, but there's a much better one with him, that covers most of the same ground, on Arrow's Zombie release.
  • On-camera interview Stefania Casini, Barbara Magnolfi and Silvia Collatina. Uh, only one of these actresses was actually in House By the Cemetery (Silvia). But it makes about as much sense as interviewing Stivaletti about the Wax Mask, I guess...
  • Reunion Q&A, an almost 45 minute panel filmed at a Horrorhound convention with Giovanni Frezza, Silvia Collatina, Catriona MacColl, Carlo De Mejo, and Dagmar Lassander. It's pretty fun, but the sound quality is awful. I had to crank up the volume super loud and even then I kept missing things that were said.
  • The deleted scene
  • Theatrical trailer and TV spot
  • Bonus trailers - this collection of 20 or so Italian horror trailers goes above and beyond your usual stash of 2-4 bonus trailers
  • easter egg: On-camera interview with Sergio Martino about Mountain of the Cannibal God
  • easter egg: On-camera interview with Luigi Cozzi about Contamination
  • easter egg: On-camera interview with Dardanno Sacchetti about Manhattan Baby
  • easter egg: an alternate take of Giovanni Frezza's introduction
  • easter egg: additional snippet Silvia Collatina's interview
  • easter egg: bonus trailer for Lady Oscar, the film Catriona MacColl says she's most proud of during her audio commentary.
Arrow's release also comes with a 20-page booklet by Calum Waddell, including an additional text interview with Catriona MacColl. It has reversible cover art and if you ordered it directly from Arrow's site, a bonus slip cover. Blue Underground, on the other hand, keeps the packaging basic, with no insert or anything.
By the way, it's the same deleted scene on all the discs. It's some additional dialogue at the end of the bat attack sequence, though we don't hear what they're saying because the sound has been lost. It's funny to see Arrow's introduction to the scene [above], saying they're "presenting here, we believe, for the first time anywhere," when it's the exact same scene that everybody had been been including on their discs for the previous eleven years!

So, Arrow's got the most stuff, undoubtedly. But Blue Underground hooked up with Red Shirt Pictures to get some top quality interviews with pretty much everybody, including several cast members, Stivaletti and two of the effects guys. Arrow only has one exclusive interview from this film, effects artist Gianetto De Rossi. Also, the more you watch these Arrow releases the more you realize these are all interviews from their other discs. Don't get me wrong, they're not putting the same clips on multiple discs, but they're all wearing the same shirts sitting in front of the same backgrounds. Arrow clearly interviewed everybody for hours on all their films and cuts out whichever part is relevant to that movie.

And that brings me to the much odder thing, how many of these extras aren't actually related to the movie. Why are there interviews about Mountain Of the Cannibal God, Contamination, etc on here? I feel like they're just trying to fill up space with whatever they had laying around in order to justify the extra disc. Then, when you watch the same actors in the multiple features (i.e. Silvia Collatina on her commentary, her interview and her portion of the Q&A), they repeat the same anecdotes each time. In other words, Arrow has a ton of filler. Not that there's nothing good on here; a lot of it's great. Catriona's always fun, Stefania Casini was a good interview if you don't mind the fact that she has nothing to do with House, and I was actually grateful for the Wax Mask interview, since that film has no special edition. But there's no way this needed to be two discs. Add to that the long animated credits sequences for every little supplement and clips from the film you've just watched that appear again and again, and it winds up being a lot to slog through, and would have actually been a more entertaining viewing with huge chunks edited out. Arrow's list may look more impressive, but Blue Underground's is the finer selection.
So at the end of the day, where are we? Well, we're a lot better off than we were in 2000! Between the two discs, I'd say go for Blue Underground. It wins in the supplements department with a fair lead, although it is cool that Arrow has a bit more info on the sides. BU's 2.35 might be more correct, but it's no Hellraiser 3 situation where we're seeing crew members and other stuff that shouldn't be in the frame; and I actually think I prefer the slightly wider look. But I've imported a bunch of Arrow discs of movies I already had in the US because of their additional extras, and felt let down almost every time. They've gotten better lately, though. But anyway, for House By the Cemetery, it's a close enough call that everybody should probably just be happy with whichever disc is being released in their country and save their money to import something more worthwhile.

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