Franchises and shared universe are all the rage today. The Marvel Cinematic Universe is the biggest example but recent entries from Terminator, Star Wars, and Fast & Furious show the importance Hollywood places on a long running series. An offshoot of direct sequels are thematic trilogies. These movies consist of spiritual successors. Entries do not continue one overarching storyline and instead revisit ideas and themes. Park Chan-Wook’s “Vengeance Trilogy” and Terry Gilliam’s “Imagination Trilogy” come to mind.
The idea behind thematic trilogies is sound. The main issue with trilogies – and any franchise – is eventually the well runs dry. Ideas become reused, concepts are stretched, and characters become boring. Quite simply, the movies become to suffer from franchise fatigue. Ask any fan of the original Alien movies what they think of the latest films. The more entries in a franchise, the greater the risk of ruining the legacy of the earlier movies.
Spiritual successors allow filmmakers to explore ideas and, for lack of a better term, get it all out of their systems. Instead of forcing out stories with the same people or universes, storytellers are allowed to play with themes and ideas. A common complaint is a film tries to cram everything into one story. Thematic trilogies give room for creativity. There is no need to pigeonhole anything since everything has been spaced out.
One of the most underrated thematic trilogies is Lucio Fulci’s “Gates of Hell Trilogy”. All three movies visit the premise of a portal to Hell opening. Whereas City of the Living Dead and The Beyond deal directly with the idea of Hell coming to Earth, House by the Cemetery is more of a haunted house feature. Panned upon its initial release, the movie has garnered more fans in recent years.
Those who have seen House by the Cemetery will probably remember the use of children more than anything else. The horror movie is a mix of The Amityville Horror and The Shining. The difference is the film adds Fulci’s grotesque touch. Usually, kids in scary films are used as sources of pity or fear. The final part of this trilogy puts them in situations that are brutal and even oppressive. Some will definitely find the scenes disturbing, but they also add a sense of discomfort not normally found in the genre.
The movie is also a take on the Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Frankly, this may be the weakest part of House by the Cemetery. The film does some neat things with human debris and disfigured monsters, but overall, it adds nothing new to the classic story. It comes off as little more than a poor retread. That being said, the awesomely named Dr. Freudstein is a horrific site.
Fulci lives up to his “Godfather of Gore” moniker here. In a career filled with some of the goriest films of all time, House by the Cemetery still manages to stand out. The Italian director has always walked a thin line with his movies. It is easy for extremely violent scenes to cross over from necessary to superfluous. Fulci crosses that back and forth throughout his movie. The horror icon’s genius is in how he never alienates the audience even when goes too far.
Cinematic shared universes may be getting boring, but thematic trilogies never seem to lose their charm. They are able to explore creative avenues without having to worry about having to shoehorn in ideas or characters. Director Lucio Fulci’s House by the Cemetery is part of one of the most overlooked trilogies in cinema history. While the movie may only appeal to the staunchest fans of the director, the recent 3 Disc Limited Edition from Blue Underground will appeal to all film fans. Filled with interviews and deleted scenes, the set is a great addition to any collection.
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