Monday Morning Movie Review: Ponty’s Top Ten Worst Films: #4: House on Cemetery Hill (2019)

You can tell we’re really getting into the dregs; Ponty’s review this week is devastating.

As he notes below, it’s no fun going after an indie flick with a low budget.  But there are plenty of low budget filmmakers that get it right, or at least grow as they hone their craft.  Every major director started out doing tiny films on a shoestring.

But sometimes there’s an effort so bad, even the lack of a budget isn’t a valid excuse.  Bad writing, bad acting, bad editing—these can kill a film faster than anything else.  All the quid in the world can’t save a film with this dark triad.

With that, here is Ponty’s review of 2019’s House on Cemetery Hill:

Or Doll Cemetery or Alfred the Doll, depending on where you’re watching it. I wrote a review of this film some time ago for Going Postal but this movie just had to go onto this list.

Move Over Plan 9, You’ve Lost Your Status

As Tina said, so bad they named it thrice. It doesn’t matter what name it takes, it’s just simply awful. Keep reading and you’ll understand why.

I admit, I feel a bit mean putting a low budget movie in my top 10. After all, they have to work with restrictions and on a tight purse so anything they put out is going to have its limitations. That said, an awful lot of budget movies have gone on to be cult hits, gaining decent profits and with their stars going on to bigger and brighter things.

This film is not one of those. We bought this movie on a whim, after scouring Tesco’s then extensive DVD collection for an interesting new horror movie we could enjoy. It was nicely wrapped, slip cover too, with an image of a child doll stalking a graveyard. It could have gone either way but we thought, what the hell, it’s cheap enough, let’s give it a go. After watching this film, and in the hope of not repeating the same mistake twice, we’ve started viewing trailers for unknown movies we might be interested in. A good way to save £5 or £10, money that would be put to better use elsewhere [like here—TPP]. You used to be able to get the whole film on Youtube, though I checked recently and it seems to have been removed. That’s a good thing. Here’s the trailer for it:

Anyhow, we shut the curtains, dimmed the lights, filled up our wine glasses and curled up ready to be frightened. That didn’t happen and by the end, our livers hurt as much as our heads.

Brendan Cobbs, an appalling but famous novelist, is sent to the countryside to try and overcome his writer’s block and pull out another horrible book. For some reason, don’t ask why, he’s sent a parcel which contains Alfred, a child sized doll, apparently to give him inspiration. While at this cottage, he is visited by locals who tell him to ‘follow the rules,’ a command as enigmatic to him as it is to the audience, though it becomes clear at the end of this film. A little perturbed by these visits and not entirely sure that his doll is lifeless, Brendan finds himself embroiled in a sinister plot in which he becomes the centre of attention, from the village and from his strange little doll. He eventually looks to escape but too late and as the intentions of both locals and Alfred become clear, Brendan realises he is trapped. Tragic, eh? Trust me, by the time you’ve reached the conclusion, you won’t care who lives and who dies. The only thing that might perturb you is the empty bottle sitting on your table and whether you’ve got any more in the kitchen.

There’s a lot wrong with this film but I’ll tell you what my main gripe with it is. They can’t even get the basics right, like editing. There’s a part where Brendan is visited by a woman in a red dress (a cheap knock off of the bird in The Matrix [1999]) who tries, and fails, to seduce him. It reminded me of that cringe moment in Friends where a young Monica is trying to flirt with Chandler and ends up dropping a kitchen knife on his foot. Anyway, while they’re talking, the camera cuts back and forth between the two but there are moments when you can hear Brendan talking, he is in shot but his lips aren’t moving. No, not a trick, just flat out incompetence. Even Plan 9 (1957) managed to edit a shot. Steven Smith, who made this, could afford an opening helicopter shot which gives the audience an overhead of the village in which most of the action takes place but he couldn’t afford a decent editor. What a tool!

Smith, who also wrote Doll Cemetery, looked to add his own homages to better films – Child’s Play (1988), the old Hammer films, The Wicker Man (1973) – but they become more than mere references. I have no idea what he was thinking when he decided to add the woman in the red dress into a village environment or why he decided to turn Alfred into Jason Vorhees but I spent a good amount of time scratching my head during this film. This was fan fiction at its worst. A guy with not very many good ideas of his own trying to replicate ideas from better films with a low budget and getting everything wrong. I understand why filmmakers, certainly in this genre, like to pay homage to those who most likely inspired them to enter filmmaking, but come on, don’t make those nods the centrepiece. Make your own film and throw in the odd reference, if that’s what you want. Doll Cemetery, to me, seemed to feature 20% of Smith’s own work with the rest of it a crazy amalgam of several other movies but with some terrible acting thrown into the mix.

I don’t care about unknowns in films as long as they act the part. I don’t believe there was a single actor in this film, more likely friends of the creator who wanted to help him make this movie. Jon-Paul Gates, who plays Brendan, doesn’t seem to know what the hell he’s doing in this flick. He can converse – always a good start – and he can run but that’s as good as it gets for him. It doesn’t help that the supporting cast look as if this was their first venture in front of a camera and it really does show. There’s a scene at the beginning where Brendan is dropped off at the end of the lane that takes him to his cottage, the taxi driver issuing this message of foreboding – ‘we don’t go down there’ in a voice that makes him sound like West country farmer robocop. Funnily enough, as the film progresses, it turns out that everybody goes down there so farmer robocop’s grim warning turned out to be guff, which seemed to fit with the general narrative. The locals who sporadically turn up at the cottage are as grim as our farmer robocop taxi driver and pull out performances that perfectly reflect how truly awful the rest of this film is. Even Smith affords himself a part and slots in brilliantly as just one of a number of terrible actors striving, as best as they can, towards the end of their careers.

Unlike Port, I’m sorry but there’s no redeeming feature I can give you. Every aspect of this film – the writing, directing, acting, story – is terrible. Not even the end credits give you the emotional release you’d hope for. If you’ve got the stones to watch it, give it a go but you’ll get more satisfaction watching paint dry.

35 thoughts on “Monday Morning Movie Review: Ponty’s Top Ten Worst Films: #4: House on Cemetery Hill (2019)

  1. Cheers mate.

    I believe this is possibly the worst review I’ve done. Mainly because I had to try and remember it and with every scene coming back to me, it made my head hurt, to the point where writing about it became difficult.

    Taking that into consideration, this could well have been my number one if it wasn’t for the fact that the three above it all carry big budgets and there’s no excuse for bad film making with that sort of money.

    Liked by 3 people

      • You’ve done well so far. I haven’t heard of any of the films you’ve put up and thanks to your excellent reviews, never will again! 🙂

        The top 10 best/favourites will be fun. It means I get to rewatch a bucket load of excellent movies! 🙂

        Liked by 2 people

      • Yeah, the Top Ten Favorites will be fun. I am seeing a new lady friend, and we were talking about favorite flicks. I am eager to view John Carpenter’s _Big Trouble in Little China_ with her. It’s probably my favorite flick (spoiler alert, haha), and she hasn’t seen it. It’s a film you can’t summarize easily; you’ve just gotsta experience it for yourself.

        Liked by 2 people

  2. “This film is not one of those.” “What a tool!” You crack me up, lol! In the States, folks would say to you, “Tell us how you really feel!” Too funny. Don’t you hate when the trailer is better than the movie???

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I don’t think Big Trouble in Little China has aged well but it’s still fun for those who remembered it fondly.

    As for upgrading your relationship status from man and dog to man, woman and dog, I’m happy for you, mate. She’s a lucky woman. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • Gulp! I’ve been really shocked by the number of people who are *ostensibly* conservative and/or Christian who think the _Roe_ repeal is somehow an assault on women’s rights.

      Two observations:

      1.) Being a woman (or a man, for that matter!) does not give one god-like powers over life and death. That seems to be the underlying assumption of most of these baby-killing bitties: “I can make life, so I can take it away.” Booooo! Talk about self-idolatry.

      2.) The repeal of _Roe_ is merely a constitutional correction. The central issue at the heart of that ruling was not “is abortion okay” but “is there a constitutional right to abortion in the Constitution?” The answer to that question is astonishingly clear: no! The Constitution is totally silent on abortion, and it’s an extreme stretch to even argue it would be considered an “unenumerated right” under the Ninth Amendment.

      So, naturally, it’s a States’ rights issue under the Tenth Amendment: the Constitution being silent on the issue, it’s up to the States to decide. For example, in South Carolina, you can get an abortion up through six weeks. That’s WAY better than what we had mandated to us—unconstitutionally!—under _Roe_, though I’d like to see it go to zero weeks/the time of conception. Many other States DO have total bans, though I imagine some of those old laws—some of which date to the nineteenth century—will be updated.

      Regardless, now the States can decide. Ultimately, if a woman wants an abortion that badly in the United States, she can hop a plane to California.

      There are many families that would love to adopt children. Now’s the time to beef up our foster and adoption systems.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. That’s an excellent comment and if you’re brave enough, copy and paste it in the comments under Laura’s article. But remember, there are a few people on there who seem to think that the growing, breathing, moving life inside a woman is nothing at all. Be ready for it.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. ‘She’s a board gamer, if that counts.’

    Of course it counts! If you’re both fans of Monopoly, get creative and write out some of your own cards. Tina and I did that with ours. Tina did a really mean one called the Compulsory Purchase Order which meant that a player had to return, to the bank, their highest priced property or if that property had already been built on, a house or hotel had to be removed. Suffice to say, I’ve been hit with that card more often that Tina. It’s like a curse or something! 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

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