"The House by the Cemetery" Book Review
Written by Tony Jones
Published by Flame Tree Press
Written by John Everson
2018, 256 pages, Fiction
Released on October 18th, 2018
In a crowded haunted house genre, The House by the Cemetery just does not have enough going on to raise itself from the pack; instead it reeks of ‘I’ve read this before’ overfamiliarity. It may have a gruesome climax with an impressive body count, but it lacks scares, atmosphere, and ultimately fails because everything about it from page one to the final sequence is totally predictable and telegraphed. I do not think this novel has one single twist or major unexpected turn and that’s a significant problem in a supernatural novel. The horror element lacks no ‘drip, drip’ effect and everything is just so clunkily obvious, it became tiresome very quickly. New publishers in the horror scene, Flame Tree Press, have impressed me with the quality of their releases thus far, but this cliché-ridden bore-fest falls well short of the high standards they have set themselves.
A down on his luck carpenter, Mike Kostner, gets a job renovating an old house which is supposed to be haunted by a witch. The house is built beside an old cemetery and has been empty for many years with everything going to wrack and ruin. The new lease holder (Leo) does not intend to live in the premise, instead he turns it into a themed haunted house, which will open a month before Halloween. Hopefully with bags of cash in the bank, the big closing night will be 31st October itself. Once Mike has fixed all the safety and structural problems in the house, Leo’s team turn all the rooms into horror rooms based around famous films and books. We get all the usual stuff; a Texas Chain Saw Massacre room, Hellraiser, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Ringu and so on.
Whilst Mike is working alone on the house, a young woman, Katie, appears, and here lies the first major problem with the book. A five-year-old could figure out that Katie is the witch, it is just so obvious and everything goes down-hill from there. As the main ‘evil’ in the house, she is an exceptionally weak central character and would struggle to scare a first-grader. After Katie’s arrival, the novel meanders towards opening night, then Halloween and a predictable final girl scenario. A very large body count follows, but it is too little too late for a novel that takes an age for anything to happen and for much of the time I felt I had read this before.
I usually enjoy picking up on horror references, but everything in this novel is so basic and heavy-handily thrown at the reader it grates. Too many pages are wasted with Mike mooning around after Katie with his hammer, his beer and his sexual frustrations. Even more pages are then squandered with all the paying customers fooling around in the haunted house. This blow-by-blow account is tedious to read with the occasional paying customer biting the dust. Big deal.
It is not helped by the fact that all the characters are very one-dimensional. Mike is lonely, horny and desperate to have sex with Katie and that’s about it. The guy who builds the themed horror rooms is only known as ‘Argento’ because of his favourite film director, and apart from that we know nothing about him. Likewise, for his best-friend ‘Lucio’, and no prizes for knowing who he is named after. When all the reader knows about characters is what horror films they dig, I just do not think that is enough for us to give two hoots about whether they live or die.
A couple of the other characters are fleshed out slightly better; there is Jillie, who is the first to suspect something is wrong and is well aware of the dangers connected with the house. Also, Jeanie, who gets hired to work on the monster make-up for the duration of the project and strong-arms her boyfriend Bong to get involved, who ultimately works in the Ringu room. But apart from these two, the novel is riddled with weak characterisation and seems like it was written on autopilot.
If you’re after a lightweight and very undemanding read, then The House by the Cemetery might hold your interest, otherwise look elsewhere for something for a bit more whack, scares or atmosphere. There are many better than this tired effort.