The House by the Cemetery has one of the coolest premises I've come across and, frankly, I'm surprised it hasn't been done more often - set up a Halloween haunted house attraction at an actual honest-to-goodness haunted house. As far as premises go, this is beautifully simplistic but also pretty damn smart.
Mike, a carpenter, knows all about the rumors of the house by the cemetery, but he grudgingly accepts the job offer to rehab the rundown domicile and get it ready for Halloween. In no time flat, Mike is finding out all sorts of weird things about the house. Unexplained noises, old occult symbols painted on the walls, recently murdered animals, and lots and lots of bones. Mike is also divorced and prone to thinking with his little head instead of his big head, so what else is he to do but say yes when the young and super attractive Katie shows up at the house's doorstep offering to help with the rehab and to share his cooler of beer?
Despite the great premise, John Everson doesn't exactly break any new ground with The House by the Cemetery, but he does keep things pretty consistently enjoyable and page-turn worthy. Horror fans who have read their share of occult and haunted house stories will find all their predictions about this book's big reveals proved accurate. The plot twists aren't all that surprising, and large chunks of the story feel repetitive, particularly the first half of the book surrounding Mike's labors at building a new porch and putting in new flooring.
Everson still manages to keep the story moving along in entertaining fashion, particularly as the team of house haunters prepare for their time in the spotlight by decorating rooms in homage to their favorite horror flicks. There are rooms devoted to A Nightmare on Elm Street, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, giallo slashers, J-horror, zombies, and so on. It's a fun bit of teasing for what readers can expect once the blood starts spilling, but having the story stretched out across a summer to Halloween time-span means Everson has to save all the really good gory stuff for the book's final third. There's a fair amount of waiting around in anticipation for the story to kick into high gear during Cemetery's climax, but once that final section rolls around...hot damn! Everson paints the house in so much read that it almost makes Fede Alvarez's Evil Dead look milquetoast in comparison.
The House by the Cemetery might have been a seriously killer novella, but it feels a bit too padded as a full-length novel. That said, this is still a solid read and it skates by on its sheer fun factor, as well as its exhibition of appreciation and love for the horror genre as a whole. Once Everson gets his groove on, though, things take a turn for the weird and it's pretty freaking wild and wicked.
[Note: I received an advanced reader copy of this title from the publisher, Flame Tree Press.]
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