Cemetery Man (aka Dellamorte Dellamore) [DVD]
Director : Michele Soavi
Screenplay : Gianni Romoli (based on the novel by Tiziano Sclavi)
MPAA Rating : R
Year of Release : 1994
Stars : Rupert Everett (Francesco Dellamorte), François Hadji-Lazaro (Gnaghi), Anna Falchi (She), Mickey Knox (Marshall Straniero), Fabiana Formica (Valentina Scanarotti), Clive Riche (Doctor Verseci), Katja Anton (Claudio’s Girlfriend), Barbara Cupisti (Magda), Anton Alexander (Franco), Pietro Genuardi (New Mayor Civardi), Patrizia Punzo (Claudio’s Mother), Stefano Masciarelli (Mayor Scanarotti)
Part gory zombie comedy, part dense puzzle-box art film, Michele Soavi’s Cemetery Man (Dellamorte Dellamore) is nothing if not entirely unique in its cultish blending of wildly disparate elements. The film veers from Sam Raimi-style gross-out splatstick, to romantic pathos, to genuine existential questioning in the blink of an eye, leaving you partially exhausted, partially exhilarated, and probably a bit confused. The Internet abounds with theories about “what it all really means,” and part of the film’s enduring magnetism is how it resists both easy classification and easy interpretation.
Another thing it resists is easy plot summary, but I’ll try anyway. Rupert Everett, several years before attaining American popularity via his charming supporting role as Julia Roberts’s confidante in My Best Friend’s Wedding (1997), stars as Franceso Dellamorte, whose named literally means “St. Francis of Death.” This is all too appropriate because his job is watching over the Bufflora Cemetery along with his sweet-natured, but none-too-bright assistant, Gnaghi (François Hadji-Lazaro). While Gnaghi, a neckless lump of a man-child, seems to represent all that is good and innocent in the world, the tall, lean, and dark Dellamorte is the opposite. Glum, resigned to the world, and burdened with ennui, he goes about his daily routines with what seems like the weight of the world on his shoulders.
Part of his daily routine, as it turns out, involves killing zombies. In his voice-over narration, Dellamorte explains that, for reasons unknown, the dead who are buried in the Bufflora Cemetery tend to come back to life after seven days and need a shot to the head to put them back in their grave. When the film begins, this has already been going on for some time, which throws the audience right into the middle of Dellamorte’s strange metaphysical predicament. And, judging by the nonchalant way in which he dispatches a zombie at his doorstep in the film’s shockingly funny opening scene, he has long since acquiesced to this task.
Dellamorte is shocked out of his funk by the appearance of a lusty widow (Anna Falchi) who is, according to him, “the most beautiful living woman” he’s ever seen. His relationship with her, which quickly culminates in steamy-hot sex atop the grave of her much older deceased husband, is the beginning of an increasingly strange downward spiral for Dellamorte, in which everything that had seemed to make sense in his life starts coming apart at the seams. Considering that his “normal” life involved capping zombies every night, you can only begin to imagine the direction his life takes once it gets “weird.” Suffice it to say that it involves more and more zombies rising from their graves earlier and earlier, Gnaghi engaging in a surprisingly sweet relationship with the severed zombie head of the town mayor’s teenage daughter (Fabiana Formica), multiple reappearances of Dellamorte’s beloved widow as different women, and a face-to-face meeting with the Grim Reaper that sends Dellamorte on a bizarre killing spree.
Cemetery Man was based on a 1991 novel by Tiziano Sclavi, a successful Italian comic book writer who first introduced the character of Francesco Dellamorte in an issue of his wildly popular series Dylan Dog, which is about a paranormal detective. (On a confusing side note, the character of Dylan Dog was physically based on Rupert Everett, unbeknownst to the actor.) Sclavi has a darkly comic wit and a great sense of how the horror genre can be twisted and turned without losing its essence, even as it’s made strangely humorous, which is a perfect summation of Cemetery Man. Gory and comical, it is also a strangely effective exploration of the nature of life and death, topics about which the characters are constantly ruminating.
Director Michele Soavi, who had already made his mark in the Italian horror industry with Deliria (1987), The Church (1989), and The Sect (1991), was a protégé of Italian horror maestro Dario Argento, who co-wrote some of his early films. Soavi’s influences were not limited just to Argento, though. He clearly drew from British director Terry Gilliam when he worked as second unit director on The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1988), as well as from the indefatigable Joe D’Amato and Lamberto Bava, both of whom he worked with as an assistant director. In addition to those influences, he also worked as an actor under such well-known horror directors as Umberto Lenzi and Lucio Fulci.
So, when it finally came time for Soavi to direct, he had been associated in one way or another with virtually every well-known Italian filmmaker in the horror and fantasy genres. His early films definitely shows those influences, although Soavi’s voice becomes more and more his own with each new film, culminating in Cemetery Man. With its fluid swirling camera movements, odd angles, and pulsating musical score by Manuel De Sica (son of the great neorealist director Vittorio De Sica), the film maintains an incredible amount of energy even as it delves deeper and deeper into the existential absurd, perhaps (if you believe some of its most admiring champions) finding the meaning of life and death at the bottom.
|Cemetery Man DVD|
|Distributor||Anchor Bay Entertainment|
|Release Date||June 13, 2006|
|VIDEO & AUDIO|
|Fans have been clamoring for years for Cemetery Man to be released on DVD stateside, and they will be happy to know that Anchor Bay has provided a solid transfer for this beloved cult favorite. The widescreen anamorphic image is well-defined and clean, although it doesn’t seem quite as sharp as it could be (however, it is sharp enough that you can see the fishing line used to dangle the blue flames in the cemetery love scene). Colors are strong and natural throughout, but there is some variation in image texture, as the darker scenes show noticeable grain from time to time. As Cemetery Man was an international production with actors of all nationalities, there are numerous language versions, but the English-language version is the only one available on this disc. The Dolby Digital 5.1 surround track opens up the film’s impressive musical score and includes some effectively enveloping surround effects.|
|The primary supplement on this disc is the half-hour retrospective featurette “Death Is Beautiful,” which includes new interviews with director Michele Soavi, actress Anna Falchi, writer Gianni Romoli, and make-up effects artist Sergio Stivaletti. It is great to hear those who worked on the film reflecting on its production and genesis in the comic book world, but longtime fans probably won’t learn anything new. The only other supplements are the film’s original theatrical trailer (in Italian), a Michele Soavi biography, and an eight-page insert book with an enthusiastic essay by Anchor Bay web master Michael Felsher.|
Copyright ©2006 James Kendrick
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