Dellamorte Dellamore

(Cemetery Man, Italy/France/Germany - 1994)

by Mike Lorefice

Cast: Rupert Everett, Francois Hadji-Lazaro, Anna Falchi, Mickey Knox, Fabiana Formica
Genre: Horror/Fantasy/Comedy
Director: Michele Soavi
Screenplay: Gianni Romoli from Tiziano Sclavi's novel
Cinematography: Mauro Marchetti
Composer: Riccardo Biseo & Manuel De Sica
Runtime: 105 minutes

“Go away! I haven’t got time for the living” – Francesco Dellamorte

Cemetary Man tends to be loved by those who allow it to try on every hat in the store, and hated by those who want it to settle on one of them. Michele Soavi learned from several different directors as an actor and assistant director. Perhaps from Lucio Fulci he got the distinctly made up zombies; from Joe D’Amato the mix of genres to freshen: from Dario Argento the colorful set design, progressive rock soundtrack, and mix of horror with dreams; from Terry Gilliam the combination of fantasy and reality to create a zone that’s teetering on both but often existing apart from either. I could categorize Cemetary Man with the over the top comic gorefests of the pre sellout versions of Sam Raimi and Peter Jackson, but it’s funnier and certainly far headier than the Evil Dead series and Dead Alive. It’s in the vein of George A. Romero for its social commentary where the living are the monsters while the dead are merely a nuisance, but Soavi’s dead function at or above the level of the living. However, it’s too picturesque to be Romero, while too philosophical to be Fulci, so as you can see once you begin to look past the surface these comparisons quickly become an exercise in futility. Soavi’s revisionist zombie film could be categorized as progressive horror, but I suppose what’s really important is Cemetary Man is arguably the last top notch Italian horror film.

Soavi describes the writings of his friend Tiziano Sclavi, famous for the Dylan Dog comics, as traditional horror combined with black comedy and English black humor. What makes this adaptation of Sclavi’s work so effective is the ease in which Soavi navigates so many styles, ideas, genres, and states of being. Cemetary Man is an energetic film about ennui, a nonchalant exercise in over the top stylization.

Francesco Dellamorte (Rupert Everett), literally St. Francis of Death, has completely withdrawn from society. Living human beings are too self serving, conceited, deceitful, and/or malicious. Hardly ever seeing his one friend Franco (Anton Alexander), his only companion is a big round mass of a man-child, Gnaghi (Francois Hadji-Lazaro), who is not right in the head and thus more like a loyal pet. Francesco may be able to understand his language - basically consisting of the word “nyah” – but he probably just interprets it however he pleases.

Francesco has an easier time dealing with zombies than humans: he knows exactly how to dispatch of them. Unlike the living, they are understandable. They seem to appreciate life more than the living, and as everyone always wants what they can’t have, they mostly want to live.

The living are spiritually dead, at least in Francisco’s case from the repetitive grind. Francisco spends his days crossing out the names of the recently departed in the phone book, leading to a hilarious scene where he gets pissed at Gnaghi for throwing the old book away when the new one arrives, stating “These books are classics!” His nights are spent killing them again, as in the cemetery he watches over those who just died all return within seven days.

Wearing a mask of disaffection and hiding behind a very cynical brand of gallows humor, Francesco would like to live if for no other reason than life in isolation is so unfulfilling, but can’t get beyond spending his free time thinking about it. He’s no great thinker, more funny than profound, a pocket philosopher who pontificates the meaning of love and death (hence the Italian title Dellamorte Dellamore, which incorporates both) in a darkly sarcastic manner. The more he thinks about this life, the more he dwells on what he lacks and all his failings. The more disenchanted he becomes, the more he escapes into dream, fantasy, alternate reality, and/or psychosis: the film is ambiguous, so you are allowed to take your pick.

Like an exterminator dispatching of the vermin in the most matter of fact manner, Francesco thinks nothing of killing zombies. Unfortunately, disaffection no longer works after he accidentally kills his ideal woman (Anna Falchi) when graveyard sex goes awry and he fails to realize the zombie only injured her. She awakened his desire to escape his life, this dead little world he inhabits, and those feelings don’t vanish and can’t simply be shut off.

Falchi continually returns in different incarnations, but Francesco is a constant failure. In isolation, he tries to exchange nihilism for existentialism and meditation, but he needs acceptance. Love will get him that, but it doesn’t work even with a version of Falchi who isn’t deterred by the false rumor of impotence he spread to keep the women away.

Francesco’s downward spiral grows more turbulent, and he begins taking orders from a statue in the cemetery he believes to really be the grim reaper. The reaper convinces him it makes more sense to just kill the living, and Francesco’s dreams proceed to a murder spree. When he wakes up, he finds the people were really murdered. We determine whether this is real or if Francesco has gone insane. Is he coping through dreams or lashing out at the cruel world? In any case, Francesco is so irrelevant he doesn’t get credit for his own murders even when he makes a conscious effort to implicate himself.

Francesco has fallen so low even Gnaghi has better luck than he does. The mayor’s daughter Valentina (Fabiana Formica) reciprocates Gnaghi’s affections, though this doesn’t occur until she’s just a scarred up head. She even fights, or more accurately bites, for their love in a typically inspired scene from the great special effects artist Sergio Stivaletti. Of course, since the living want the dead and the dead want the living everyone is out of luck. How do you deal with it? You come up with lines like “I’d give my life to be dead” and, as always, you play the hand you are dealt however unlikely and absurd it may be.

Soavi is very much a picture painter mixing the beautiful and macabre until either are both. He filmed overnight in a real cemetery in the dead of winter, of course considerably dressing the set up. What separates Stivaletti from the other great special effects men is he delves more into set design. You need good backgrounds for Soavi’s films because he likes to use camera angles between 11-1 o’clock and 5-7 o’clock. Stivaletti may not have an obvious effect in a given scene, but he created the background wall of skulls.

Soavi is generally cleverer at utilizing the scenes designed simply to throw you off than his giallo counterparts, blurring the line between reality, fantasy, and dementia. Cemetery Man is better looking and demands more thought than the vast majority of films, but it also has several fun scenes that are completely preposterous. For instance, it’s nice to have unique zombies like the Gremlins, but are we to believe they buried a biker in his motorcycle helmet? I doubt the film’s fans care, and the nah-sayers were lost long before that anyway.




* Copyright 2007 - Raging Bull Movie Reviews *