Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Cemetery Man (Dellamorte Dellamore) (1994)

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Here’s what movie fans need to know about Cemetery Man: the director, Michele Soavi, was the assistant director to both Italian giallo-Master Dario Argento and Monty Python alumni-turned-auteur Terry Gilliam, and Cemetery Man sort of looks like a film designed for the former and filmed by the latter. And that alone makes it terribly interesting.

For anyone to whom those names mean nothing, this is what Cemetery Man is about: Francesco Dellamorte (Rupert Everett) is the caretaker of an Italian cemetery, a position which would be fairly simple for him if it weren’t for the fact that the dead have a tendency of coming back, newly endowed with a taste for human flesh. And so it is Dellamorte’s job to kill them by breaking their skulls. Dellamorte lives in the cemetery with his Igor-like assistant, Gnaghi, and ensures that these “returners” rest eternally.


The odd thing is, the zombie storyline only goes so far, and then seems to sputter out about half or three quarters of the way through. Instead, the film focuses on Dellamorte’s fixation on (and connection to) “She,” a woman played by the gorgeous (and often topless) Anna Falchi. “She” enters Dellamorte’s life again and again, in at least three incarnations: first, as a sexy widow, then as various girls he encounters, and even as some sort of uber-zombie.

So, is she a doppelganger? Or is her recurring appearance merely an affect of Dellamorte’s obsessed mind? I, for one, couldn’t tell you. I can tell you, however, that the whole thing drives Dellamorte mad, and he ends up causing more chaos than any of the zombies ever did. Meanwhile, Gnaghi seems to be having more luck with the ladies. He cuts off the head of the mayor’s (recently deceased) daughter and stashes it in his broken TV set, and soon the two are a happy couple (her brain not being destroyed, she is free to live on, and even take a few bites at Dellamorte in the process).


Soavi certainly learned a few things from working with his quirky masters, and it isn’t hard to see a bit of Gilliam in some of his better-composed shots. This is what a Terry Gilliam horror movie would look like--and what The Brother’s Grimm (which Soavi also worked on) probably should have been. In fact, the main reason you should watch this film is for its stunning visuals, which you often don't expect in a horror film.

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It must be said, though, that some of the special effects are fairly transparent (though they’re all conventional effects, which is something I appreciate). Especially bad is a scene in the cemetery with floating balls of blue flame … each of which are visibly tied to strings which lead them around. However, the viewer should be quick to forgive this--it’s so obvious that if the shot had worked it would have been beautiful.

One of the biggest detractors to Cemetery Man is the film’s overly enthusiastic fans, who have been known to speak of the film as though it were less a horror-comedy and more a philosophical treatise on love and mortality. And it isn’t--not unless you think the same thing about Bazooka Joe cartoons, at any rate. But it doesn’t have to be. It doesn’t have to be deep and intellectually stimulating. It just has to be a fun movie. Which it is. So stop thinking so hard and see it.


Burgundy LaRue said...

I watched this movie a couple of years ago for the DVDVR Halloween challenge. I liked it, especially the love story between Gnanghi and Valentina, but couldn't make sense of it. The movie can't decide if it's a thesis on the complexity surrounding human emotion and thought, or simply a quirky horror comedy.

I suppose I should take the same road as you and not complicate things with this movie. However, I can't help but think that Savini was going for something big and somehow missed it. What he was aiming for is my question.

Doug Tilley said...

Not Savini, Soavi. Though I absolutely agree.

I caught this film on Canadian television back in, like, 1996 or 1997 and thought it was a lot of fun. However, it is specific scenes that jump out at me (the hospital scene, the sex scene in the cemetary, the final shots) rather than the film as a whole.
It's certainly a whole lot more coherent than the Argento films from the 90s, and it really did look for a while that Soavi was going to evolve into something special. The Church and Stagefright are both underrated, worthwhile horror films.

Burgundy LaRue said...

Savini, Soavi. I'm from the Deep South. I'm lucky to read and speak semi-coherent English, never mind Italian.

But the correction is duly noted. :-D

travis said...

Oh, thanks for the recommendations, Doug. Haven't seen either of them.

I love the ending to CEMETARY MAN.

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