Francesco Dellamorte is a cemetery watchman whose job is to slaughter the
living dead when they rise hungry from their graves. But following a tragic
tryst with a lusty young widow, Francesco begins to ponder the mysteries
of existence. Is there long-term satisfaction in blasting the skulls of
'returners'? Will his imbecile assistant find happiness with the partial
girl-corpse of his dreams? And if death is the ultimate act of love, can
a psychotic killing spree send Dellamorte to the brink of enlightenment?
living dead and the dying living are all the same. Cut
from the same cloth. But disposing of dead people is
a public service, where as you're in all sorts of
trouble if you kill someone while they're still alive."
- Francesco Dellamorte
Michele Soavi's Dellamorte Dellamore is not to be confused for a
zombie splatter flick, it is actually a strong character study in form
of a black comedy. Of course, the words 'Italian horror' and 'character
study' are not the kind of stuff you read in the same review. That is what
makes this intriguing little film, along with Argento's psychological thriller Stendhal
Syndrome, one of the last great horror films to come out of Italy. Dellamorte Dellamore was even given a theatrical release in Uncle
Sam's land circa 1996 under the name Cemetery Man and it did quite
well thanks to Rupert Everett's star power.
We know this is going to be something special from the very first scene:
After the camera zooms out of a skull (very cool effect) we are inside
a small room while a young man answers a phone call. Then someone knocks
on his door and when he opens it… tcham! A rotten zombie enters the room.
The audience is surprised, but the man isn't as he grabs a gun and calmly
shoots the thing in the head. He returns to the phone like it was some
bizarre daily routine as the camera reveals he lives right by a cemetery.
We then learn, through a continuous narration, that the man happens to
be Francesco Dellamorte a caretaker of a local cemetery of a small Italian
town. Dellamorte is one lonely and unhappy man: The entire town makes fun
of him for being apparently impotent and having a miserable sex life. Every
night, with the help of his mute nerdy assistant Gnaghi he is forced to
dispose of the living dead who return from their graves seven days after
their burial. This is a major factor of the film that is left unexplained
as we are left to assume the zombies exist thanks to an unknown plague.
It doesn't even matter anyways, this is the whole set-up of the movie and
instead of having a linear plot, Gianni Romoli's sharp script (based on
an Italian comic book series) is a string of semi-unconnected events that
shape the film as an episodic piece. In fact, one could somehow consider Dellamorte
Dellamore as an anthology film linked together by the characters.
Throughout the film's duration, Francesco falls in love with many nameless
women (all of them are played by the same actress: Anna Falchi) and these
affairs usually end in bad consequences. The first woman is recently widowed
nymph who is apparently turned on by ossuaries. When her jealous husband
comes back to the grave and kills her, Dellamorte is left shocked and hopeless.
But fortunately for him she is buried in that exact cemetery and not even
death can split them apart. Then he ends up falling to the mayor's secretary
who happens to have a strange phobia that forces Dellamorte to give up
his manhood for love. Will he do it? And finally there is a strange college
girl who ends up being too easy. What is her secret? These affairs end
up driving Dellamorte insane until the point where he becomes a serial
murderer and gets back at all the town folks that originally made fun of
him. But is Dellamorte really committing the murders? Or is it someone
else? Are those women real or a product of his imagination? Is his insanity
getting out of hand?
Cemetery Man is so unusual for an Italian horror film, a genre that
has been fairly stereotyped over the years as hot-blooded women being chased
by schizophrenic, knife-wielding, black-gloved killers. It actually has
interesting dialogue, sharp plot, and strong character development. Not
only that, but it is filled with black humor that actually works. One of
the (many) comedic subplots involves Dellamorte's mute assistant Gnaghi
falling in love with the mayor's daughter named Velantina who is later
decapitated at a road accident. Guess to whom Valentine's (talking) zombified
head hooks up? The Valentina/Gnaghi subplot is actually a very sweet and
funny touch in the film and you actually feel sorry at the tragic outcome.
The ridiculous idea of a talking head reminded me of Dario Argento's terrible
attempt that same year in Trauma where the Italian maestro used
it in a serious tone. It all gets more bizarre when Mayor Scanerotti (Stefanio
Mascearelli) uses his daughter's death as political propaganda, proving
that politicians don't have a soul indeed. During the beginning of the
film I thought Detective Straniero's failure at suspecting there was something
wrong with Dellamorte was a plot hole when later I realized it was actually
being played for laughs. And I laughed. Is Cemetery Man parodying
the usual narrative problems with Italian horror?
The entire movie is revolved around Rupert Everett who is given a lot to
do here from the narration to the actual on-screen performance. It is a
shame that Everett's performance in this is never mentioned when people
talk about his work. In fact, his horrendous role along with Madonna in
1999's Next Best Thing gets more recognition. I would go as far
as saying Francesco Dellamorte is the strongest role I've ever seen Everett
play. He nails the character's offbeat sense of humor from the very first
scene and seems to play the whole thing dead serious, making us somehow
Michele Soavi was one of the most enigmatic horror directors to come out
of Italy. Being a strong protégé of Dario Argento early on
his career, the young gifted director completed many music videos as well
as some documentaries and assistant-director credits before making his
directorial debut in 1987's Stagfright. With the international success
of that film, Soavi soon became hot stuff and was said being the next carrier
of the torch that was originally passed from Mario Bava to Argento, but
sadly it wasn't so. After directing four acclaimed films (with Cemetery
Man being the last) Soavi retired and isolated himself from the movie-making
business never to be heard from the international public again. Sad really,
one can only imagine what his career would have been like if he kept directing
because Cemetery Man is so well-crafted. Soavi breathes style into
the picture that mirrors the work of Mario Bava, Sam Raimi, Tim Burton,
Peter Jackson, and others. He is even inspired by Orson Welles at some
point and I won't tell you where…
The special fx-work was made by Argento regular Sergio Stivaletti (Phenomena, Sleepless)
and it is one of the most puzzling aspects of the film. For most of the
time, the gore looks horribly fake. But one can only guess that was the
intention. The zombies look and act so exaggerated and the gore looks so
forced and corny one can't help but laugh at it. And were all those visible
'invisible' wires intentional?
Few films manage to be as haunting, imaginative, weird, and even as darkly
funny as Cemetery Man. If you ignore some weak dubbing (the one
problem the Italian horror industry will apparently never get rid of) you
will have one great time. From the eyebrow-raising introduction to the
enigmatic conclusion, it will be frustrating to know that Michele Soavi
wasn't able to save the Italian horror industry from being taken over by
Asian horror as the major alternative from Hollywood slasher flicks and
now the industry is far from the 70's glory it once had, with Dario Argento
managing to come out with a few minor hits over the years.
- According to Director Michele Soavi, The "returners" get their
energy from the Mandragola roots in the cemetery.
- Tangerine Dream was originally supposed to do the soundtrack,
but something else came up.
- The cemetery sets used in the film were built inside an actual
- Many sources incorrectly state that this film is derived from
Tiziano Sclavi's comics featuring the hero Dylan Dog; it is in fact an
adaptation of a Schlavi Novel (also called Dellamorte Dellamore) that does
not contain the Dylan Dog character. Years earlier, however, Schlavi did
base his Dylan Dog drawings on the facial features of Rupert Everett which
is probably how the confusion began. An American Dylan Dog movie was developed
a few years after the release of this movie, but never came to fruition
- The ossuary which was used for filming was real. One member of
the crew took some of the human bones home and claims he was visited by
a ghost. He promptly returned them the next day.
- An American company was willing to fund and distribute the movie
if Matt Dillon was cast as Francesco.
- When Francesco and "She" are kissing in the crypt with the shroud
over their heads, the shot mimics the painting "The Lovers II" by Rene