Tuesday, October 14, 2014

'90s Horror Poll: Day 13 - Dellamorte Dellamore (aka Cemetery Man)

#8 (Tie) - 6 Votes

The first time I saw Dellamorte Dellamore (released in the U.S. as Cemetery Man), it was very late at night, and the next morning, I wasn't sure if I was remembering the movie accurately or if it had inspired some very strange dreams as I drifted in and out of sleep. Later on, a second viewing confirmed that Michele Soavi's film was exactly as strange as I remembered. Based on a novel Tiziano Sclavi (who also created the cult comic Dylan Dog, whose hero is modeled after Dellamorte Dellamore star Rupert Everett), Cemetery Man starts as a deadpan horror comedy only to make several jarring tonal shifts, becoming erotic, violent and surreal before ending on an inexplicable existential question mark. It shouldn't work, and it didn't work for a lot of critics, but Soavi - who worked as an assistant director for Dario Argento and Terry Gilliam, citing both as influences on his work - completely commits to the story's morbid take on love and death, and even as you're repeatedly asking "Wait, what just happened?", in the end it's true to its own (arguably batshit insane) logic.

Everett stars as Francesco Dellamorte, a cemetery caretaker in a small Italian town who, as of late, has had to deal with the problem of dead people escaping from their graves. While the movie's roving cameras remind not only of Gilliam but also Sam Raimi and Peter Jackson, Soavi's approach to horror comedy is comparatively low key - the joke here is that, for Dellamorte, shooting zombies in the head becomes just another mundane aspect of his job. This changes when Dellamorte, whose only companion is his mentally challenged assistant Gnaghi (François Hadji-Lazaro), falls for a newly widowed young woman (Anna Falchi). Sadly, the woman is bitten by a zombie after she and Francesco have sex atop a grave, but after he dispatches of her, she reappears to him as various other characters (Gnaghi also has a romance with a severed head). As Francesco starts to wonder if he's going insane, he's visited by a very Gilliam-esque Death, who encourages him to start killing the living, which is where things get really strange.

Dellamorte Dellamore isn't a particularly scary film, as the zombie outbreak proves to be the least of Dellamorte's worries, and Soavi is more interested in gross-out than suspense; everyday human activities like eating and sex are given a sickly quality, reminders of our mortality. The movie grows more unnerving as Dellamorte turns his gun on the living, and we're uncreasingly uncertain if what we're seeing is a dream, a hallucination or something else altogether. The movie's ending, which I won't spoil, is one of the strangest of any movie, horror or otherwise. It's a seemingly out-of-nowhere philosophical question mark, and while, after having seen it a few times, I'm not sure if it fits the movie, but I admire Soavi for swinging for the fences. Soavi left the film industry for a long time after Dellamorte Dellamore for personal reasons; there are two more recent movies listed on his Wikipedia page, but there's very little information about either, and they don't appear to have gotten U.S. releases. It's a shame, as Dellamorte Dellamore is one of the most unique horror movies of the decade, and horror movies could use Soavi's offbeat sensibility today.

U.S. Release Date: April 26, 1996 (Also released that day: The Quest, The Truth About Cats & Dogs, Sunset Park, Mulholland Falls)

What critics said at the time: 

"The worst thing that can be said for 'Cemetery Man,' which opens today in the Bay Area, is that it's out of control. It's as if the film makers were following random impulses, tossing anything on screen and then repenting by flailing in all directions for a meaning to it all. Some patches are dull, others are irritating and puerile. In the end, 'Cemetery Man' seems to be a pointless exercise" - Mick LaSalle, San Francisco Chronicle

"The visual effects are a hoot, with camera angles from inside underground coffins, and a severed head that follows Gnaghi adoringly around the graveyard. Soavi offers a skewed comic world where a dead lover is as good as a live one - maybe better, since the dead always return. With Hollywood grinding out a raft of coming big-budget, heavy-artillery, live-action versions of comic books such as `Barb Wire,' `X-Men,' `Men in Black' and `Wonder Woman,' this sweet-spirited Italian import recalls another era with its naughtiness, creative verve and endearing lack of pretension." - Amy Dawes, Los Angeles Daily News


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