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October 25, 2013

Midnight Movie of the Week #199 - Cemetery Man

Most horror fans I know are quick to point out how lackluster the genre output of the 1990s was.  As with any time and any genre, there were several very good films released during that time span. (A few years back I listed these as my favorites.)  But, with fond memories of the 1980s in our minds and several impressive serious horror films hitting audiences in the new millennium, it's easy to see why the '90s are held in such contempt.
The horror subculture that might have taken the biggest hit in the 1990s was the Italian horror scene, which peaked with Argento, Fulci, and Bava through the '60s and early '80s but produced very few horror hits after the '80s ended. The biggest outlier to this train of thought is certainly Cemetery Man (originally titled Dellamorte Dellamore in its native tongue), which stands out to me as one of the most interesting horror films of its time and place due to its bizarre tone and chaotic plot.
British actor Rupert Everett, who would go on to much success starring romantic comedies like My Best Friend's Wedding and doing vocal work for Shrek movies, is at Cemetery Man's center as Francesco Dellamorte, the caretaker of an unholy cemetery where the dead often rise and walk seven days after their demise.  Many horror films would present a man in this position as an empowered hero, but Dellamorte just seems kind of annoyed by his predicament, sulking through much of the film and struggling to put much effort into sending the dead back to their graves. Cemetery Man uses his indifferent attitude as a platform to great things and Everett is a perfect fit for the moody and disinterested role.
There is one thing that inspires Dellamorte to feel passion, and that - of course - is a woman with huge breasts. She's played by Anna Falchi, who might be the most perfectly endowed woman in horror history, and her place in the caretaker's life drives the film toward the darkly comic tone that pushes it to surprising heights as a star-crossed romance and as an existential fantasy. Falchi first appears and captures the caretaker's heart as a widow who is turned on by the dead, and later shows up in two more roles to throw more salt on the wounds of Dellamorte's tortured love life.  The sexual encounters between the two leads are presented in ridiculously humorous ways - think of that awkwardly hilarious sex scene from Watchmen and you'll start to get the idea of what the director does here - but the caretaker's obsession with this woman through all of her different incarnations is always presented as a serious and somewhat deadly affliction for him.
While this sad sack is wondering what he has to do to hold on to the most beautiful pair of breasts woman he's ever seen, everything around him is increasingly bizarre and wild. His assistant and closest friend is a large bald man named Gnaghi who can only grunt and who also develops an obsessive love for the young daughter of the mayor after he vomits on her. Everyone around the cemetery seems rather uninterested in the fact that these "returners" continue to come back from the grave so Dellamorte can shoot them in the head, and the personification of Death even shows up to warn the caretaker that he should "stop killing the dead."
Everything in the film could be played for straight up laughs, and if that didn't work the story could also have been taken to gory extremes for the horror crowd. But director Michele Soavi seems to have an almost Shakespearean approach to the material, and the spirit that he gives Cemetery Man might be the biggest key to establishing the film as one of the most fascinating horror films of its era. A tonal comparison could be made to Peter Jackson's much loved Dead Alive, but the more human and less slapstick approach gives Cemetery Man a more tragic, thought-provoking edge over other splatter films like it.
Initial viewings of Cemetery Man may puzzle viewers - especially after the abstract ending - but returns to the film have really made me appreciate just how much this quirky horror film has to offer. It pushes the boundaries where many horror films stand pat, and never really suffers from its more abstract and existential choices. It's a movie that you don't want to look away from, and not just because you might see Falchi's God-given gifts at any moment. (Seriously, when she has a shirt on it looks like she's smuggling tetherballs.) The dark comedy, the ill-fated romance, and the zombie splatter all fit together perfectly here, establishing Cemetery man as a one-of-a-kind winner.


Marvin the Macabre said...

Thanks for the reminder of how good this movie is. I think Gnaghi is the heart and soul of the film, but Dellamorte's constantly bummed-out brand of nihilism has its own charms.

I love Italian horror films precisely because they make little to no sense. They are mainly exercises in expressing emotion through a visual language, rendering plot secondary to greater artistic goals. And I love that the duelling moods in Cemetery Man are a weird mix of melancholy and ridiculousness. It's as if this film was made specifically for me.

Kev D. said...

It is pretty glorious when she lets those puppies out.

It almost hurts the film in a way, because it's very hard not to remember her jugs as the film's highlight, when really the film has SO MUCH to offer.

When I think of the film, it's generally one of the first things that pops into my head. Boobs.