DVD Dellamorte Dellamore – The Cemetery Man
With Michele Soavi, a protégé of Argento directing, and a tagline that screams “Zombies, Guns and Sex, Oh My!” you know you’re in for a highly unusual treat. Although one of his generally lesser known roles, a rakish Rupert Everett stars in this stylish zom-com that has won numerous awards for Best Director and Best Actor.
Francesco Dellamorte (Everett) is the caretaker of a very unusual cemetery in Buffalora, a small town in Italy. For reasons unknown, the dead keep coming back to life and it is Dellamorte and his gormless assistant, Gnaghi (François Hadji-Lazaro), who have to keep them under control.
Dellamorte is cynical and brooding, reflecting on life and death and forever complaining to his friend, Franco (Anton Alexander), that he is severely underpaid for the work he begrudgingly carries out. Until, that is, he sees a mysterious and beautiful woman (Anna Falchi) at the funeral of an old man, who he assumes is her father. Although it turns out the young woman is now the widow of the deceased, they fall for each other in very unlikely place and consummate their love…on the grave of her dead husband, who is less than amicable about the situation.
This begins a bizarre chain reaction, leading Dellamorte to question the ageless mysteries of love, loss and the most frightening unknown of all – death…
The script, developed by Gianni Romoli, is darkly funny, with sharp one-liners emerging one after the other, delivered to perfection by a deadpan Everett, who mutters sulky things like, “I’d give my life to be dead,” and confesses that the only book he’s ever read is the phonebook, which he vehemently defends a ‘classic’. As the inhabitants of Buffalora cemetery inexplicably rise from their graves after seven days, Dellamorte dubs them the “Returners,” although “I can’t understand why they’re so anxious to return,” he muses. Soavi and Romoli confess during their commentary that they did have trouble building a suitable narrative structure from Italian cult author Tiziano Scalvi’s novel, on which the film is based. Scalvi’s most notable works include the horror comic book series Dylan Dog, about a paranormal investigator whose graphical design, coincidently, was actually based on Rupert Everett from his 1984 film Another Country.
Their difficulty is evident in the film as, like Dellamorte’s festering antagonists, it seems to resurrect itself multiple times and occasionally suffers from dragging its heels into the ground, despite a fairly standard runtime of 104 minutes. There are several moments about two thirds of the way in that Soavi could have ended this satisfactorily, instead of relentlessly ploughing on to reveal a watered down and confusing moralistic finish.
The dominant setting of the movie – Dellamorte’s graveyard – was actually filmed in two different locations. The daytime scenes, which show a windswept, tree-lined boulevard of mausoleums and headstones, were shot in Carsoli, a small town in the middle of Italy, whilst the gothic, Burton-esque style graveyard at night was courtesy of a town called Guardea, further North. The only regrettable thing here is that these night scenes occasionally endure moments where the picture is just too dark to appreciate the effectiveness of the set pieces. To make up for these temporary bouts of blindness, Soavi incorporates some beautiful cinematography, including a shot from inside the grave of Falchi’s dead husband, allowing us to stare up at the pleasant sky above and observe the sombre act of his widow throwing down flower petals while the conifer trees, that on the surface seemed so pleasant, now lurk at the corners of the sky like jagged teeth. Similarly, the scene within the ossuary, where Dellamorte’s nameless lover becomes suddenly overcome with passion, imitates Magritte’s famous series of paintings ‘The Lovers’ when Falchi kisses Everett after throwing a silky crimson scarf over his head. The sheer artistry of the make-up is astonishing and should be considered a point of reference from now on in how to make a person bridge the gap from being very alive to the point where they could quite believably say, “I’ve been underground for a week and tree roots have grown through me”.
A fantastic slice of early ‘90s Italian cinema that is witty, delightfully gruesome and dark.
The new release comes with some novel additional extras, such as the photo gallery displaying some of the film’s more artistic accolades, including an extreme close-up of Falchi’s beautiful rotting face and a wonderful still of one of the risen teenagers from the motorcycle/school bus pile up, complete with mangled helmet and vehicular parts protruding from his skull – an analogue clock from the dashboard jauntily sticking out from an empty eye socket, demonstrating the immense amount of attention paid to each gory little detail.
Hadji-Lazaro is superbly cast as the grossly overweight Gnaghi, who commands astonishing amounts of revulsion during mealtimes. In most of his scenes, he often manages to instil within the viewer a cacophony of mixed emotions, including pity, disgust and extreme amusement. Dellamorte curiously treats him like an insufferable idiot, but then reverts to being a sympathetic ear, particularly after Gnaghi takes a liking to the Mayor’s daughter, who regards him as some sort of pet. He likes her so much, in fact, that his face swells and contorts with some never-before-seen reaction to the chemical creation that is lust – and he suddenly projectile vomits all over her.
Anna Falchi’s character, on the other hand, is nameless, as she appears to be more of a metaphor after she dies and continues to haunt Dellamorte’s conscience. Her general reappearance is never fully explained, but, then again, neither are the hoards of undead corpses that so irritate Dellamorte. Falchi exudes a strange ethereal quality which makes her so suitable for this role, and her presence throughout the film represents the lessons Dellamorte learns about love. Through this mysterious woman, he is brutally exposed to the various types of affections. Their first encounter is arguably the closest experience of this fragile emotion, as they share a morbid fascination with the cemetery’s ossuary, fall passionately in love, only to be dealt a swift blow almost before they’ve even started. The second is a lesson in relationships without physical intimacy, which lasts all of one chemical castration, while the third encounter is simply about the carnal desires of the body.
A fantastic slice of early ‘90s Italian cinema that is witty, delightfully gruesome and dark – without these, no horror comedy is worth a dime. The special effects definitely invite admiration and the excellent cast pull everything together, despite the lukewarm ending. Dellamorte Dellamore has risen once again to reignite its status as a cult classic.
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