Michele Soavi got his start as an actor with small roles in Italian horror films like Lucio Fulci’s City of the Living Dead (1980) and then worked in various capacities (actor, screenwriter and assistant) on five of Joe D’Amato’s movies. Soavi went on to work as a second assistant director on Dario Argento’s Tenebre (1982) and was promoted to first assistant director on Argento’s Phenomena (1985). He also directed a couple of music videos and this led to his directorial feature debut with Stagefright (1987).
After a spell working on other people’s films again, Soavi got another opportunity to direct with The Church (1989) which was a much larger film than Stagefright in terms of budget. This was followed by The Sect (1990) and finally the independently produced Cemetery Man (1994) (a.k.a. Dellamorte Dellamore) which was based on a popular Italian comic book called Dylan Dog and went on to become an international success.
Francesco Dellamorte (Rupert Everett) is a cemetery watchman who kills the living dead when they rise from their graves (“returners” as he calls them) along with his oafish assistant, Gnaghi (Francois Hadji-Lazaro). He can’t explain the phenomenon – to him, dispatching the living dead is simply a job. One day, Francesco spots a beautiful young widow (Anna Falchi) and is immediately attracted to her but she wants nothing to do with him.
After a lusty tryst with the widow that begins with a passionate kiss in a decrepit crypt and ends up with them making love on her husband’s fresh grave only to end badly for her, Dellamorte starts thinking more about the living dead epidemic. In a vision, he is told by Death to start killing the living, that way he won’t have to kill them when they’re dead. And so, he goes from night watchman to mass murderer. Dellamorte certainly isn’t your conventional protagonist. For starters, he reads old copies of the local phone book in his spare time. He seems indifferent towards life and death, content to merely exist. Only the young widow is able to make him feel passionate about life again and then she dies.
Anna Falchi, aside from being a stunning, sexy beauty with those pouty lips and curvaceous, hour-glass figure, plays three different roles and even gets to be one of the undead. It’s easy to see why Rupert Everett’s character falls so hard for her and repeatedly.
Soavi sets the darkly comic tone of his film right from the first scene where Dellamorte quickly and efficiently dispatches one of the living dead. The cemetery setting provides a rich, gothic canvas for which the filmmaker to paint his subversive horror film on and to immerse us in at every opportunity. Working with horror maestros like Fulchi, Argento and Lamberto Bava certainly paid off for Soavi who expertly orchestrates the carnage in such a way that ranks his film right up there with other splatstick horror classics like Re-Animator (1985), Evil Dead 2 (1987) and Braindead (1992). He has the living dead riding around on motorcycles and Gnaghi ends up falling in love with the disembodied head of a living dead girl that evokes the aforementioned Re-Animator only in a sweeter, more naively romantic way.
Like those movies, Soavi’s film isn’t afraid to thumb its nose at convention and smash a few taboos along the way. Cemetery Man has everything you’d want from a cult horror film: stylish camerawork (that, at times, evokes Sam Raimi during his Evil Dead days), cool gore effects, naked voluptuous women and a wicked sense of humor.
“Death is Beautiful” is a retrospective featurette made specifically for this DVD. Soavi cites the three filmmakers that inspired him to become a filmmaker as D’Amato, Argento and Terry Gilliam. He worked for all three at various points in his life and learned so much about the art of filmmaking. Soavi talks about how he got involved in the film and how he was hesitant, at first, because he felt that the screenplay was childish and he didn’t get the sense of humor. This is an excellent look at the making of this movie with Falchi and several key cast members also interviewed.