Friday, October 16, 2009

Italian Horror Blog-a-thon: DVD of the Week: Dellamorte Dellamore (a.k.a. Cemetery Man)

NOTE: This post is part of the Italian Horror Blog-a-thon over at Hugo Stiglitz Makes Movies.

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.

Special Features:

“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.

Also included are a theatrical trailer and a decent Michele Soavi biography.


  1. A real shame that Soavi's career was interrupted by family ilness as he truly was shaping up to be a major talent. This is a winning mix of horror 'n' humour.
    I fervently hope the film he'll be remembered for is yet to come.

  2. Great film, and great write-up. I wonder if I Sell the Dead, currently in theaters, resembles this film in any way other than the obvious. Has anyone here seen it?

  3. Wonderful stuff, J.D. I will gladly link to this on Monday. This is one of my favorite zombie movies. Soavi is undoubtedly my favorite Italian horror filmmaker, even though he only made four horror films, I think he was shaping up to be the guy to take the genre into the new millennium. I just think his interests lie elsewhere now.

    After re-watching The Church recently for the blog-a-thon I really think that one stands head and shoulders above his others...but Cemetery Man is a lot of fun, and as you state, amazingly shot.

    Great review!

  4. Steve Langton:

    It is a shame about the trajectory that Soavi's career took but who knows where the future will take him?

    Tony Dayoub:

    Thanks for the kind words! I haven't seen I SELL THE DEAD but I may give-in and purchase it via pay-per-view/on-demand. It's got a fantastic cast and was produced by Larry Fessenden's company, which is good enough for me. The trailer for the film makes it look like a lot of fun.

    Kevin J. Olson:

    Thanks for the compliments. For some reason I had missed seeing this film for years and finally got around to seeing it a little while ago and now it is one of my fave zombie films. Also, it was weird seeing this with Rupert Everett after seeing all of his mainstream Hollywood flicks.

    Oh, I love THE CHURCH. that is a fantastic film. The mood and atmosphere of it is absolutely insane. But I love CEMETERY MAN for its Gonzo splatstick vibe.

  5. I love this film so much...Soavi is incredible. Great post JD!

  6. You had me at "... naked voluptuous women and a wicked sense of humor." I've always heard about this one, but hadn't seen, yet. It's Netflix time!

    Another great post for the season, J.D. Thanks for this.

  7. I discovered 'The Church' and 'Dellamorte Dellamore' (under its UK video release title of 'Cemetery Man') from a long-closed independent video rental shop that used to be two blocks from my home. They stocked a handful of mainstream blockbuster titles, a bunch of kids stuff and a wonderful, totally ad hoc selection of offbeat titles and obscure horror movies.

    'The Church' is probably still my favourite Soavi film, but 'Dellamorte Dellamore' is a blackly comic delight. I remember the first time I rented it, I wasn't sure which took me most by surprise: the inspired slightly surreal ending or the sight of Rupert Everett in an Italian horror movie!

  8. Hey there. I love this film. Very awesome. Great writeup on it.

    I hope this finds you doing well. I also hope you've had a great weekend so far. Take care. Have a nice week. Cheers!

  9. Jeremy Richey:

    Thanks for stopping by and for the kind words.


    Anna Falchi is something else in this film. Not to mention she also gets to play a zombie! I hope you dig this film and thanks for the compliments.

    Neil Fulwood:

    yeah, THE CHURCH is really great film and it is probably the better film but CEMETERY MAN is just so much fun. I'm a sucker for its considerable charms.


    Thanks for the kind words, Keith. I had a pretty good weekend. I hope you did too. Take it easy.

  10. Your command here is most impressive! I did see this particular Soavi film, and I think you nailed it's essence. Admittedly, I became less and less enamored of Lucio Fulci, as the excesses were just too much to take (Bava and Argento are really my cup of tea when it comes to Italian horror for a host of reasons, but subtlety reigns supreme) I was surprised to read here of the indebtedness to Lamberto Bava, who I consider "light weight" but the Argento and D'Amato influence is understandable.
    When you say this:

    "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."

    ---you really state what would be the primary appeal of this film! Nice!

    My favorite Fulci I believe is THE BEYOND by the way, but HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY is another among his best. ZOMBIE is rather redundant though.

  11. Sam Juliano:

    Hey! Thanks for stopping by. I really need to see more Fulci and am woefully ignorant of a lot of Italian horror outside of the most celebrated filmmakers (Bava, Argento, etc.). I certainly agree with your assessment of Lamberto Bava. He's pretty good but not someone whose films I watch a lot.

    I really love THE BEYOND. It is such a crazy, bizarro film. I have not seen HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY. Hmm.. will have to track that down.

  12. It's funny, I remember this played at my local arthouse theater for about five minutes back in 1996. I was fortunate enough to see it then but lots of folks were unfamiliar with what was going on, since of course they knew nothing of Italian horror! I was surprised that the genre was even still around. I tried to enlighten them but to no avail. Oh well. Great post!

  13. Will Errickson:

    Thanks for stopping by. It's weird but after writing up this film I've noticed it popping up regularly on our cable movie channels 'round these parts. Good to see this film still getting some love.

  14. A great film and I'm glad to see it get a nice write-up, here. I'm surprised that no one has yet mentioned the trippy ending.

    Anyone have any thoughts on the bizarre last scene or want to conjecture as to what it means?

  15. Well, I didn't want to blow the ending for anyone who hasn't seen it but now that you mention it, the ending was pretty bizarro, wasn't it?