Sep 16, 2014

Cemetery Man

I don’t know about other people, but to me, Rupert Everett—a man who first gained critical and commercial acclaim by portraying a British cocksucking commie spy traitor who defected to the Soviet Union in the film Another Country (1984)—positively personifies the pathetically pompous and all-too-proper English poof, even if he looks like a Roman soldier, so I have always found it quite intriguing that he gave one of his greatest performances as a somewhat suave and rampantly heterosexual Guido cemetery caretaker. Indeed, for what is arguably the greatest and most original ‘zombie comedy’ ever made, Cemetery Man (1994) aka Dellamorte Dellamore aka Of Death, of Love aka Zombie Graveyard aka Demons '95 aka Of Death and Love directed by Italian horror auteur Michele Soavi (Stage Fright, The Church), Everett unequivocally proved he could pull off a quasi-illiterate graveyard philosopher with a more bitter than sweet view of romance and a nasty knack for fornicating in graveyards with busty goombah babes and putting more bullets than semen in said women's bodies. A deathly dark (anti)romance of the rather nihilistic sort disguised as a quirky horror comedy, Soavi’s masterpiece of the mirthfully macabre is based on the 1991 novel Dellamorte Dellamore by comic artist/writer Tiziano Sclavi, yet there is no doubt that the director has made the source material his own.  Featuring brain-splattering Fulci-esque zombie kill scenes, oneiric surrealism and misogyny in the spirit of Argento (albeit more playful!), a cynical portrait of Italian society that rivals that of unsung artsploitation auteur Alberto Cavallone, and old school gothic aesthetics that recall the best of Mario Bava (in fact, Soavi opted for using an authentic ancient ossuary for the film), Cemetery Man is unquestionably a highly addictive celluloid treat for anyone with even the most marginal interest in great Guido horror cinema, even if it offers more unhinged laughs than petrified screams, as a work that is, philosophically speaking, sort of like a comedy for antinatalists, as well as a romance flick for lapsed necrophiles. A film that is truly done a great disservice when it is described simply as a “horror comedy,” “zombie comedy,” or anything like that, Soavi’s considerably misanthropic masterpiece may deserve some comparison with works ranging from Federico Fellini’s Toby Dammit (1968) to Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead II (1987) to James M. Muro’s Street Trash (1987), but when it comes down to it, there is really no other film quite like it. Indeed, if you’re looking for a philistine zombie flick with a sorry ‘socially redeeming’ message like those directed by George A. Romero, Cemetery Man will certainly prove to be an outstanding disappointment, but if you're looking for what is a seemingly seamlessly assembled arthouse-horror-comedy hybrid the visually quotes Belgian surrealist artist René Magritte and makes vengeful mass murder seem strangely merry, you can probably find no better work than Soavi’s lavishly loony neo-gothic celluloid nightmare-within-a-nightmare. 

 Francesco Dellamorte (Rupert Everett) is a cynical yet serious cemetery caretaker that rather reluctantly calls a small Italian town named Buffalora his home and he lives in a decrepit old ramshackle at the ancient graveyard with his severely retarded and morbidly obese childlike sidekick/assistant Gnaghi (François Hadji-Lazaro), who can only one (non)word: “nyah.” Working at a graveyard where the front gate has the Latin inscription RESVRRECTVRIS (“They will resurrect”) engraved on it, it should be no surprise that Dellamorte has a semi-serious zombie problem, though he prefers to call these rotten flesheaters ”returners.” Indeed, for whatever reason (although never mentioned in the film, director Soavi credited Mandragola roots in the cemetery as being responsible for reanimating the dead), most of the corpses come back to life seven days after the caretaker and his invalid comrade bury them, thus it is Dellamorte’s and his strangely cute and cuddly sidekick Gnaghi’s job to kill them by putting a bullet in their brain, as it is the only way to make the undead dead. A perennial loner who is believed to be impotent by the locals due to false rumors spread by young goombah punks and who is more or less illiterate despite the fact he is an incessantly pondering gravedigger philosopher of sorts, Dellamorte is not exactly the sort of man you would expect to be looking for love, but it eventually comes to him in the voluptuous form of a widow known as “She” (played by Finnish-Italian model turned actress Anna Falchi, who was discovered by maestro Federico Fellini), who comes to the graveyard to grieve over her recently deceased elderly husband. A beautiful yet seemingly warped woman of the rather whimsical sort, “She” only becomes interested in Dellamorte after he shows her his ossuary. While Dellamorte and “She” soon fall in love, their relationship is killed off as abruptly as it starts when the latter is killed after her belated husband rises from the grave and bites her while she is consummating coitus with the sexually virile graveyard caretaker. When “She” later rises from the dead, Dellamorte shoots her in the head, though, as the devastated caretaker will soon learn, she might not have been dead after all. Meanwhile, Gnaghi starts a morbid yet mostly harmless sexless romance with the reanimated head of the local mayor’s prematurely deceased daughter Valentina Scanarotti (Fabiana Formica), who was decapitated in a gruesome motorcycle accident.  Of course, Dellamorte’s beloved “She” also returns as a zombie, thereupon causing the caretaker to realize that he was indeed responsible for her death and thus throwing him into a deep hallucinatory depression that inspires him to kill seven of the young Guido punks who spread the rumors of his completely fictional sexual impotence.  Indeed, as demonstrated by his one-sided talk with a dictatorial Grim Reaper, who ultimately convinces him to kill the living instead of the dead, poor depressed Dellamorte might not have the most sound of minds, though he is certainly more rational and sane than anybody else from his quaint small town.  Of course, Dellamorte kills “She” too after she tries to take a big blood-gushing bite out of his flesh. The Caretaker also has to kill Gnaghi’s zombie lover Valentina after she kills her mayor father (Stefano Masciarelli), who was more interested in his own political campaign than his town’s zombie problem and the tragic death of his teenage daughter. 

 Undoubtedly, things get rather strange and 'soul-stirring' for Dellamorte when two women (also played by Anna Falchi) that look exactly like his beloved ‘She’ enter his life and ostensibly fall in mutual love with him at first sight. Indeed, the first is the secretary of the town’s new mayor Civardi (Pietro Genuardi), who instantly falls in love with the cemetery man and even agrees to marry him. Rather unfortunately, the Secretary is afraid of cocks and cannot stand the thought of a big purple-headed love truncheon deflowering her nubile naughty bits, so Dellamorte confirms to her the false rumors of his impotence and goes to a local doctor so he can be castrated (!), but luckily the physician refuses to do the procedure and instead injects his member with a painful substance that will supposedly guarantee that he will fail to “rise to the occasion” for at least the next month. Unfortunately, while Dellamorte is recuperating from taking a gigantic needle to the dick, the sensual Secretary is raped by mayor Civardi and she enjoys it so much that she drops the seemingly perennially forsaken cemetery man and cancels their planned marriage. Rather enraged after losing his second lady love, Dellamorte drives around town while looking for a prostitute and is ultimately approached by two young female college students, including a lady that also bears a striking resemblance to “She” named Laura (Anna Falchi), who he instantly falls in love with and vice versa. Indeed, despite the cock-blocking injection that he received to his dago dong, Dellamorte is so aroused by Laura that he manages to sexually service the carnal college student three times in row, but when he subsequently finds out that she is a high price prostitute, he kills her and two of her friends by setting fire to their apartment. When Dellamorte finds out from the local police investigator Marshall Straniero (played by American actor Mickey Knox)—a malignantly moronic man of law who humorously blames everyone except the cemetery man for the crimes that the cemetery man did indeed commit—that his friend Franco (Anton Alexander) took credit for burning up the college girls, he visits his less than sane comrade in the hospital to find out why he “stole his murders.” While talking to Franco, who is in a semi-comatose state, Dellamorte casually puts a bullet in the brain of a nun, a nurse, and a doctor. While leaving the hospital, Dellamorte once again bumps into Marshall Straniero and confesses to the murders, but the automaton-like cop does not pay him any attention. Fed up with life, love, and killing as man who states, “I’d give my life to be dead,” Dellamorte decides to leave Buffalora for good, so he tells Gnaghi to pack up his things, including an ancient coffin, and the two leave town. After leaving Buffalora and heading towards a mountain road, Dellamorte abruptly slams on the breaks, which causes Gnaghi to severely injure his rather thick head. After coming to the conclusion, “The rest of the world does not exist,” and becoming all the more upset by the fact that his only friend is dying in a rather ridiculous fashion, Dellamorte decides to kill himself and his comrade, but Gnaghi stops him at the last second. Indeed, somehow smashing his head was to Gnaghi’s benefit as he can now talk and asks Dellamorte, “take me home…please,” to which the graveyard caretaker eloquently replies, “Nyah.”  Indeed, while life might suck, especially when you're a mass murderer that is responsible for killing your own lover(s), Dellamorte seems to more or less finally come to terms with that fact in the end.

 Apparently, the American fanboy horror magazine Fangoria revealed in January 2011 that Michele Soavi was planning to direct a sequel to Cemetery Man that the director described as being more brutal and shocking than the original, though there seems to be no evidence that the film has ever went past the pre-production stage. Personally, I doubt that even Soavi himself could top the original film, but I have to admit that I would not mind seeing him try, even with an older and even gayer Rupert Everett as the lead. Additionally, in the late-1990s Everett approached Soavi about creating an American remake of the film but the project never went anywhere, which is probably for the better, as demonstrated by the countless horrendous Hollywood remakes of successful European films. Indeed, American filmgoers would have certainly been dumbfound by an unclassifiable flick with the beauteously brutal flesheater-exterminating of Fulci’s Zombi 2 (1979) aka Zombie yet the elegant in-your-face surrealism of Fellini’s Juliet of the Spirits (1965), hence why the Cemetery Man was a total flop when it was released in United States. Like the criminally overlooked Spanish arthouse-horror flick A Bell from Hell (1973) aka La campana del infierno directed by mysterious auteur Claudio Guerín, Soavi’s meta-offbeat zombie flick was certainly not specially tailored for the masses, as it is a true auteur piece directed by a born cinematic artist who just happens to work in the horror genre. Indeed, when it comes to Italian horror, Soavi is the only mensch that deserves to be credited as following directly in the footsteps of great cinematic artists like Mario Bava and Dario Argento, though Cemetery Man certainly demonstrates that he is a more eclectic filmmaker than his celluloid progenitors, as neither of these men were able to juggle comedy, horror, and surrealism in such a seamless fashion. A bad dream-within-a-dream-within-a-dream that does for the zombie genre what Luis Buñuel did for European arthouse cinema, Soavi's film is like the That Obscure Object of Desire (1977) of horror, albeit more figuratively and literally biting, as a feverishly fucked flesheater fever dream of the fiercely farcical sort where the rotting undead are certainly no more repugnant than the living.  Indeed, if you're looking for a flesheater flick that more accurately captures the essence of our degenerated and disillusioned zeitgeist and do not mind a little art and pathologically politically incorrect humor mixed with your zombie guts, forget the retrograde undead filmic feces of George A. Romero's post-Day of the Dead oeuvre and bite on Cemetery Man.

-Ty E

1 comment:

Het Gaybo said...

I cant believe there was a tribute to "The Wizard of Oz" on the DVD cover ! ! !.