I rewatched this last week after first seeing it several years ago. Honestly, I kinda hated it the first time. I couldn’t really tell you why other than I don’t really care for horror-comedy. I don’t even know why I had a hankering to watch it again. I mean, I really like director Michele Soavi (I previously wrote about Stage Fright for this column) and I enjoy Rupert Everett so I thought I should give it another try. After this last viewing, I’ve changed my tune. I think Soavi outdid himself. I vacillated about whether I should even write about this for this column. Just about everyone I know has both seen it and love it. In the end, I decided I should include it because surely it isn’t just people I know who read this column (I hope to fuck not, anyway) and they might not have heard of it.
Based on the 1991 novel Dellamorte Dellamore by Tiziano Sclavi, Francesco Dellamorte (Everett) is the caretaker of a cemetery in a small Italian town. He lives on the premises in what could be a described as a hovel. He has an assistant, Gnaghi (the delightful François Hadji-Lazaro) who lives in an even more squalid place built below Dellamorte’s house. The two are the only workers in the cemetery. They do all the digging... well, Gnaghi does anyway. Dellamorte just stands around looking gorgeous and being rather vapid. Life for these two seems pretty boring. Dig, burial, fill in, repeat. There is one thing that keeps them on their toes, though. Some of the dead are beginning to rise.
Seven days after a person is buried, they seem to come back to life. They’re hungry, of course, so they try going after both workers. Dellamorte calls them “returners” and they are becoming a problem. He knows he has to shoot them (or hit them) in the head to get them to die. He’s complained about the problem to the town’s mayor but nothing has been done about it. Rumors run rampant in the town that the dead come back to life but no one seems to care. No one except Dellamorte and Gnaghi.
One day while a service is happening, Dellamorte falls for the widow (Anna Falchi) of the deceased. He’s convinced he is in love and tries to get her to notice him when she comes to put flowers on her husband's grave. She (the character is not named) has zero interest in Dellamorte. That is, until he tells her the cemetery has an ossuary. She has a thing for ossuaries. While the two are having sex, her dead husband comes back to life and bites her. She dies and Dellamorte is heartbroken. Throughout the movie, he encounters two other women who look exactly like her. He tries to get with them both. Gnaghi is also dealing with an unconventional love affair with the young daughter of the town’s mayor. Dellamorte begins to lose his sanity and starts taking lives that he shouldn’t.
Soavi can be accused of many things, but a visually uninteresting movie is not one of them. This movie looks amazing. Yes, his Argento influence still shows, but it’s okay. The effects here are really good, too. The script, by Soavi and Giovanni Romoli, is actually funny. Everett is a master at delivering this kind of dry wit so he is perfect as Dellamorte. The real standout though, is Hadji-Lazaro. His “Gnaghi” is charming, sweet, and really delightful. He can only utter one word but he manages to convey what he means in every use of it. Although treated pretty shabbily by Dellamorte, Gnaghi still manages to keep a smile on his face most of the time. They are now one of my favorite character duos in film.
The movie is available on Blu-ray from a couple of places (either all region or Europe only). It’s crying out for Arrow or a company of the same caliber to give it the special treatment it deserves. If you’re looking for a movie to watch this Halloween season, you can’t go wrong with Cemetery Man.
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