Saturday, January 23, 2021

Cemetery Man (1994)

Francesco Dellamorte is the gravedigger of the Buffalora cemetery. It's your typical small town graveyard, except for the fact that the dead rise every night. Francesco wearily puts them down, his life in a rut until the arrival of a beautiful woman. He falls in wild passionate love, but the woman's untimely death plunges him into despondency. But then she keeps showing up, alive and well. Francesco's grasp on reality begins to slip, and he undergoes a strange odyssey, where the dead live and the living die...

Cemetery Man came during a time when the horror genre really wasn't doing well. The classical Italian boom had long since petered out, and the only stuff coming out of America at the time was the wave of teen horror with the likes of Scream, or I Know What You Did Last Summer. Not to criticise those too harshly, since they are good movies with plenty of fans, but they're not really my cup of tea, and they seemed to represent a downturn for the genre. Horror had become a wasteland (hell, most cinema was at this time! Bloody '90s...), and they seemed to be all that populated it. But even in the darkest times, no matter where you look, you'll always find something!

A semi adaption of the popular horror comic Dylan Dog, and another book written by author Tiziano Sclavi, Cemetery Man is a mix of many genres. It's a scary story, but told in a very wry and at times hilarious way, and with romance too (although hardly normal romance!). We have a world-weary protagonist who regards the dead rising as a bureaucratic inconvenience, the mentally disabled sweetheart Gnaghi, Francesco's constant companion, and a cast filled with other memorable players. There's the image-obsessed mayor, his rebellious yet kind daughter, whose undead romance with Gnaghi is genuinely sweet! The old lady frequently shopping at the cemetery for her grave is a nice human addition, while Inspector Straniero is a hilariously gung-ho yet oblivious policeman. Franco is the hero's only friend, so it seems, and never really adds much, though this seems to be the point. Still, we coulda seen more of him. And last up is She, the mysterious woman who plagues Francesco, whose whims and desires change as constantly as her life, while she always remains nameless.

There are countless memorable scenes here, my favourite in particular being Francesco's visit to the hospital. Barmy, violent, and hilarious, they greatly add to the movie's surreal nature. You're never sure what's really happening. Everything? Nothing? Half-and-half? It's very effective, leaving you wanting more in the best way.

While otherwise a fantastic  movie, Cemetery Man has a few problems, some minor, some not so much. First up it is a little too long. Never boring or overlong, but there are a few scenes that I could've happily seen the back off with not much missed. One in particular is the death of She's third form, which felt a bit mean-spirited, and almost out-of-place, dare I say? It didn't feel as loopy and detached from reality as the other murders, and was a bit uncomfortable. And unnecessary too, since simply walking away and leaving her where she is would be enough torment for Francesco.

I also feel the movie's length and/or pacing gets in the way of She's returns. The movie is chugging along perfectly well, yet it's been 40 minutes since She died, and only now does she come back alive and well! So much time passes that it kinda blunts the feeling/impact, and you almost forget she was even there.

Cemetery Man is a fascinating movie, that has been carefully crafted like a big tapestry. Its artistic themes are reinforced by the original Italian title Dellamorte Dellamore, Of Death, of Love. This is a highly allegorical tale, with multiple ways to view it.

To look at one, there's the romantic angle. Much is made of Francesco about how amazing his love with She is, yet when you look at it, it's pretty weak! When they first meet, it's only her looks that make Francesco fall for her, and she couldn't begin to give a shit about him. It's only when he mentions an ossuary that he gets her attention (she loves ossuaries!). From then on the relationship immediately turns to sex, and then a constant cycle of her dying or totally screwing Francesco over, all through a series of events that may or may not be happening. It's a fascinating look into Francesco's psyche, and what he considers love!

Then we come to the reality of Francesco's wold, and what the fantastic ending means for this. I've read many different interpretations, including a very interesting one with Franco, which really justifies his seemingly random presence, and gives him reason to be here. There is also Francesco's relationship with Gnaghi, and the reversal it takes by the end. If the whole movie is taking place somehow within his mind, Is Francesco perhaps a representation of the darker side of his psyche and Gnaghi perhaps good and pure? And after the chaotic events of the film, he gains control, throwing the gun away as Francesco accepts his life and finds peace? Who knows!

Cemetery Man is a hilarious film. From the visual humour, to the witty and batty dialogue, there's lots to enjoy.
Spoken by the obsessive girlfriend of a zombie biker-"It's none of your business. I'll be eaten by whomever I please!"
On Romance: "This will never work. I'm alive and you're dead." "I'm not prejudiced, my love."
On friendship: "What are you doing stealing my murders? What kind of fucking friend do you call yourself?"
Francesco also has many interesting and dry observations-"At a certain point you realise you know more dead people than living.".

The score in Cemetery Man is great. We've got a neat main theme, lots of tracks that range from spooky to cosy, and all help in building the mood of each scene. I especially liked this one tune that recurs throughout, before eventually given lyrics by Valentina's sweetly singing severed head.

You've got some nice licensed songs here too, including one hell of a surprise! These last few years I've watched hundreds of Turkish movies and listened to hundreds of songs, making me somewhat of an expert. So I have an instant ear for Turkish songs no westerner has ever heard. So colour me surprised when I suddenly hear Hadi Bakalım in a Western movie!! It fits the scene perfectly, as we see a feverish amount of zombies all lining up by Francesco's door to be shot. The movie and this musical choice really complement each-other!

The cast here are wonderful. The very actor who inspired Dylan Dog's appearance, Rupert Everett is the perfect fit for the character, nailing his weariness perfectly, and looking suitably gaunt and wiry, despite clearly being a musclebound hunk whenever he takes his shirt off (which is often). François Hadji-Lazaro is great as Gnaghi, playing the character with much depth and sympathy, and never coming off like a caricature. A problem that can arise when making movies is that things can be subjective. In this case, how do you find 'the most beautiful woman' ever? It's a thankless task, as many might disagree on what constitutes beauty. Thankfully Cemetery Man truly succeeds, as Anna Falchi is a stunning and ethereal beauty. And that's not even mentioning when she has her kit off! The rest of the actors all do fun jobs, and round off the movie well.

The effects are another high point. There are zombies in many stages of decay, each looking cool, and some are very creative. The gore is spectacular, and used very well. Best of all is the representation of Death. One of the most elaborate on film, he really cuts an impressive figure.

The direction by Michele Soavi is wonderful, with countless shots looking like paintings. The whole movie is one big work of art. Especially impressive are the visuals of the ending, which look stunning and make you wonder how it was done.

To finish, Cemetery Man is a genuine classic, and masterpiece of Italian cinema, horror or otherwise! I highly recommend it, and it's bound to entertain you, frighten you, and make you think...

No comments:

Post a Comment