Is ‘Cemetery Man’ The Best Zombie Movie You’ve Never Seen?
As far as zombies are concerned, there is very little that has been done to distinguish a film project after George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead. However, every once in awhile someone comes forth with an idea that is not necessarily fresh, but nevertheless carries the feeling of invention that reinvigorates interest in the undead genre, and Cemetery Man, known originally as Dellamorte Dellamore, is absolutely such a film.
The plot is wonderfully rich in its simplicity: Francisco Dellamorte, played by Rupert Everett, is a cemetery caretaker at a small village in Northern Italy. His job is beyond mundane; digging graves, removing dead flowers, and putting down the risen bodies of the recently dead seven days after their demise. Though he’s not sure, he suspects that this phenomenon is restricted only to his cemetery, leading him to an isolated existence, but his introduction to a beautiful young widower sees him getting more work than he could have expected.
Like the best of Peter Jackson’s early films, well before he hit his peak with The Lord of the Rings and took a massive fall with The Lovely Bones, Cemetery Man strikes many genres but finds its niche as a comedy-horror. The first scene alone sets up this dynamic, when Dellamorte can barely be bothered dispatching a walking corpse who callously interrupts a dull telephone conversation. Joe Bob Briggs, an exploitation-loving critic and TV personality of the mid-‘90s, extolled the virtues of the three Bs in such films; blood, breasts, and beasts. If this model can be considered gospel, Cemetery Man not only passes the test with flying colors, it might be an apex achievement.
Needless to say, Dellamorte dispatches more than his fair share of the living and the dead, spilling gallons of blood with the same level of brain-splattering gore expected from the average foreign B-movie. For the uninitiated, that’s a lot, but the film isn’t grossly fixated on organ displacement; decapitations, vomiting, attempted chemical castration, resurrected motorcyclists, undead Boy Scouts, medical staff and clergy executions, and one grumpy cuckolded zombie keep your expectations in tatters.
If you’re not swayed by staying on your toes, there is an ace in the hole. To say that Dellamorte’s love interest, played by Anna Falchi, is a knockout might well be a grosser understatement than saying the Kardashians are more popular than they should be. Falchi’s all natural, with Angelina Jolie’s lips, Liz Taylor’s eyes, and the body and breasts of Raquel Welch. One glance leaves one wondering how it is possible that her looks alone weren’t exploited in more recognizable films, especially since she possesses the acting chops to pull off her diversified, sultry roles with distinction. And as an added bonus, she’s just as gorgeous today.
Beyond the trappings of great exploitative cinema, Cemetery Man has a fascinating dichotomy of Lynchian plotting and dualistic femme fatales on par with Mulholland Dr. and Lost Highway. Playing with the nature of the original Italian title, the film portrays the specters of both love and death totally free from heavy-handedness and encourages multiple interpretations of Dellamorte’s actions later in the film without becoming obsessed with sending the viewer’s head spinning, thus preserving the elements of the film’s true narrative. You may have absolutely no idea where you ended up, but you’ll love that you’ve been taken there.
It may not carry the cache of Dawn of the Dead or Shaun of the Dead as it is not violent enough or funny enough to match up with either of the two seminal zombie classics, and it’s not quite in league with Jacob’s Ladder as a meditation on life and death, but at some point reserves of good films about the undead begin to dry up for hardcore fans who can’t get enough.
Unfortunately, Cemetery Man is long out of print; good used copies tend to start around $20 and a pristine one could run as high as $60, but this speaks to the demand for a DVD that went out of print in 2009. It may seem like a steep price, but if you’re looking for something like Deadgirl with a bit less blood and a twistier plot, Cemetery Man is there to feed a hunger that extends beyond the grave.