Reviewed by DAVID VINEYARD:          

CEMETERY MAN. Italy-France-Germany, 1994. Original title: Dellamorte Dellamore. Released in the US in 1996. Rupert Everett, François Hadji-Lazaro, Anna Falchi, Mickey Knox. Screenplay by Gianni Romoli, based on the novel by Tiziario Sclavi. Directed by Michele Soavi.

   Dellamorte means ‘of death’ and dellamore means ‘of love,’ and more than that I can’t really rationally explain about this sexy, arty, off the wall Italian horror film about love, passion, duty, friendship, and, of course, zombies.

   Francesco Dellamore (Rupert Everett) keeps the cemetery in Buffalora in Italy, which is more of a job than you might think, since every seven days the dead rise and he has to put a bullet in their brains and return them to their grave (no explanation is ever given and absolutely no one seems the least concerned with this curious arrangement) with the help of gentle mute giant grave-digger Gnagi (François Hadji-Lazaro). Dellamore is a handsome young man, and by now rather bored with his job and living by the decidedly creepy old town cemetery, but lacks the motivation to move on until She (billed only as She in the credits) shows up, Anna Falchi, whose husband recently died.

   Dellamore and the widow make love on the husband’s grave after which the husband rises and bites her. When she dies and comes back, Dellamore kills her again, but by now he wants away from this life and the gentle Gnagi has fallen in love with the daughter of the mayor. Some other complications ensue, including a Viagra moment for our hero, and with Dellamore seeing the woman he killed everywhere, the two men flee but their journey comes to an abrupt end with Gnagi supposedly dead. Dellamore can’t bring himself to kill his friend, but Gnagi wakes up, not having died, and the film ends as he throws Dellamore’s gun into an abyss as snow swirls around them and the two friends apparently choose to abandon zombie-killing and babysitting the dead as a chosen profession.

   This film is strange by any lights, informed by everything from giallo films to Italian adult digest sized horror comics, American road trip movies, and the offbeat philosophy of the author of the novel this is based on. What I can say about it is that it is curiously compelling with good performances by Everett, Falchi, and Hadji-Lazaro; creepy if never actually all that scary, sexy (and be warned there is full frontal nudity), and sweet and funny — for a zombie film.

   Imagine Fellini crossed with Mario Bavo or Dario Argento, add sexually graphic de Sadean Italian digest-sized horror and gothic fumetti like Isabella and Ullua (a female werewolf), a bit of Jesus Franco, throw in some zombies and explicit nudity and sex and you have Cemetery Man.

   Which is actually better than it sounds, if not a lot more sensible.

   Everett shows an ease on screen that belies his relative youth in this early film and commands the film, which is just as well since he is in most scenes, and Hadji-Lazaro proves a unique blend of endearing, creepy, sweet, and threatening as Gnagi, at times channeling Curly of the Three Stooges, whom he resembles a bit with a face at once sweetly innocent and somehow potentially threatening. Falchi’s role is thankless, but she is attractive and sexy and worth seeing nude. And while the film never really manages any scares or much in the way of gross-out terror or other horror film staples, it is often quirkily funny, thanks to the Laurel and Hardy routine between Everett and Hadji-Lazaro, good for a few frissons, and hard not to watch.

   I can’t really recommend this for anyone else. If anyone hates it, I have no problem with that either. It worked as a strangely compelling and twisted little film for me with attractive adults having sex (a step up from most American horror films with supposed teens dying because they did the nasty), a truly odd couple team-up, and, not to forget, zombies. Curiously I think that was exactly what it was intended to do and that it succeeds as what it was meant to be.

   I’m just not entirely sure what it was meant to be that it succeeds at doing so well, or that it really matters if I ever know.