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An interesting item from director Dario Argento disciple Michele Soavi, who seems to have at last come into his own.  The story concerns a cemetery caretaker, Francesco Dellamorte, and his troubles both comic and nightmarish keeping the dead in their graves.  Soavi’s direction succeeds in style without self-indulgence, lending an appropriately surreal edge to the oft-bizarre proceedings.  He’s helped immeasurably by the performances, most notably that of Rupert Everett in the title role.

The Package
     CEMETERY MAN (1994; originally titled DELLAMORTE DELLAMORE) is based on the popular Italian horror comic strip DYLAN DOG.  The character of Francesco Dellamorte was originally conceived with English actor Rupert Everett in mind, leaving the filmmakers in something of a fix in terms of casting.  Thankfully their concerns were unfounded, as Everett turns in his first (and so far only) truly memorable performance.  You won’t soon forget his shuffling, impotent Dellamorte; his inevitable descent into madness is both convincing and disturbing.  Equally fine is French singer Francois Hadji Lazaro’s work as Gnagi, Dellamorte’s half-witted assistant. His short and stocky appearance makes a fine contrast to Everett’s tall and thin gravedigger.

The Story
     Here is where this otherwise top-notch production’s crucial flaws appear.  Much like Argento, screenwriter Gianni Romoli insists on throwing everything and the kitchen sink into the mix: romance, horror, gore, surrealism, black humor and even some heavy philosophizing about (what else?) death.  The script doesn’t present a storyline as much as a series of often disconnected episodes.  The whole thing calls to mind the structureless, sloppy plotting of Argento's recent films, most notably his segment of TWO EVIL EYES (which also features a misanthropic character losing his mind).
     Needless to say, the results are wildly uneven--sometimes funny, as in the events leading up to Dellamorte’s attempt to castrate himself, but sometimes merely silly, as when a severed head chases after Gnagi.  And what of the unfathomable ending?  I won’t ruin the surprise, but concerning the events of the last five minutes of the movie, your guess is as good as mine (They had to put an end to it allsomehow, I guess). 

The Direction
     Director Michele Soavi certainly has an impressive history within the Italian horror film industry.   His first film, STAGE FRIGHT (1986), was produced by Joe D’Amato.   Earlier, he acted in Lucio Fulci’s legendary zombiefest CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD.  In 1985 Soavi directed a documentary on the films of his mentor, DARIO ARGENTO'S WORLD OF HORROR).   Argento would go on to produce and co-author Soavi’s next two films, THE CHURCH (1988), and THE SECT (1991), films which reflect the maestro’s influence perhaps a bit too clearly.
     With CEMETERY MAN Soavi seems to have developed a style of his own, one that may become every bit as distinctive as Argento’s.  Even though the Italian film industry has produced enough George Romero-inspired Zombiefests to fill a graveyard, Soavi here manages to keep the walking-dead antics fresh.  He wisely avoids Argento’s swirling camera movements, as well as Fulci’s extreme gore (though rest assured there is plenty of the red stuff on display here).  Instead Soavi opts for a subtle, toned-down approach that gives the horrors a surreal and even darkly romantic edge lacking in his mentors’ work.

Vital Statistics

October Films/Anchor Bay Entertainment

Director: Michele Soavi
Producer: Tilde Corsi, Gianni Romoli, Michele Soavi
Screenplay: Gianni Romoli
Cinematographer: Mauro Marchetti
Editor: Franco Fraticelli
Cast: Rupert Everett, Francois Hadji Lazaro, Anna Falchi, Stefano Masciarelli, Mickey Knox