Cemetery Man
Director: Michèle Soavi. Cast: Rupert Everett, François Hadji-Lazaro, Anna Falchi, Fabiana Formica, Mickey Knox, Clive Riche. Screenplay: Giovanni Romoli (based on the novel by Tiziano Sclavi).

A rollicking good time that doesn't care one what about visual excess or maximum gore, Cemetery Man will entertain far more people than I presume would expect to enjoy it. Rupert Everett's star qualities, finally made known to a broad audience since his killer turn in My Best Friend's Wedding, are the perfect blend of smirkiness and swarthiness to hold together this tale of a graveyard attendant who is constantly, wearily assaulted by the corpses of people who just don't feel like being dead. The buzz of Rupert's doorbell usually signals the arrival of one such zombie, whom he promptly and even politely kills, then buries with the help of his mishmouthed, hunchback assistant Gnaghi (the unbelievably strange creation of François Hadji-Lazaro).

All in a day's work for Rupert, whose name in this baroquely perverse film is Francesco Dellamore Dellamorte, which literally translates to "Francesco of Love, of Death". The close and unlikely juxtaposition of "Death" and "Love" in his name point directly toward the plot device that keeps the film's wheels spinning for most of its running time: What if death and love aren't mutually exclusive terms, or what if they insist on occupying the same space, taking the same object? Just to make sure you don't think this is some sort of Ghost-style romantic fantasy, however, let's figure that question more in the spirit of the film: What if our handsome hero meets a zombie he doesn't want to kill, and would prefer very much, thank you, to take to his bed?

The object of his lust (which may also be connected to love, or maybe not), is played by a sultry actress named Anna Falchi, who reappears as several different women over the course of the movie. Many of her incarnations undergo such outlandish acts of physical violence or mutilation—she is, after all, a predatory zombie, and Dellamorte's affinity for her is permanently bound up with horror and fear—that it would be easy to castigate the film, as some people have, as a vicious sort of misogynistic tract. It only serves the purposes of this critique that another woman, the love object of the benign and inarticulate Gnaghi, is decapitated during her first rise from the dead, but her head is lovingly preserved in a hollowed-out television for the enjoyment and companionship of Gnaghi—which is to say, yes, the head still talks to him, and returns his affections. It's that kind of movie.

I don't buy the argument that this film betrays any real misogyny, since Dellamorte's willingness to live out his whole life as a solitary outpost in a decrepit cemetery seems a pretty pointed indictment on the filmmakers' part of the lengths men will go to in order to avoid women, or protect themselves from their own faulty confidence or capability of interacting with them. The film is after all a comedy, despite its full satisfaction of gore-enthusiast tastes, and it follows that everyone in it exhibits some sort of weakness or flaw of character.

What Cemetery Man doesn't do is find a particularly gratifying way of tying up its plot strands or even its more admirably interesting themes, opting instead to sort of peter out into a bizarre ending that no one is likely to appreciate. (If you do, please explain it to me!) It also can't be said that Cemetery Man exactly breaks new ground in cinematic technique, though jokes aside, the creepy score by Manuel De Sica and Riccardo Besio was hands down the best I heard in 1996, The English Patient and The Portrait of a Lady be damned. Besides, all things considered, Cemetery Man is a juicy sampler of comedy, sex, outlandishly graphic ghost story, and adventurous genre-hopping aplomb. It's a movie about spirits that won't die, and except for in its flaccid last half-hour, the spirit of Soavi's film doesn't lag a bit, either. Grade: B

P.S. 12/6/98 A reader named Stefano writing from Rome, who not only admires the film but has read several novels by the story's original author, Tiziano Sclavi, took me up on my offer to explain the ending. Stefano places emphasis on the almost-total isolation in which Dellamorte lives, and the fate of his journey with Gnaghi out of their graveyard home: a fate which I will not reveal here, and don't worry, you won't likely deduce it from the little I've said here. In any event, his reading turns the movie's conclusion into a final statement about realizing one's life is dull or unrewarding, and the chance one has to amend those circumstances through concerted action. Though I have no familiarity with Sclavi's work outside this one adaptation, I think Stefano's conclusions are not only spot-on, but they demonstrate how accommodating this silly-seeming film can be of more serious and considered appreciation. So, credit where credit is due: bravo, Tiziano Sclavi, and thank you, Stefano of Rome!

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