This over-rated film (shot in Italy under the title Dellamorte Dellamore) has developed an undeserved cult reputation, based on a handful of good elements: atmospheric sets, grotesque makeup, and a blasé attitude toward the outrageous events it portrays. Unfortunately, there is no plot, so all you need to see is the trailer or, at most, the first fifteen minutes of the film. After that, there’s nothing to do but watch the same motifs recycled over and over, ad nauseum.
Directed by Michele Soavi (a protégé of Dario Argento, who appeared in Demons and worked as second unit director on The Adventures of Baron Munchausen), CEMETERY MAN stars Rupert Everett (My Best Friend’s Wedding) as a watchman who must re-kill the freshly buried dead, who inevitably rise from their graves. This phenomenon is, to him, basically just a dirty little job that has to be done; as long as he keeps it out of sight of the general populace, things run smoothly, and all is right with the world.
Unlike his mentor Argento, Soavi has not the nerve to play his horror straight, instead opting for the easy solution, milking his grotesque gore for cheap laughs. Somewhat like Buckaroo Banzai, his film affects a cool indifference to its incredible action; unfortunately, the film is unable to maintain the humor in the concept, which soon wears thin. Amazing images abound, but they are so loosely linked that it is easy to grow bored waiting for the next good one.
In effect, CEMETERY MAN is part of the tradition of Italian horror films that prize imagery over substance, rather like Argento’s Suspiria and Lucio Fulci’s The Beyond. The problem is that Soavi introduces plot elements, wastes long stretches of screen time, and then abandons them. These ponderous interludes bleed out any momentum the narrative might have had, weighing the film down in an effort to pad it out to feature length. Large chunks could have easily been omitted, these interludes stretch too long in between the memorable set pieces.
All of this might have been forgivable if not quite tolerable. What truly sinks this sick flick beyond redemption is the way it panders to adolescent male fantasies in the most offensive ways. Everett’s character is the archetypal “suffering hero,” never receiving any credit for his deeds and eventually lashing out when he feels pushed too far. What pushes him over the edge? A woman, of course.
The story’s misogyny is played out in an amazingly systematic way, with one actress (Anna Falchi) playing three different characters who form a sort of composite of all that women can possibly be, as far as the film sees it. After falling in love with all three and being disappointed by each in a different way, Dellamore grows fed up and kills the third, and the film is structured in such a way that you are supposed to cheer him on.
Inexplicably, CEMETERY MAN has its supporters — a thought more frightening than anything you will see on screen.
One section of this rather episodic film seems derived fairly blatantly from Tod Browning’s 1927 silent classic The Unknown. In that film, Lon Chaney starred as a circus performer who falls in love with a woman who fears being embraced by a man, so he has his arms surgically removed – only to discover that, by the time he has recovered, the woman has overcome her fear and fallen in love with the circus strongman (a development that sets Chaney’s character on a murderous rampage). In CEMETERY MAN, the title character (Rupert Everett) falls in love, one by one, with three women (all played by Anna Falchi). One of them is frigid and afraid of sex, so Everett’s cemetery watchman considers surgical castration. He changes his mind at the last minute and later learns that the woman has overcome her frigidity after her boss raped her. (Yes, you read that right: she learned to like sex from being raped.)
Cemetery Man (a.k.a. Dellamorte Dellamore, 1994). Directed by Michelle Soavi. Screenplay by Gianni Romoli, based on material by Tiziano Sclavi. Cast: Rupert Everett, Anna Falchi, Francois Hadji-Lazaro, Mickey Knox, Fabiana Formica, Clive Riche, Katia Anton.
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