I refuse to call this by its American title, ‘Cemetery Man’, because it’s just so jarhead prosaic compared to the poetic Italian original: ‘Dellamorte Dellamore’ - ’of Death, of Love’. Aaaah, Venice. It’s also a play on the principle character’s name – Francesco Dellamorte, as embodied by superbly barneted oxbridge homohunk Rupert Everett in a career best performance – and it’s the title that best reflects this movie’s bizarre blend of necrophilic nihilism and comedy as black as any rotten eyeball.
Everett is the caretaker of Buffalora Cemetery, a necropolis whose occupants refuse to stay entombed. They rise after seven days, forcing Rupert to sleep with a loaded gun. Tellingly, the authorities couldn’t care less for his predicament. Just as they couldn’t care less when he confesses to shooting a nun in the face, even though he’s holding a smoking gun and is leaving the crime scene just as they’re arriving. Nothing he does seems to matter. Beyond the cemetary it’s as if he doesn’t exist. Or could it be that the outside world is so paper thin that it resists even the most violent imprint?
But I’m digressing. The ‘plot’ kicks off when our hero falls in love with a beautiful widow who snubs his advances until he waggles the key to his Ossiery under her nose. Within a minute they’re at it hammer & tongues among the bones and the supposedly impotent Everett is finding more life in his little Rupert than he ever dreamed possible. As rampantly resurgent as any phallic Frankenstein, he skips from skeleton to gravestone, rutting around the cemetery with a casual abandon that foolishly forgets the liveliness of its tenants.
The surgically enhanced bosom of Anna Falchi is probably the main reason why this movie might hover in the memories of most teenage males, but her role is far more than a wankbank windfall. Credited simply as ‘She’, Falchi plays three incarnations of the same woman – the widow, the mayor’s secretary, and a student drifter – and Everett is obsessed with all of them, to the point of convincing a doctor to make him infertile when she claims to be terrified of fertile men. She represents the impossibility of Love for him, while, at the same time, Death himself tries to sweet talk Everett into joining the reaping business. Soon whatever ‘reality’ the gorgeously shot Italian settings are supposed to represent begins to unravel, and our Rupert starts to feel his grip on sanity slipping.
His only companion is his gravedigging assistant Gnaghi (so-called because of the only word he can speak – ‘gna!’). While Everett represents the rational mind that’s both emotionally & intellectually complex to the point of ennui, Gnaghi is simple on every level. When he meets the object of his affection – the mayor’s daughter – he gets so excited he vomits on her. When she’s decapitated in a motorbike accident he digs up her head and lovingly sits it in his busted TV set.
The two then share a pure asexual love that Everett will never attain, shackled as he is by guilt and lust. Having accidentally shot the first body of his true love after she’d been bitten by her dead husband - an act that sets him on the crooked road to unhingedville - Rupert purposefully shoots her last incarnation before going on a killing spree that culminates in the aforementioned nun gunning. When the reaction he’d hoped for fails to materialise and he finally realises that nothing he does has any consequence, he packs Gnaghi into his little car and speeds off toward the city limits, desperately hoping for evidence of any kind of life beyond the cemetery.
“Past this town is the rest of the world. What do you think the rest of the world looks like?”
They soon find out as they exit the last tunnel and the road just ends in a jagged edge, forcing Everett to slam on the brakes to avoid plummetting into the abyss. Gnaghi is knocked unconscious on impact with the dashboard and Everett drags his deadweight body to the road’s edge.
In despair he loads the gun with the intention of finally blowing this crazed world out of their brains, but then Ghaghi wakes up, and he can speak. He suggests, in perfect English, that they should go home, to which Rupert replies ‘Gna’.
And so it begins again. After that last twist it’s hard not to see these characters in a Sisyphean light, forever destined to remain the keepers of the dead, perpetually exchanging minds till the end of time, however violently they may rail against their roles.
As you can see, there’s more subtext in ‘Dellamorte Dellamore’ than the last few horror academy movies combined, and it’s by far the most successful at integrating comedy into its occasionally gory fantasy. That’s largely down to the laconic presence of Rupert Everett, who archly glides around the zombies, flopping his follicles at the living & dead with a cocked eyebrow that hints at just enough urbane boredom to counterbalance the script’s more outrageous fancies. Falchi’s ‘She’, however, is written a little too much from the p.o.v. of a teenboy’s wet dream. As the mayor’s secretary she doesn’t even seem too bothered about being raped by the local dignitary - in fact forgiving her rapist after they ‘did it’ a second time and it was ‘quite nice’. Shifting the character into the realm of rape fantasy does neither Falchi nor the film any favours, but thankfully it’s the only slip in this otherwise top drawer work of existential horror comedy that contains more imagination and brilliant brio than a dozen hamfisted specimens of American torture porn. Rupert Everett in good movie shocker indeed.
And so The Head Chef’s Horror Academy nears its end. The next, and final stop, will be Dario Argento’s ‘Suspiria’. See you there.
Head Chef: First of all, congratulations for managing to drag the many elements of Dellamorte Dellamore into some sort of cohesive review. You’ve succeeded where many online writers have failed and thrown light onto aspects of the film I hadn’t pondered or even realised. Well done Roomy!
Now, this film was originally my finale for the Horror Academy. If you look back at the films they were chosen as a gentle descent towards the most extreme and baffling examples of Italian horror cinema. I thought by this stage you would be so repulsed and broken that even a whiff of ciabatta would trigger suppressed terrors and a cold sweat, but you’ve extended the experiment! I’ve created a monster, but maybe that was my fiendish plan all along! Ha, ha, ha ha haaaaaaaaah, hardee, ha, ha!!!!!!!…ha……….ha…cough!…cough!…yeah, not really, but colour me well chuffed and looking forward to your final thoughts on Argento’s second masterpiece. A fine way to bring the curtain down on this bloody mess. What next? Maybe I should take a damn hard schooling in the finer points of Hall and Oates?