Dellamorte Dellamore — or Cemetery Man, as it was re-titled in English-speaking countries — was the last of four intriguing horror films directed by former actor Michele Soavi (City of the Living Dead  and Demons ) before the good man seemingly dropped the genre from his directorial repertoire; he now seems to concentrate on dramas and crime and mystery films. Preceded by StageFright: Aquarius (1987), The Church (1989 / trailer) and La setta (1991 / Italian trailer), Dellamorte Dellamore is undoubtedly the most mature and successful of them all — but then, it is also probably the least traditionally horrific and most poetic, philosophical and wryly humorous of them as well. Thus, it is hardly surprising that upon its initial release, Dellamorte Dellamore was not a hit in Italy and flopped in the US (where it opened on only six [!] screens). But word of mouth has been kind to the film — Martin Scorsese is even known to have praised it as one of the best Italian films of the 1990s — and it has since gained cult popularity.
Dellamorte Dellamore is based on the novel of the same name by Tiziano Sclavi, famous for his popular cult comic character Dylan Dog, which was in turn recently adapted (poorly) as Dylan Dog: Dead of Night (2010 / trailer). Soavi's version of Dellamorte Dellamore, luckily, went for far less Hollywood special effects and action-man antics and, instead, chose a more haunting and surreal (if not often oddly unnerving) approach akin to the earlier but relatively unknown and forgotten Sclavi adaptation, Giancarlo Soldi's Nero (1992 / Italian trailer). As in Nero, Dellamorte Dellamore follows the slow emotional and mental deterioration of a man as the world around him slowly crumbles — and then throws the viewer a one total mindfuck loop ball in the closing scene...
We're introduced to the slim, trim, handsome but socially awkward Francesco Dellamorte (Rupert Everett) as he steps out of the shower of the run-down cottage provided to him as the cemetery caretaker in the small Italian town of Buffalora; as he holds a telephone conversation with only friend, Franco (Anton Alexander), there is a knock at the front door: the uninvited guest on his threshold with a case in hand, a pale and dishevelled man (Vito Passeri), could well be an sickly travelling salesman were it not for the dirt on his clothing and the ant crawling on his ear. Francesco promptly put a bullet through the man's head... an unexpected event that mirrors many other odd and unpredictable occurrences in the film.
The world of Francesco is hardly a conventional one. The dead buried at the graveyard where he works rise after a few nights — for some odd reason they never do so during the day — and he and his mentally handicapped, mono-syllabic assistant Gnaghi (François Hadji-Lazaro, a French rock singer also seen in The City of Lost Children [1995 / trailer], Brotherhood of the Wolf [2001 / trailer] and Dante 01 [2008 / trailer]) spend much of their time dispatching the un-dead back to the dead. Typical of the film is that both he and Gnaghi view the reviving dead as less a horror than a nuisance — but not enough of one to bother doing the paperwork required to report the situation to the officials.
Surrounded by and dulled by death, Francesco's world begins to unbalance when he meets and falls in love with the exotic-looking young widow (Anna Falchi) of a rich, old man — as is symbolized by the statue wings behind her deliciously nude body during a later love scene she is an angel of light and love and hope in his dismal and empty life. But she is not there long... Her death and another death Francesco inadvertently causes when dispatching a zombified motorcyclist, as well as a brief conversation with a pissed-off angel of death, lead Francesco down a bloody, body-strewn path of self-doubt and existential loss around every other corner of which he meets another spitting image of his dead love, each of whom, one after the other, kick him in the emotional gut again.
References to film and painting abound (the two we caught the most easily are the take on Magritte's painting The Kiss and Tod Browning's silent film The Unknown ), but within the dream logic of the events they never come across as ostentatious or pointless. Soavi's camera, like the story itself, swerves back and forth from poetic images of beauty to explosions of violence or grotesque to humor agitating within the broad sphere from wry to slapstick. As a result, Dellamorte Dellamore walks along a tightrope of gore and poetry, beauty and ugliness, grindhouse and arthouse — a tightrope seldom walked, but this time around walked with the most amazing mastery. Soavi doesn't as much pull out the stylistic stops as simple direct with style, his camerawork forever stopping just short of pretentiousness, and thus he continually captures scenes in such a way that they propel the narrative even as they please eye (despite the blood of violence that they might also involve). This visual eye candy is complimented by an erudite script that takes its time to tell its story but never seems over-long or directionless.
The acting is likewise mostly top notch: Everett's Francesco is excellent, both a lost boy and wry snob in turn, a man who manages to keep your sympathies even as he blows away the brains of strangers, while Hadji-Lazaro manages to make Gnaghi a likeable companion even as he drools and pukes or makes out with an undead head housed in a broken television. Falchi may look way better than she can act, but she not only wins over (at the very least) the male audience the first time she climbs out of her dress and shares her amazing body (and enticingly unique areolae) but even seems to improve as an actor with each new character she plays.
That Dellamorte Dellamore is a horror film and a zombie flick is without a doubt, but it is anything but normal or average. Those who like their gut-munching films straight up and without a twist probably won't like this movie — but then, those who don't have an affinity to gore won't either. This is a movie for those who appreciate the odd, the original and the arty as much as they appreciate blood-splattered walls and nekkid titties. It is a film that doesn't just have a twist, but changes its flavor every other scene — it is, in other words, it is something rare: a unique and original change of pace. Go for it — and then explain to us your view of what exactly the ending implies.