In Cemetery Man (aka Dellamorte Dellamore) Rupert Everett stars as Francisco Dellamorte, caretaker of a graveyard with the ultimate catch: the dead buried in the cemetery come back. Every single one of them. This is the only major plot point of the movie other than Death warning Dellamorte against his persistent killing of the dead. Cemetery Man is not trying to tell a conventional story. It’s purely stream of conscious filmmaking. That doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have strong characters or that they don’t develop over the course of the film. There’s still a story here It just unfolds in a very non-traditional fashion, particularly by American standards, and that’s a large part of what makes the film so interesting.
The action really kicks off when Dellamorte falls in love with a young widow at a funeral. The attraction seems to be shared, but she wants to remain faithful to her husband. Eventually, she decides that if the two of them are to be together, they should do it beside her dead husband’s tomb because she never kept anything from him. When the dead return, as they do nightly, they come for her —particularly her less-than-forgiving husband.
Dellamorte’s continuing loss spirals him into a depression in which he is visited by the Grim Reaper. This is one of the most spectacular visual representations of a classical Grim Reaper that I have ever seen. Death tells Dellamorte that he needs to stop killing the dead, because they belong to him. He then suggests that if Dellamorte has to kill “why not kill the living?”
While it takes some time, Dellamorte ultimately gives in to this advice. He descends into insanity and the movie, which is very much told through his perspective and tied to his mental state, becomes completely unhinged going into the third act. It is not unwelcome. It’s not a straightforward film with an A to B plot, it is more lucid and dreamlike and in this it excels.
Dellamorte’s descent into insanity (if that’s what it actually is) makes up the core running time of the film and it’s the only plot point it needs. It’s all character work. It all just unfolds, as if the film was written in one sitting. It’s not the way movies are made anymore, and it’s a shame because it’s no less valid than any other approach to storytelling. This sort of fluid filmmaking was a strong part of Italian cinema. In the late 1970’s and early 1980’s Italian cinema ruled the horror genre. It was the pinnacle. But by 1994, Italian horror was already on its way out.
The film industry in that country was changing rapidly and genre films were not able to stay afloat the way they had been. Cemetery Man may be the last great Italian horror movie. It represents all the important non-linear aspects of Italian filmmaking, but it takes those things even further. There’s no story layered over the stream-of-conscious storytelling, there’s just the storytelling and that’s it.
Cemetery Man is sort of relic, even if it is only twenty years old. It’s a great movie, it’s fun to watch as a descent into madness and it’s fun to watch as an oddball zombie film. It has something of interest for most genre fans, even though it’s about the furthest thing from mainstream horror. It’s the kind of filmmaking that you don’t see anymore, but you never know, it could inspire some rising filmmaker out there to try and tackle this kind of dream-like storytelling again. In film, as in Cemetery Man, nothing is ever truly dead. It simply rests a while before it picks itself back up again.