Dellamorte Dellamore (1994)

Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #486

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Also known as Cemetery Man
Number of Views: Two
Release Date: March 25, 1994
Sub-Genre: Cult Film
Country of Origin: Italy, France, Germany
Budget: $4,000,000
Box Office: $253,969
Running Time: 105 minutes
Director: Michele Soavi
Producers: Heinz Bibo, Tilde Corsi, Giovanni Romoli, Michele Soavi
Screenplay: Gianni Romoli
Based on Dellamorte Dellamore by Tiziano Sclavi
Special Effects: Sergio Stivaletti
Cinematography: Mauro Marchetti
Score: Manuel De Sica, Riccardo Biseo
Editing: Franco Fraticelli
Studios: Audifilm, Urania Film, K.G. Productions, Canal+, Silvio Berlusconi Communications, Bibo Productions, Fonds Eurimages du Conseil de l’Europe
Distributor: October Films
Stars: Rupert Everett, François Hadji-Lazaro, Anna Falchi, Mickey Knox, Fabiana Formica, Clive Riche, Katja Anton, Barbara Cupisti, Anton Alexander, Pietro Genuardi, Patrizia Punzo, Stefano Masciarelli, Vito Passeri, Alessandro Zamattio, Renato Donis, Claudia Lawrence

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Suggested Audio Candy:

Manuel De Sica Soundtrack Suite

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I make no secret of the contempt for the nineties with regards to horror. After such a rich creative flourish the decade previous, it felt as though filmmakers simply ran out of ideas and the output during this period makes for somewhat depressing reading. While great directors such as John Carpenter, Dario Argento, and George A. Romero were still working, many others had simply run out of steam, and the Italians were particularly quiet after making such a magnanimous contribution during the eighties. It felt decidedly like most tales had already been told and I genuinely feared for the future of my beloved horror as years passed without any notable success stories.

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Michele Soavi had left it late to make his contribution and the tail-end of the eighties finally saw him spread his wings with a string of impressive genre efforts. After bringing us the superb Stagefright in 1987, he soon followed up with The Church and The Sect , and it appeared as though we may yet still have reasons to be cheerful. However, even he endured a slump as the nineties came about and it seemed that all his hard work in making a name for himself was ultimately going to amount to nothing. I liken the early part of the decade to a graveyard of indifference, littered with the headstones of once upstanding talent and far too deathly quiet for my liking.

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“I’d give my life to be dead.”

It is almost poetic then that Cemetery Man would shuffle topside in 1994 and reinstate my flagging faith. Unfortunately the hoped resurgence never truly came about and Soavi himself tucked himself back into the soil shortly afterwards. However, not without a parting gift. Originally named Dellamorte Dellamorte which translates to “Of Death, Of Love” and is a far more enigmatic name title, this delightful little movie has gone on to amass a huge cult following and recently there have even been whispers of a sequel brought about by Soavi himself. In the history of one-offs, this would be right up there sporting a nosebleed, as there really isn’t any other film quite like it. It feels ironic that such a dearth of activity could be punctuated by one of the most revered pieces of Italian cinema since Mario Bava and Sergio Leone were leading the charge and I’m just thankful that it showed up.

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“You’re supposed to be setting a good example, now will you get back to your coffin immediately!”

Penned by Gianni Romoli and based on Tiziano Sclavi’s 1991 novel, Soavi’s film also incorporated themes from Sclavi’s comic Dylan Dog and even moulded its protagonist from the same clay. The fact that central character Dylan Thomas bore such an uncanny resemblance to Rupert Everett, proved something of a happy accident, as it had never before dawned on Soavi to cast the Englishman in his lead role until entering the pre-production stage. Mentioned initially in passing, it soon became very much clear that it was he who should play cemetery gatekeeper Francesco Dellamorte and Everett was sent a copy of the script to peruse. Worryingly Everett despised horror as a distinguished thespian like himself had no time for art which focused on incident over characterization. However, Romoli’s script soon won him over, and we are benefactors of his decision to vacate his comfort zone.

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“My name is Francesco Dellamorte. Weird name, isn’t it? Francis Of Death. Saint Francis Of Death. I often thought of having it changed. André Dellamorte would be nicer, for example.”

In truth, he didn’t have to travel far. With Dellamorte already dressed in his skin and Everett’s effortless ability to inhabit a pelt, the stars were already aligned. True to form, he brought his very best lanky charm and sardonic swagger to the part and, in my opinion, this ranks as one of his finest performances to date and that is no small compliment. Being openly gay, masculine leading roles were seldom slid into his in-tray and this is a massive oversight as this should have been the making of him. While he has worked steadily since, I will always ponder why nobody saw fit to nurture this particular persona. Quite simply, without him, there would be no Frances Dellamorte. Casting Matt Dillon in his loafers was the condition for an American company to put up the funds and, while I believe he would have done a stand-up job, he just wouldn’t have been our Cemetery Man and I’m ever grateful that it never reached that stage. What next? Danny De Vito as Gnaghi?

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“Death, death, death comes sweeping down, filthy death the leering clown, death on wings, death by surprise, failing evil from worldly eyes, death that spawns as life succumbs, while death and love, two kindred drums, beat the time till judgement day, an actor in a passion play, without beginning, without end, evermore, amen.”

So about that plot then. The plot in question is the cemetery itself and it provides our center stage for the majority of 105 delightful minutes. The revitalizing Mandragola roots beneath each casket deliver earthy defibrillation to any corpse partaking in eternal bed rest beneath its top soil. This, in turn, creates “returners” and, for the walking dead amongst us, that equates to zombies. These are not your everyday stiff queers however. Fully capable of vocalizing their discord and, indeed, taking nuptials, these festering cadavers have far more in the personality stakes than their Stateside brethren and just as much in decomposition rate. Every nightfall, a few more will clamber topside and our dashing hero is tasked with sending every last one of them straight back to their earthworm capsules.

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“Poor Gnaghi. On his ID card, it reads: “Distinctive visible marks: All.” He has a real passion for dead leaves. Can’t stand it when the wind blows them away. Oh, well. We all do what we can not to think about life.”

Dellamorte’s spaghetti scoffing live-in life partner Gnaghi plays a critical part in making this such a splendid celebration of both death and love. Like a faithful puppy, only less intelligent and a darn sight more expensive to feed, he wags his tail every time his master, our keeper, the cemetery sweeper, calls his name (often a number of times as mutts also have superior hearing to this adorable dumpling of a half-man). Only one word ever vacates his chapped lips but he provides “Gna” with a thousand different meanings and we just want to give him a squeeze. There is no real requisite for dialogue as Everett has that all sewn up and memorable lines are in über-abundance as he delivers them with such regal eminence that we need a little time just to drool between stanzas. Gnaghi fills these holes like a dog with a bone to bury and François Hadji-Lazaro gives a poignant performance worthy of a brand new kennel being erected in his very honor.

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“Death, Death, Death, the whore.”

It has just occurred to me just how much I adore this movie. I love this part of the process as the penny drops in moments of treasured recollection such as these and suddenly my only desire is to watch Dellamorte Dellamore a second time…right now. I missed the wake, was woefully tardy to the funeral, and now it’s time to pay my respects and leave a flower. While I’m absent, fret not if you come across any “returners” as I’m assured that Frances and Gnaghi have things covered. Actually, it appears as though our crypt keeper has seen a ghost. Could it be She? While I’m gone, I’ll leave Dellamorte to introduce us.

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“The most beautiful living woman I have ever seen…Will I see her again?”

Thank you Frances, I shall take it from here. You see, what truly sets this film apart is its rather exclusive celebration of love and the manner in which this is offset by death. Watching Dellamorte and She in action a second time, their tale becomes even more touching and tragic. No sooner has he signed her heart’s treaty than she is snatched away by the cantankerous reaper and our lovesick keeper is left to pat down her plot with his shovel. Ice-blue eyed Anna Falchi provides a ridiculously seductive subject for our affections, in much the same sultry manner that Melinda Clarke did for Brian Yuzna’s overlooked contemporary take on Shakespeare, Return of The Living Dead III, the year previous.

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“Hell, at a certain point in life, you realize you know more dead people than living.”

While melancholy is a recurring emotion throughout, our heartbroken lead is afforded precious little time to mourn as there is constant work afoot and a sudden influx of new arrivals to check in and back out again. He is so predisposed with his thankless vocation that downtime is at a severe premium and it is here that Everett truly excels like few others could ever dream. Chipper one minute, reflective the next, all out action hero the very moment there’s a knock on the door of his quarters, he’s also king of the quip and delivers even the most inane of lines with every last drop of conviction. Moreover, he is provided with plentiful prime rib to masticate, and Romoli’s often poetic verse rolls from his tongue like the Klumps on a bouncy castle.

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Then there’s Soavi’s direction and it frustrates me to hell and beyond when I consider that a career in TV movies has been his prize for showcasing his talent so exquisitely. Our view of the cemetery is stretched across wide angles, his lens tracking, panning, slowing to a crawl, and generally delighting as he captures the mood like master and commander. Fireflies dance before our eyes and the fact that these ignis fatuus (which means fool’s fire) hang from faintly visible wires only adds to their charm. His visual flair is in abundance here and that was something never lacking for the likes of Stagefright and The Church so it really ought not to be a great surprise.

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“Someone has stolen my crimes.”

There’s also a dark side to Frances Dellamorte and he is sick to the fillings of being the whole town’s go-to-guy every time its population fluctuates. Buffalora Cemetery is his home and most of the time there’s no place like it but occasionally he ventures outside the gates and these increasingly regular jaunts to the “real world” leave him increasingly exasperated. With love and death constantly battling for dominance, and the latter seemingly always having the final word, he begins to embrace the reaper. The third act opens up considerably but notably reminds us just how trapped he really is…or is he? For his very best efforts to stand out as serial killer, ultimately nobody bats an eyelid, and there are shades of both Patrick Bateman in his cynicism and Truman Burbank in his desperation. Critically, this film came first.

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“Past this tunnel is the rest of the world. What do you think the rest of the world looks like, Gnaghi? Can you imagine it?… You’re right. It’s beyond imagination.”

The open-ended narrative is totally open for interpretation and there are many different ways to do so. If life is what we make it, then death should be too. By the time we reach the end of the road courtesy of a truly touching final scene, Dellamorte Dellamore has engraved its name across our cold hearts and how much we have learned during our time at Buffalora is dependent on how much we have desired to learn. Should fun have been our preference then fun is precisely what we will have been provided. No question. However, dig beneath the top soil and there is an almost infinite amount of meaning to unearth. Death fascinates us all, terrifies so many of us, and cannot be escaped no matter how hard we try or fast we flee from its decisive light. Soavi’s wonderful film reminds us that, despite being inescapable, there is no rite of passage quite so intimate.

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Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 9/10

Grue Factor: 3/5

For the Grue-Guzzlers & Pelt-Nuzzlers: Sergio Stivaletti is kept decidedly busy throughout as barely a minute passes without some poor sucker biting the bullet. Heads pop, flesh rips, love is lost, then found again, then lost once more. Yet the grue is all tongue in cheek and never lingered upon. Meanwhile, Soavi grants us our wish of a little bit of naked Falchi by moonlight and I’m pretty sure Everett would have contemplated switching sexual allegiances by around the fourth stroke.

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