Cemetery Man (1994)

JANUARY 18, 2010


My introduction to Italian cinema came in 1995, when I bought a bootleg of Cemetery Man (aka Dellamorte Dellamore) from a mail-order company in TX (if memory serves). In retrospect it’s a horrible place to start, since zombies are pretty much a subplot (not a single one appears in the film’s final 25 minutes or so, for one thing) and there isn’t a lot of the unfiltered splatter that makes something like a Fulci film so much fun. And that’s probably why I didn’t like it much then, but when HMAD reader Samantha recommended it I realized I couldn't remember a damn thing about it.

Well, all but one thing, which is part of why I didn't like it when I first saw it: GIANT NEEDLE INTO PENIS SCENE. As a maturing 15 year old, that was the most horrible and upsetting thing I had ever seen in my life (and still is, I think), and I had no desire to see it again. In fact, as I sat down to watch it tonight, I realized that it was the only thing about the movie that I could recall. I couldn’t even remember why I didn’t like it much, and I never even got the usual déjà vu that accompanies a viewing of a “forgotten” film when I take another look at it 15 or whatever years later. You would think that the horribly cheesy “fireflies” (with strings more visible than the flying saucers in Plan 9 From Outer Space) would leave an imprint or at least ring a bell, but nope. I spent half my viewing tonight wondering if it was even the film I had seen.

Then the goddamn penis needle scene came up and I knew for sure.

Anyway, it’s still not one of my favorites, though I do appreciate its ‘out-there’ approach and emphasis on character and (intentional) humor over typical zombie action. I just wish it was structured differently so that the zombies would still play a part in the 3rd act. Not necessarily a big action finale, but SOMETHING. Kind of weird to think that if someone were to come in late and only see the last 30 minutes of the movie, they wouldn’t even know it was a horror film.

But it works as a comedic romantic fantasy drama... thing. The recurring appearance of Anna Falchi (good lord, this woman) in different roles (or are they) keeps things charmingly strange, and I love the character of Gnaghi, who “hates to see dead leaves blown away”. At times it feels more like a Jeunet film than an Italian zombie flick, and having seen so many, I think it’s the better for it. The irony, of course, is that the zombie movie stuff is interesting as well, and worthy of its own dedicated story, instead as a sort of segway to the romantic/existential stuff that Michele Soavi is more interested in.

For starters, the zombies come back after seven days, and our main character (Rupert Everett - whatever happened to this guy?) is a cemetery watcher who helps keep it under control. There’s a quick throwaway bit where he is checking off which graves have been taken care of (i.e. shot in the head so that they won’t return), and some humor about the paperwork needed to continue his duty... stuff like that, coupled with a full blown zombie movie, would be pretty fun, I think, and more importantly, would feel fresh, instead of the usual “trap everyone in a location” type execution. I mean, Christ, Soavi has the balls to include a scene where the zombies are all boy scouts (!), but you could almost delete the scene from the film without any consequence. Again, weaving the zombie stuff throughout the film instead of front-loading it, I think, would have resulted in a more solid (and accessible) film.

Splatter fans will be disappointed for sure. Most of the zombie kills are entirely bloodless, and only the rare human kill has any arterial action. The makeup effects for the zombies aren’t particularly exciting either, and some of them talk, which I never care for. I suppose there’s some irony that one of the more celebrated zombie movies has such minimal zombie action, but it’s still bound to disappoint some who think they are in for a visual feast. Again though, it’s not that the movie is bad, but I wish that whenever the film was heralded that it would include a little disclaimer. “Warning: This movie has as many goddamn fireflies as zombies.”

The disc’s only real extra is a 30 minute retrospective about Soavi and the film. Rupert’s nowhere to be seen, but Falchi (who is even more alluring now, if you ask me) and some others offer their thoughts, detailing the film’s inception and a bit about the (aborted) attempt at a remake during Everett’s quick stint on the Hollywood A-list. Soavi also reveals that he initially couldn’t even finish the source material because he didn’t get it, so I don’t feel too dumb for not understanding the ending (are they in a snow globe? Was the whole movie a dream?). A bio for Soavi is also included, as is the trailer, which sells the film as more of a Dead Alive style romp. There is also a curious trailer reel, as it focuses entirely on the small set of other FOX/Anchor Bay co-distribution releases. So instead of the newest Evil Dead release or Hatchet or whatever, we get Freaked, Bad Dreams, Visiting Hours (!), and something called Warning Sign, which looks sort of like Chosen Survivors to me, except with some sort of bio-monster instead of bats. It also has a hilarious voiceover where the guy says the tagline and the title of the movie, and then randomly adds “Sam Waterston. Kathleen Quinlan.”, but without saying “Starring” or adding the director or the MPAA rating. It’s like he just started reading the credits and they cut him off. At any rate, I now know that there is a horror movie with Sam Waterston, so I’m excited.

The package also includes a “8 page” (fuck you, it’s 6 - covers don’t count!) booklet with additional info about the film. AB used to include these things all the time, but haven’t bothered lately. Hell, they don’t even include a single sheet with the chapter names or maybe the original poster reprint like all studios used to provide. Enviro-friendly action, or another example of how DVDs became the standard and thus the studios dropped a lot of the added incentives to buy them? You be the judge.

What say you?

HorrorBlips: vote it up!


  1. i love gnaghi so much-- when aidan was little i used to call him gnaghi coz of his big bald head. so good.

  2. its really very nice thanks for sharing this with us.. so romantic and horror..

  3. I haven't seen this movie, but...


    Holy shit! I think my balls almost retracted just from reading that.

  4. In the original novel by Tiziano Sclavi there is no "needle into penis": he is castrated.

    Besides that, I think the screenwriter (Gianni Romoli) did a very good job reworking the novel's structure, which is quite loose. The author himself has stated that, in his opinion, the film is much better than the novel. I disagree, but certainly the film is easier to digest.

  5. I love this movie. It's hilarious, intentionally hilarious, and is a gorgeous film to just look at with great scenes. Scenes like the Angel of Death gravestone still look incredible today. It's probably the quirkiest philosophical zombie movie ever made, similar to a Terry Gilliam movie. Plus it has Anna Falchi in full glory, both of them actually. I'm surprised you didn't like this more.

  6. Absolutely one of my favorites of the 1990s.

  7. Easily one of my favorite films ever along with Martin by Romero and Jacob's Ladder. Nice blog btw, it helps me find horror movies I haven't seen yet. For a year or so I've been watching a horror movie day too lol, sometimes more.


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