Halloween Endurance Test: Dellamorte Dellamore (1994)

I’ve read that Michele Soavi’s Dellamorte Dellamore is Italy’s last great zombie film. Actually the review went so far as to claim that it is the last Italian zombie film; as in ever. I guess, similar to Yamantaka Eye’s attitude towards guitars on Boredoms records, Italy realized that perfection had finally been reached. No reason to keep trying after you hit the apex, right? I mean, how does one top a zombie fighting a shark?

(You’ll notice I use the Italian title rather than the utterly bland American one, Cemetary Man. One amply describes the film’s constant philosophizing about death and life. The other makes the film sound like a really bad imported Asian action flick. (Less I Shoot, You Shoot, more Thunder Ninja Kids: The Hunt for the Devil Boxer.) Unless you hate your films to theorize about the state of your life and its inevitable demise; at which point just reverse those previous declarations!)

Fangoria claims:

“One of the best horror movies you’ve never seen! Plenty of gore, comedy, and steamy sex… Cemetery Man is not your typical zombie film!!!

Such enthusiasm seems half-hearted after the fact. Having been an avid Fangoria reader at the time, I can tell you they provided almost no coverage about the film. No wonder we horror fans never saw it. It received a two page write-up in the giant 150th issue celebration. A write-up that, if memory serves correct, showed movie stills that were too dark to see anything. Great coverage guys!

Dellamorte Dellamore tells the of Franscesco Dellamorte, a cemetery groundskeeper who’s main job consists of keeping the corpses in the cemetery. There’s a government conspiracy side plot that, not so surprisingly, gets lost along with Dellamorte’s sanity.

In an amazing break from every zombie movie made since Night of the Living Dead, the zombies here (called “returners” due to the (already discussed)moratorium on zombies/horror at the time) symbolize something apart from humanity’s greed, inhumanity, etc. Soavi instead tackles a slightly more relevant topic: how one copes with one’s problems.

As noted, Dellamorte’s main job is to keep the zombies in the cemetery. By no means are others to know, or even suspect, that the dead are returning to life. Franscesco eventually comes to find that one can’t/shouldn’t attempt to bury one’s problems. ‘Cuz they’ll just keep on coming right back.

So instead of killing the zombies again, Francisco instead starts eliminating the living. For which he never receives any sort of reprimand; a point that always seems to alarm viewers. In fact, the authorities pay absolutely no mind to his murders; always having a convenient excuse on why he couldn’t be the murderer when he wants to be caught. This makes perfect sensein the film’s reality, where all Dellamorte is doing is eliminating his problems before they start. He crosses that fine-line and becomes proactive.

Which is all pretty heavy stuff when compared to the average Hollywood fare. Just another reason it did zero business over here.

“This cemetery’s small but it has a marvelous ossuary.”

Another noteworthy, and thoroughly European, aspect is the overall importance of ossuaries in the film. Visiting the ossuary is a pivotal scene in the movie, and one that takes place in location hardly anyone on this side of the pond has heard of. Ossuaries are a response to medieval overpopulation; when a graveyard became too crowded, old bones were moved to charnel houses to make room for the fresh(er) corpses.¹

(Before I lead you to believe that it’s all philosophy, and no spectacle, Dellamorte Dellamore also includes, in no special order: zombie nuns, a troop of teeth-chattering zombie Boy Scouts, and the floating, reanimated head of the mayor’s teenage daughter; who plays the love interest for Dellamorte’s mentally handicapped, grave digging partner. There’s something for everyone, even for the less culturally inclined in the audience!)

At this point Dellamorte Dellamore is practically a honorary family member. It’s that beloved in my circle. It’s as if someone bundled together every nostalgic feeling I could ever feel for my senior year of high school onto a DVD. I had just bought The Sugarhill Records boxed set, and my (original) Dellamorte Dellamore videotape arrived with a copy of Eraserhead. You might not have known that Christmas occurred twice in ’98, but it did. Once in April, and once again at that usual time.


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