Monday, November 24, 2014

Monster Serial: DELLAMORTE DELLAMORE (aka CEMETERY MAN)


By JONATHAN M. CHAFFIN

DELLAMORTE DELLAMORE, (“On the Death of Love” or “About Death, About Love,”) foolishly branded CEMETERY MAN in English, is a gem of many facets. It is beautifully shot, deliciously weird and, more than once, highly disturbing.

This gorgeous dark comedy is a must see.  I’m going to lose some people with the next sentence, then spend the rest of the essay winning them back. CEMETERY MAN involves loneliness, zombies, rape, impotence, murder, MORE zombies, quite a bit of sex (with “The Girl”[1] admirably played by the stunning Anna Falchi in various guises), body horror and, woven through it all, an amazingly genuine and fun performance from Rupert Everett.

The film has all the “matter-of-fact, zombies are here, let’s deal with them” aspects of films like RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD, SHAWN OF THE DEAD, or ZOMBIELAND.  Lots of nice close-up crushed skulls, blood, and vomit in the finest Italian horror movie tradition.  Wrapped in with all that is the slow unravelling of Francis Dellamorte, the eponymous Cemetery Man.  The story revolves around a gravedigger/watchman, called an “Engineer” by the townsfolk for some reason, who lives in the cemetery near an ossuary [2]. Francis is attended by his feeble-minded assistant Gnaghi who reminds me of a cross between a Stooge and an Addams.

In terms of tone, this movie always puts me in mind of EDWARD SCISSORHANDS; beautiful and sad.  CEMETERY MAN, however, has substantially more violence and nudity.

 If you’re looking for how director Michele Soavi fits in the pantheon of Italian horror, he has worked as an assistant director alongside Dario Argento on TENEBRE (1982) and PHENOMENA (1985), Terry Gilliam on THE ADVENTURES OF BARON MUNCHAUSEN (1988), and with Lamberto Bava on DEMONI (1985.)


In broad terms, this movie is set in a graveyard where the dead return to life.  Above the gate is the word RESVRRECTVRIS, which is pretty funny. The caretaker, widely rumored to be impotent, falls in love with a widow, “The Girl,” who then dies. Then a bunch of people die and return to life.  Then Gnaghi, his dimwitted assistant, finds love with the mayor’s daughter Valentina ... projectile vomit is involved. Then Our Hero Francis falls in love with a woman who is terrified of sex (another incarnation of “The Girl”) and goes to extreme lengths to be with her. 

Francis is thwarted when this incarnation of “The Girl” falls in love with another man; in this case, the other man was her boss/rapist. Francis gets a little (more) depressed.  He kills some people (who don’t stay dead) and finally, at long last, meets a woman who is both emotionally available to him and willing and interested in having sex with him. Perhaps the third time’s the charm? Nope. Turns out this incarnation of “The Girl” is a hooker. Francis burns her house down, with her and her flat-mates inside.
Then, in a hilarious, sad, and bizarre twist reminiscent of the ending of AMERICAN PSYCHO, Francis goes on a murder spree, which is entirely unnoticed. So he packs up his bags and his assistant to leave town. More on that later.

Into that mix of psycho drama you add a busload of dead Boy Scouts, arson, voyeuristic will o’ th’ wisps, Death, and all manner of gorgeously billowing diaphanous material [3]. (Really, the visual styling of this movie is beautiful, and it includes one of the most beautifully creepy shots of the female superior/cowgirl sexual positions ever filmed in a graveyard.


OK, buckle your seat belts — here’s where we go off the rails: what follows is some seriously wild speculation involving psychological terms far more complex than I’ll relate in a 1,300-word review. Also, I only know what a few general sociology and psychology classes and Wikipedia entries tell me about some of these topics, but I’m convinced they have a very real and entertaining relationship in this film. Also, spoilers follow, so take this next bit as you will.

Sigmund Freud posited that the “death drive,” or Thanatos, leads an individual on certain occasions to seek to reduce or eliminate tension through repetition of behavior.  Specifically, and I quote, Thanatos can manifest “an urge in organic life to restore an earlier state of things” through repetition (which is why we all make the same self-destructive decisions sometimes.)  The aforementioned urge is played out through the film’s structure. Francis’ repeated assignations with “The Girl” in her various incarnations service this drive.
 
The film begins with Francis living a placid existence as a cog in society. The man doesn’t even fill out paperwork to deal with a zombie outbreak; choosing instead to shoot them and rebury them.  He is a pretty good example of a functioning Superego (society’s grown-up instincts) well-modulated by his Ego. His retarded or “simple” assistant Gnaghi is a benign example of a childish, Id-ridden man-child.  Through the tension between Thanatos and Eros present in the movie (in this context mostly sexual love and survival), Francis moves further and further out of his original orbit (my favorite part is when the Grim Reaper appears to him and tell him to stop killing the dead and kill the living for a change.)


From the impotent “engineer” who kills zombies and lusts after beauty, Francis is driven (through repeat encounters with The Girl) into an active state unregulated by the SuperEgo or Ego, with sex and murder the result.  

Francis’ Ego and SuperEgo are eventually so battered through the repetition of losing “The Girl” that by the film’s conclusion he tries to flee, then finally trades roles and characteristics with Gnaghi (this movie’s representative of the Id.)

The movie concludes with a gorgeously shot and truly circular reveal that hearkens back to the very beginning of the movie.

In addition to that journey from Ego to Id, we have the striking comparison between the Eros embodied by Francis and The Girl and the Platonically idyllic love between Gnaghi and Valentina [4] (which may even be considered to be Ludus, playful friendly love as between children.)

Libido is typically seen as diverting the destructive instinct; in Cemetery Man the relationship evolves, and as the destructive instinct becomes ascendant Francis becomes confused, possibly as unable to affect the world as the dead names he has crossed out in the phone book[5].

To recap: go for the snappy writing, the zombie bikers, and awesome hottie Anna Falchi, stay for the existential struggle between sex and death. 
  
[1] Anna plays 3 different characters, but they seem to be facets of the same woman, or lookalikes, or reincarnations existing in the same temporal space. Pick your poison. She’s gorgeous.

[2]An ossuary is a communal bone pit/catacomb. It was also real, in this film, so the sex scene set there is…extra creepy.  Particularly given its overtones of necrophilia.


[3] More than the music video for “Total Eclipse of the Heart” by Bonnie Tyler.


 [4] Because she is an undead severed head, I’m going to go with completely un-consumatable, “let’s watch TV together with no ulterior motives” love. If your mind wanders elsewhere, shame on you. Also, ewww.


 [5]. (Fun Fact: the Necronomicon is also known as the “Liber Ex Mortis” or “Book of Dead Names: - Thus Francis could be figuratively conjuring zombies by writing in the Necronomicon. While a large stretch, this idea amuses me greatly.

 
JONATHAN M. CHAFFIN is an Atlanta-based graphic designer and art director and a lifetime fan of horror stories and film. His current project is www.HorrorInClay.com where he uses artifacts and ephemera to tell stories... he also produces horror-themed tiki mugs and barware like the Horror In Clay Cthulhu Tiki Mug. In addition, Jonathan occasionally does voice-over and podcasting work and appears on panels at sci-fi fantasy and pop culture conventions on a variety of topics. You can follow him @CthulhuMug on twitter or by friending HorrorInClay on Facebook and G+

1 comment:

Cousin Barnabas said...

Rupert Everett is walking sex in this film. Breathtaking.

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