Cemetery Man (Italy, 1994)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

If Meet the Feebles wasn't your cup of tea, Night of the Living Dead grossed you out, and you didn't see the humor in The Evil Dead, then Cemetery Man is definitely not for you. On the other hand, if you don't mind horrific, grotesque comedy that mixes the gore of George Romero and Dario Argento with the quixotic irreverence of Monty Python and Delicatessen, Cemetery Man provides the opportunity for a funny, strange time at the movies. This Italian picture, directed by Michele Soavi, is an all-English effort with plenty of violence (wall-to-wall blood-and-gore), sex (occasionally with dead bodies), and general weirdness. By the end of the one-hundred minute feature, you'll either be totally revolted or smirking at the inventiveness and audacity of the whole thing. Cemetery Man recalls Bob Balaban's 1993 feature, My Boyfriend's Back, but with a much nastier edge.

British actor Rupert Everett has the title role of Francesco Dellamorte (literally Francesco of Death), the "Cemetery Man." In Francesco's town of Buffalora, the dead don't stay dead. Seven days after burial, they come back, clawing their way out of their graves, looking for flesh to eat. Francesco has been employed by the local mayor (Stefano Masciarelli) to live in the cemetery and dispatch the zombies before they escape into the community. The only way to eliminate a ghoulish "returnee" is to destroy its skull. Francesco's favorite weapon is a pistol, but he's not above using any other handy object. The matter-of-fact manner in which he eliminates the zombies provides a source of constant humor.

Cemetery Man is loosely divided into three episodes. The first involves Francesco's love affair with a beautiful widow (Anna Falchi) who visits the grave of her husband every day. The second is about the affection for a bodiless head exhibited by Francesco's sidekick, a mute named Gnaghi (Francois Hadji-Lazaro). In the third, an unbalanced Francesco starts killing living people, then becomes enraged when someone else takes credit for his murders.

Some of the comedy is inspired -- in a deranged way, of course. Those who only enjoy films like Sense and Sensibility aren't likely to venture near a venue showing Cemetery Man. For this movie to come across as something more than an exercise in gratuitous gore, it's necessary to embrace Cemetery Man's bizarre subject matter. There are plenty of laughs for those who view the film in the intended spirit. Plus, there's a fair amount of artistry lurking just beneath the surface -- Soavi's love for the horror genre shows in the composition of almost every scene (although he uses the camera-on-a-lazy-Susan rotation effect a few times too many).

Despite its boldness, Cemetery Man falls considerably short of being a masterpiece. The film runs out of comic momentum about two-thirds of the way through, and has to lurch and stumble towards the finish line. Soavi can only sustain the humor for so long before it becomes repetitive. Cemetery Man never really ends -- it just stops, and the scenes leading up to the closing credits are easily the movie's weakest. If you left the film twenty minutes early, you wouldn't miss much.

So, do I recommend Cemetery Man? Only to those who appreciate this kind of movie. It's definitely not a mainstream motion picture, and its capacity to offend may startle unprepared movie-goers. Personally, I have nothing against a film that plays such intentionally extreme, over-the-top horror for laughs. Cemetery Man could have been better, but it more easily could have been a lot worse. The best thing I can say about Michele Soavi's film is that it elicited more laughter from me than about 90% of Hollywood's bland comedies. And it's refreshing to see, if only for one film, a stylish tastelessness that swims against the prevailing tide of political correctness.

Cemetery Man (Italy, 1994)

Run Time: 1:40
U.S. Release Date: -
MPAA Rating: "R" (Violence, Profanity, Sexual Situations, Nudity)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1