June 12, 2006

DVD Review: Cemetery Man

Zombie horror meets arthouse. That's a fitting way to describe this truly bizarre rumination on the nature of love and death. The film plays by it's own rules, it is quite clear that this film does not take place in the same world that we live in. Black comedy married with gore, with a dash of the surreal, sprinkled with the profound. I'm sure there is much more to this film which is on the surface, but I haven't peeled away all the layers yet as what is on the surface is so much fun.

Cemetery Man was originally known as Dellamorte Dellamore when it was released way back in 1993 in its native Italy. It first came to the US on VHS in 1996, and has sat around while the DVD era passed it by, until now. Finally, Anchor Bay has released the zombie classic on DVD. It has been a long time coming, and this fan is certainbly glad for it.

Francesco Dellamorte is the caretaker of the local cemetery. He takes his job seriously, although it seems to have sapped the life from him. His days are filled with burying the dead and dealing with the grieving visitors. His nights are filled with killing the returning dead and putting them back in the ground. For his troubles, he is assisted by Gnaghi, his slow-witted helper.

The film tracks Dellamorte's descent into madness. He becomes increasingly disconnected from his own life, identifying more and more with the dead and dying. He finds happiness in the arms of a beautiful widow, only to have that end tragically, in no small part to his own involvement. He continues to deal with his feelings for her as a zombie and later on, when she appears as the mayor's assistant and finally a prostitute. Gnaghi has his own experience with love, with the mayor's daughter, who does not return his feelings until she, herself, has died.

His obsession with death drives him into his own mind where he contemplates the nature of the dead and of the living. He never attempts to make any type of real sense of why they come back to life, he just accepts that they do, and does his job of putting them back in the ground. This dealing with death, and subsequent failure in love pushes his sanity to the brink, and goes on a murderous rampage.

Cemetery Man has this magical blend of black comedy, gore, sexuality, and surreal mood that comes together perfectly. There are layers to be peeled back that I have yet to explore, yet the layers are not necessary to enjoy this. It has an absurdist nature that just flows along and sucks you, just wondering where it is going to go. When it gets to the end, you will be left scratching your head, wondering what you just saw. The realizization that no one can escape their destiny, no can escape death. Plus there is an interesting foreshadowing of the end very early in the film that I just noticed. Will you see it?

Cemetery Man was directed by Michele Soavi, student of the maestro, Dario Argento. While there are definitely comparisons to be made, Soavi moves to the beat of his own drummer, and has crafted a horror classic. Not to be left out, Gianni Romoli wrote the screenplay, successfully weaving these themes of life, love, and death into an entertaining zombie film. I would be remiss if I did not mention the score by Manuel De Sica, it is a wonderful non-traditional score that blends strings, guitars, and an odd arrangement of sounds to add to the surreal nature of the film.

Rupert Everett stars as the droll Francesco, bringing a tired charisma to the character. You can't help but be drawn to his presence on the screen. At his side is Francois Hadji-Lazaro as the sweet soul of Gnaghi. Lastly, Anna Falchi plays 3 roles, each one sexier than the last.

Video. Far from perfect, there is a lot of artifacting, especially in the dark scenes. However, it looks considerably better than the release from Medusa in Italy, which I imported a few years back, the colors are much sharper and there is better contrast. At the time, it was considered the best representation of the film available. It is presented in a ratio of 1.66:1 and is anamorphically enhanced.

Audio. The sound is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0, I listened to the 5.1 track, primarily, with a couple excursions to the 2.0. The 5.1 is clearly the way to go, it has a nice full soundfield that works well to the films surreal atmosphere.

Extras. I would have liked more, but I should be happy for what we get.
-Death is Beautiful. This featurette includes interviews with Michele Soavi, Sergio Stivaletti, Anna Falchi, and Gianni Romoli. It is interesting, but barely scratches the surface of the production. There are some interesting bits about how the project came together, and a few onset stories. This runs for nearly 30 minutes. From the subtitling, I get the impression that a lot of what was said was left out.
-Theatrical Trailer (in Italian). This has some good scenes, but I think it gives way too much away.
-Michele Soavi Bio. A text biography concerning his career.

Bottomline. This movie is brilliant. It works on so many levels, you can mine it for meaning, or be taken on the grisly ride, or take a route somewhere in between. This is a wonderful film that hits all the right chords with this viewer. If we could only get more bizarre films like this.

Highly Recommended.
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