Dellamorte Dellamore

by Charlie Largent May 25, 2024

Dellamorte Dellamore
Severin Films
Starring Rupert Everett, François Hadji-Lazaro, Anna Falchi
Written by Gianni Romoli
Photographed by Mauro Marchetti
Directed by Michele Soavi

In I Bury the Living, one of the more eccentric horror films of the fifties, Richard Boone inherits a cemetery where the dear departed won’t stay buried. The mystery behind Boone’s supernatural predicament had a mundane solution, but the hero of Dellamorte Dellamore is not so lucky; he’s engaged in a nightly battle with bona fide zombies, an undead mob who escape their coffins and litter the landscape like cockroaches. For this thoroughly depressed gravedigger, putting the bodies back where they belong has become a daily routine, like eating breakfast or putting the cat out.

The spawn of Dawn of the Dead and a Marx Brothers movie, Michele Soavi’s 1994 horror comedy is an expansive work of the imagination, a grindhouse movie with an art house soul. Rupert Everett plays Francesco Dellamorte, the hard-working “Cemetery Man” (the film’s American title) who tends graves and controls the busy bodies with an ever-ready revolver—he uses it to re-kill the park’s occupants who, for reasons unknown, depart their resting place on the seventh day of their burial. At least the zombies retain some of the manners of their mortal selves; they knock on Dellamorte’s door with a neighborly flourish while leering at him like a hot lunch (all of them are voracious munchers). A shot to the head, Ala Romero, is usually all it takes to put them in their place—that place being the ground.

Dellamorte’s only friend is his assistant Gnaghi, a roly-poly mute played by François Hadji-Lazaro. He’s as lonely as Dellamorte and nurses a crush on the mayor’s daughter who in turn is infatuated with the ringleader of a local motorcycle gang. Dellamorte has his own crush too, the widow of Augusto Martin, his most recent client. Played by the Finnish actress Anna Falchi, this stunner is known to us only as “She” and is, according to Dellamorte, “the most beautiful living woman I have ever seen.” If he’s careful to use the word “living”, it’s important to remember the transitional nature of Dellamorte’s workplace—to quote Dorothy Gale, “People come and go so quickly here.”

Though She is initially resistant to Dellamorte’s advances—she’s thinking of her husband’s honor—the overripe atmosphere of the park’s ossuary jumpstarts her libido—soon enough the couple is getting up close and personal next to Augusto’s tombstone. All signs point to a successful communion until Augusto crawls out of his tomb and puts the bite on his wife.

Dellamorte puts her out of her misery lest she is zombified. But she rises again anyway, this time clothed in a translucent shroud decorated with the fauna of her resting place—she resembles a Vogue Magazine cover for Forest Lawn. She’s the most beautiful dead woman Dellamorte has ever seen, but that doesn’t stop him from killing his beloved a second time, an end-of-his rope experience for the gravedigger that sends him around the bend. He goes forth to rain down his rage on the living, venting his spleen with random killing sprees, the Travis Bickle of Buffalora, Italy.

Soavi based Dellamorte Dellamore on Tiziano Sclavi’s 1991 novel, front-loading the film with genial, if gruesome, slapstick set-pieces and startling bursts of inspired surrealism: when Dellamorte and She are coupling in the graveyard, they’re visited by otherworldly creatures known as Ignis Fatuus, blue flamed sprites that flit around like Tinker Bell—the little critters have a mischievous quality that turns the love scene into a R-rated Disneyland ride (those luminous manifestations are also real). When the Mayor’s daughter is decapitated in a motorcycle accident, the lovestruck Gnachio steals her head and strikes up a romance with her fully alive and talking zombie noggin. Soavi treats these preposterous moments in a matter-of-fact way, like one of Buñuel’s deadpan jokes.

But once Dellamorte loses his mind, Soavi loses his focus. To this point the film succeeds in its elegantly gruesome manner (think Re-Animator directed by Bertolucci) but the existential finale is gratuitously bloodthirsty and a little depressing. Dellamorte is a movie swarming with as many ideas as zombies, but Soavi seemingly runs out of gas, leaving Dellamorte and Gnachi perched on the edge of the world with nowhere to go. It’s a striking finale but leaves the audience standing on the same precipice and wondering, “Is that all there is?”

Severin Films has gone the distance with their release of Soavi’s morbid rib-tickler—they’ve produced a variety of Blu-ray sets that should suit every household budget, including a four disc extravaganza with a 4K Blu-ray (this review describes the standard Blu-ray version), two discs of extras and Manuel De Sica’s original soundtrack on the fourth disc (Manuel being the son of Vittorio). Of special interest are the audio commentary from Soavi and screenwriter Gianni Romoli, and three separate interviews with the director and stars: At The Graves featuring Soavi, Of Love And Death with Rupert Everett, and She, an interview with Anna Falchi.

A full rundown of the different packages and their extras can be found at Severin’s site here.

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Edward Sullivan

Perfect double-feature candidate to pair with Seraphim Falls, that absolutely ripping neo-Western that starts out great, develops in all sorts of promising directions and then wanders off into a desert of allegory and surrealism…

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