In 1994, Dario Argento protégé Michele Soavi would direct what would go on to become his most popular film, Dellamorte Dellamore, known in North America as Cemetery Man (which is the title that Anchor Bay has opted for on this new and long awaited domestic release).
The story, loosely based on the Italian comic book Dylan Dog (or more specifically on a supporting character from that series, which did see print in North America through Dark Horse comics), is the story of Francesco Dellamorte (Rupert Everett of My Best Friend's Wedding), the groundskeeper of a cemetery in the small town of Buffalora, Italy. He, along with his seemingly retarded assistant, Gnaghi (François Hadji-Lazaro), have their work cut out for them however, as the dead in this particular cemetery keep returning back to life as zombies for some never explained reason.
One day Francesco meets a newly widowed woman, a real beauty, who he becomes very smitten with. The two fall in love fast, and when they consummate in the cemetery one night, her husband, like the other bodies buried there, returns from the grave and bites her, causing her to slowly die - an inconvenience, to be sure. From this point on, Francesco continuously meets the same woman over and over again, in different reincarnations, only to fall in love with her again and have her taken away just as swiftly each time.
Meanwhile, a subplot involving Gnaghi finds him falling in love with the severed head of the mayor's daughter, newly deceased , who he keeps hidden away in secret in his room in the basemen. From here on out, Gnaghi develops what is a child like and innocent, but at the same time, completely twisted relationship with her (or at least that part of her).
Cemetery Man is hardly a standard zombie gut-muncher. The film skillfully weaves plot lines together all the while playing around with some very strong and beautiful imagery involving life, love, death, and eternal loneliness. Not only is the film a wonder to behold in the visual sense, but it's also got some great performances from Everett (who I normally can't stand), and Falchi, who proves that she's more than just a pretty face in this film, evoking an air of sensual tragedy upon her recurring character.
It's rare that you actually start to care or even really feel anything for the characters in horror movies, especially ones from the Italian zombie sub-genre. So it's a testament to Soavi's film that I found myself really wanting things to work out for Francesco, hoping he would get the girl and live happily ever after, all the while knowing that it just wasn't going to happen and that he really was out of his league in more ways than one.
While most zombie films go for the gore and don't really bother with things like characterization or storytelling, Cemetery Man does exactly the opposite in such a slick and wonderful way that I'm surprised this film isn't better known than it is. Not that the film doesn't have it's share of blood and guts, those elements are definitely there, it's just that they never overshadow the more important aforementioned aspects of what makes this movie work.
Cemetery Man/Dellamorte Dellamore is highly recommended not only to horror and zombie movie fans, but also to anyone who's able to appreciate beautiful imagery, black humor, and interesting characters.
In North America, Cemetery Man has been treated pretty poorly – Fox did give it a laserdisc release and a VHS release but both of those were fullframe presentations that suffered from some pretty bad cropping and they weren't of particularly good quality either. The best version has always been the R2 PAL release from Medusa in Italy, where it received a very nice 1.85.1 anamorphic widescreen presentation that looked almost perfect save for a bit of grain and some mild print damage. This NTSC anamorphic 1.66.1 widescreen presentation from Anchor Bay is close in quality to the PAL disc, save for the fact that the brightness has been turned up a bit for some reason. This doesn't hurt things too much, and for the most part this is a very nice looking release, but some of the scenes do look like they should have been just a little bit darker than they are on this release. Other than that, the image on this release is solid. It's presented in its original aspect ratio, it's properly flagged for progressive scan playback, and there aren't any noticeable problems with mpeg compression or edge enhancement. Skin tones look good, color reproduction is pretty solid, and while there is some softness to the image in spots as a result of the brightness levels, for the most part it's a pretty detailed transfer that we're treated to on this DVD.
You've got your choice of watching the film in either an English language Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound mix or an English language Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo track with closed captioning available for the feature only, also in English. The Italian track that was on the Medusa disc has not been ported over, but the film was more or less shot in English anyway, as the liner notes confirm, with some of the foreign players dubbed in post-production. In terms of sound quality, the 5.1 mix edges out the 2.0 mix as it does a better job with the directional effects and has slightly stronger bass levels but both tracks definitely get the job done well enough. Dialogue is clean and clear and free of any hiss or distortion and the levels are properly balanced from start to finish.
The biggest and best of the extra features on this release is an excellent half hour long documentary on the making of the film entitled Death Is Beautiful. Interviewed in this piece are director Michele Soavi, actress Anna Falchi (who is just as beautiful now as she was when the movie was made!), special effects technician Sergio Stivaletti and screenwriter Gianni Romoli. Soavi speaks in Italian but he's subtitled, and he tells us of his cinematic influences, how Leone was important to him, and how he got involved in cinema. Stivaletti speaks of the importance of Soavi's earlier films, while Romoli talks of how he met Soavi through Argento. The still stunning Falchi speaks in English and she covers working with Rupert Everett while Soavi praises her work in the film and her personal qualities as well and it's great to see how proud of her performance in this film she is. While it would have been nice to hear from Everett, this is still an excellent examination of the making of the film from those who were there and made it happen.
Also included on the disc is the film's original Italian language theatrical trailer, a text biography of director Michele Soavi, animated menus, and chapter stops. An insert booklet contains six pages of interesting liner notes from Michael Felsher that explain the distribution history of the movie and its comic book origins, with the original U.S. one sheet printed on one side and a chapter listing on the other. Trailers for three other Anchor Bay horror/genre releases - Visiting Hours, Bad Dreams and Warning Signs are also included.
The supplements on the Italian disc included a director's commentary, a featurette comparable to the one on this release, and a comparison to the comic book it was based on. None of those supplements have been ported over for this release and while the new featurette included here is excellent, it really is a shame that the commentary didn't make it.
While it is definitely disappointing that Anchor Bay didn't port over and subtitle the director's commentary that was present on the Medusa release, this is an otherwise very solid presentation of one of the best European genre titles of the last fifteen years. It's an odd film but it's also a completely unique and very inspired film. Cemetery Man comes highly recommended!
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.