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Dead and Loving It

Lonely Are the Grave: Anna Falchi and Rupert Everett make love among the rot in director Michele Soavi's "Cemetery Man."

The zombies romp and play in 'Cemetery Man'

By Richard von Busack

THE ODDLY intellectual gut-muncher Cemetery Man delivers many thoughtful provocations in addition to the obligatory zombie blasting (as usual, the dum-dum bullet through the head gits 'em). The series of dislocations begins--but doesn't end--with the initial twist of having the very English Rupert Everett play a poor Italian cemetery keeper named Francesco Dellamorte. You also know you're in Europe when the movie starts to stress the existential dilemma of our hero and his Igor, Gnaghi (Joe de Rita surrogate François Hadji-Lazaro).

This metaphysical approach to the often-filmed subject of the cannibalistic living dead comes from director Michele Soavi, who was an assistant director on some of Dario Argento's films, particularly the poetic, grisly shocker Opera. As in Argento's films, mood trumps narrative, which almost makes the episodic quality and "road to nowhere" ending forgivable.

Dellamorte is the caretaker of a cursed cemetery where the dead pop up with tiresome regularity. He keeps a revolver at hand, sometimes chatting on the phone as he dispatches yet another damn zombie. When a stunning widow (Anna Falchi) shows up, Dellamorte desperately tries to court her with a sightseeing tour of the boneyards. "What a cute little ossuary you have," she sighs voluptuously, and the two consummate the relationship on the grave of her dead husband. The husband, however, is riled out of eternal slumber and bites her--zombies are made, not born.

Soavi tells this wildly absurd story with a straight face, sometimes relying on deliberately ripe kitsch and easily veering from genuine inspiration to the Ken Russell- style too-muchness of the tony shot of a mutually veiled kiss between the widow and Dellamorte taken directly from Magritte's painting The Lovers. There's raunchy comedy, as well. The gross Hadji-Lazaro is remarkably like an oversized baby, with a baby's control of his saliva and his digestive system.

At a slightly deeper level, Cemetery Man suggests that the zombie hunt is an enduring motif because it involves the symbolic killing of death. Indeed, Death himself shows up to complain about the slaughter of his subjects, in short, telling Dellamorte to go pick on the living for a change.

As an expression of popular nihilism--"This world is shit," gasps a dying suicide--Cemetery Man is refreshing, very sardonic and displays most of the attributes of dreamlike horror. For better or for worse, you don't know what will happen next. That sense of surprise has its advantages, but at the same time, you do become a little restless during a prevaricating journey when there really isn't a destination.

Cemetery Man(R; 100 min.), directed by Michele Soavi, written by Gianni Romoli, photographed by Mauro Marchetti and starring Rupert Everett and Anna Falchi.

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From the May 9-15, 1996 issue of Metro

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