The weekend, I watched the 1994 Italian zombie film Cemetery Man. It’s one of the best zombie movies I’ve ever seen! It has beautiful cinematography, and is uniquely European-feeling. It’s open-ended and moralistic, consumed with sex and romance, and comic yet tragic. It’s like Night of the Living Dead meets Terry Gilliam’s Brazil meets La Cabina meets one of the Emmanuelle films. Let me review the movie by explaining my comparisons…
How it’s like Night of the Living Dead: Cemetery Man stars Rupert Everett as Francesco Dellamorte, a graveyard caretaker who has problems. The bodies buried in his cemetery are mysteriously rising as zombies, and he is forced to put them back down. Francesco’s sidekick is Gnaghi (pron. “Noggy”), a physically huge, mentally-handicapped, wonderfully weird-looking man who lives on the cemetery grounds with Francesco. The movie has copious graphic zombie-killing, and there are several humorous and memorable zombies. (My favorites were a group of undead Italian “boy scouts” who come at Francesco with their teeth clicking like castanets.) Romero fans will not be disappointed by the zombies in Cemetery Man.
How it’s like Brazil: Much like Sam Lowry (the protagonist of Brazil), Francesco feels utterly alienated by society. He has only one friend outside of work. He may have been rendered sexually-impotent by the stress in his life. He would like to tell the local mayor and police captain about the zombies who torment him, but is prevented from doing so by Brazil-like absurdities. (In one case, he lacks the proper paperwork to alert the authorities. In the other, he learns that if he reports the existence of the zombies he will lose his job as caretaker. Thus, he must officially “look the other way” even as he is forced to battle zombies nightly.) Like Brazil, Cemetery Man is a dark satire of bureaucracy, government, and modernity.
How it’s like La Cabina: Elements of the narrative, including the ending, are very unexpected and nontraditional. There is also, in Cemetery Man, an immersion into death that has nothing to do with the skulls and screams of traditional American horror films.
How it’s like the Emmanuelle films. Two words: Anna Falchi. Her character is right out of early-80’s European softcore pornography, and she and Francesco have many Cinemax-worthy encounters. There is, however, a wonderfully eldritch quality to the sexuality in Cemetery Man. Falchi’s character is turned on by ossuaries, kisses Francesco through a death-shroud, and at one point has her dress ripped away by a skeleton hand. Also, and perhaps more importantly, she appears to Francesco as several different women…
For all of Cemetery Man’s European awesomeness, I did have a couple of criticisms. There was an over-the-top scene where a zombie motorcyclist bursts out of his grave while riding his motorcycle. (It was like the stupid exploding-out-of-graves scene in Dance of the Dead.) There were also points at which the keyboard-heavy background score seemed overpowering and out-of-place. (Think The Untouchables.) It was jarring and didn’t complement the film.
Scant criticism aside, I was delighted to discover Cemetery Man. It’s a fascinating and unique film, and has secured a firm foothold in my personal list of Top 10 favorite zombie films.