.spoilers within / With Dellamorte Dellamore (or its dumb English title, "Cemetery Man"), director Michele Soavi ascends far beyond the contractual quickies that muddled Italian horror for years into a stratosphere occupied by very few films and looked after by an ethereal Mario Bava. This film was my personal first exposure to the Barilla-brand of the genre purely by accident. I used to scrutinize newspaper TV guides, much like Francesco's phone books, for future airings after catching it in edited form on the American Bravo network. I bought a copy of the 20th Century Fox VHS from a video store and it wasn't until years later that I started sampling more gory works from the country.
Soavi is working at his artistic peak here and the result is a beautiful swan song of the subgenre and the environment the director was nurtured in as a filmmaker. Even with these lofty accomplishments; Francesco (the dream-casted Rupert Everett), Gnaghi (François Hadji-Lazaro), and She (Anna Falchi) never snub their noses at what came before. Much like Sergio Leone's Once Upon a Time in the West (and perhaps My Name is Nobody); the usual gory delights and grotesque oddities of Italian horror aren't xeroxed onto an ultra-stylized rice cake arthouse puff for faux substance. Instead these elements are integrated as a second nature and not treated as the sole main attraction with great respect by Soavi to his pedigree. Dellamorte Dellamore stands as Soavi's gift in tribute to his peers and a proper headstone for Italian horror like the aforementioned Leone films sending the country's cowboys into their final sunset.
Despite not being intended by the director, shades of the floundering health of the subgenre can be found within the film's characters. Francesco's impotence, failure to connect with the mysterious "She", and in-town ridicule can be transposed onto the later state of Italian horror that can't continue its lineage. Pasta horror was well into passé by that time and laughable at the places like Cinecittà once called home. "She" can be seen as the now incompatible states of mainstream horror and cinema in general. Francesco desperately wishes to imbue himself with her, but it's all futile and he even realizes this watching it burn with her last incarnation. Gnaghi is Francesco's best friend, or us, the horror fans. We've been there and still are for the subgenre and the final lines of Dellamorte Dellamore suggest a roll reversal in which the horror fan becomes the caretaker of Italian horror as they both discover the rest of the world doesn't exist. The country's cinematic horror tradition of yesteryear forever remains an endearing memory trapped within a snowglobe as the credits begin.
Here's another little theory to play with. The story seems to throw Francesco wild loops at every turn, but the subgenre has never seen such a thinking man's protagonist. It's as if the character grinds everything to a halt where in the past the male lead would be content with merely blowing zombie brains against back walls or go screaming off into the distance. These left field twists are the result of the story continuing despite Francesco not caring one bit. He literally derails what was destined to be another crappy Italian programmer. This is why the zombies (or "returners") wind up being so pointless in the broad sense. Francesco is so determined to whittle away at the details of life, love, and death that the undead become a boring formality for him. This also plays into the "end of the world" as Francesco and Gnaghi reach the buffer between their film's world and true reality. They're not doomed to a zombie apocalypse upon their return to Buffalora, but to the thoughts and written words of their creators.
Yep, this is the filmed blaze of glory of Italian horror that can be enjoyed on many different levels. Big existential rumination on "Of Death, of Love" or "Zombies, guns, and sex, OH MY!!!"? Dellamorte Dellamore works in both worlds. Absolutely essential if you wish to call yourself a follower of Italy's vintage crimson celluloid exports. As a sidenote, find the excellent Italian DVD from Medusa, Anchor Bay's throwaway domestic disc is far too bright, bleached out looking, and cropped on both sides of the frame in comparison.