Cemetery Man

Movie Information

The Thursday Horror Picture Show will screen Cemetery Man Thursday, Oct. 7, at 8 p.m. in the Cinema Lounge of The Carolina Asheville. Hosted by Xpress movie critics Ken Hanke and Justin Souther.
Score:

Genre: Horror
Director: Michele Soavi
Starring: Rupert Everett, François Hadji-Lazaro, Anna Falchi, Mickey Knox, Clive Riche
Rated: R

Michele Soavi’s Cemetery Man (1994) gets my vote for the best Italian horror movie I’ve ever seen. It is the freshest and quirkiest take on the zombie genre I’ve encountered—and unlike many Italian horror pictures, the laughs are intentional. Yet, this tale of a lonely cemetery caretaker (Rupert Everett) and his odd friendship with a hulking simpleton (François Hadji-Lazaro) is also one of the more emotionally effective movies of its type. Viewers who loved Dario Argento’s Phenomena (1985) the other week at the Thursday Horror Picture Show will definitely find much to like here. But at the same time, those who found Phenomena an incoherent, noisy mess are likely to be pleasantly surprised by Cemetery Man.

There’s a lot going on in this movie and it works on several levels. You can take it as a horror picture or a horror/comedy or a story about friendship or a surreal examination of the nature of identity and reality. The fact is that it really is all these things. For once, the oft-cited excuse (that I rarely buy) that the narrative gaps in an Italian horror picture are examples of “dream logic” are actually justifiable. The story unfolds like a very weird dream and makes more sense in that mode than any other. It actually seems to take place in a world of its own—like our own world, only it isn’t quite.

It’s not just that Francesco Dellamorte (Everrett) works in a cemetery where the dead—well, some of them—have an unnerving tendency to come back to life in the zombified anti-social flesh-eating sense. That’s become almost old hat to Francesco, who thinks nothing of having to shoot the pesky things. No, the whole tone is slightly off—ranging from his friendship with the monstrous Gnaghi (Hadji-Lazaro) to his obsession with a strangely recurring (she shows up in three incarnations) woman (Anna Falchi) to his generally supposed (and never explained) impotency. Everyone and everything is peculiar. We are, after all, talking about a movie where the girl of Francesco’s dreams gets all hot and bothered when she learns that the cemetery has an ossuary. And this world gets stranger and stranger as the film progresses.

Yes, it’s gory and parts of it are just plain silly. The special effects are on the uneven side, but they work to some extent because their slightly goofy nature actually adds to the film’s atmosphere. In the end, there’s simply nothing quite like it.

The movie starts at 8 p.m., but the pre-show stuff—including “Trapped in the Flames,” chapter eight of the 1939 Bela Lugosi serial The Phantom Creeps—starts at 7:40 p.m. Be early, ‘cuz not only is this a better-than-average serial, but it boasts what gets my vote for best robot (called an “iron man”) ever. It’s also a treat to see Lugosi invest the utterly preposterous role of Dr. Alex Zorka with far more characterization than it ever possibly deserved.

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About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress since December 2000. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

10 thoughts on “Cemetery Man

  1. Dionysis

    Late last year I had a couple of friends over my house to watch movies. They selected ‘Cemetary Man’ (having never heard of it, and while I bought the DVD a year before that, I had never watched it myself). After about 30 minutes or so, they begged me to stop playing it and put something else on. Evidently they found it too weird (I guess). I was enjoying it, but relented. I still haven’t seen it in its entirety. If I can get off work in time, I’d prefer to see it among a crowd and on a larger screen than my 42″ monitor.

  2. Dionysis

    I should probably spend any extra time I have trying to figure out why I mis-spell simple words (‘cemetery’), whereas in my early school years I usually won spelling contests. Incipient senile dementia, perhaps. Or simple sloppiness in not proofing stuff before hitting ‘send’.

  3. Ken Hanke

    Little known fact: Attending THPS screenings increases spelling prowess.

  4. Dionysis

    “Little known fact: Attending THPS screenings increases spelling prowess.”

    I wouldn’t doubt it. I discovered that simply watching movies in general may add significantly to one’s vocabulary and phraseology. For example, while watching ‘Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter’ last weekend, I picked up on a phrase used by Kronos to describe the depth of knowledge of vampires possessed by his colleague, and I’ve been itching to find a way to use it…”what he doesn’t know about vampires wouldn’t fill a flea’s codpiece.” You just don’t hear language like that much these days.

  5. Ken Hanke

    You just don’t hear language like that much these days.

    Sad really.

  6. For example, while watching ‘Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter’ last weekend, I picked up on a phrase used by Kronos to describe the depth of knowledge of vampires possessed by his colleague, and I’ve been itching to find a way to use it…“what he doesn’t know about vampires wouldn’t fill a flea’s codpiece.” You just don’t hear language like that much these days.

    That makes me want to watch Captain Kronos again, and we just watched it last night!

  7. Dionysis

    “That makes me want to watch Captain Kronos again…”

    It’s easy to miss; I’d seen the movie twice before and never caught it until my third viewing a couple of weeks ago.

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