Michele Soavi’s 1994 film Dellamorte Dellamore (in Italian this loosely translates as “of love, of death”) is tricky to review. It is a very odd horror comedy made at a time when the Italian horror genre was in a very bad state. Many of the film’s virtues can easily be construed as negatives depending upon your point of view. A word of warning, there are a lot of spoilers in this review, the nature of the film makes it very difficult to avoid. So if you want to see this film cold, I’d stop now.
Rupert Everett (hitting peak gorgeousness) plays Francesco Dellamorte. Francesco is a lonely and somewhat depressed cemetery keeper living a solitary existence. His gloomy mood is hardly helped by his residence being a cottage in the middle of the very necropolis he is charged with keeping. Despite his razor sharp cheekbones, and cool fashion sense, Francesco is mocked by local youths with eighties feather cuts, leather blousons with rolled up sleeves, and multi-coloured scooters. He has one friend in the town, a local council bureaucrat who he talks to on the phone, but when they meet in person they can find nothing to say to one another. In fact Francesco’s only significant relationship is with his assistant Gnaghi (Hadji-Lazaro who is the spitting image of Frank Black from The Pixies). Gnaghi has severe learning difficulties, and can only communicate by yelping “GNAAA”. To make matters worse, those buried in the cemetery have a habit of reanimating on the seventh night after burial. The zombies (called “returners” in the film) are of course hungry for human flesh. Dellamorte tries in vain to get the town’s mayor to take some notice of the zombie plague, but the paperwork that he is given to fill in is so complex and difficult that he decides it is easier to just shoot them.
Francesco becomes bewitched by a young widow (Falchi) and makes several ill-judged passes at her (it is an example of how socially inept he is that he tries to chat her up at her husband’s funeral). However when he lets slip that the cemetery has a fine crypt his luck seems to change. It seems the voluptuous young woman has an erotic fetish for human remains. “You know, you’ve got a real nice Ossuary” she says breathily. Cue some quite explicit love action, but coitus is interrupted by the risen corpse of her dead husband.
This is all in the first 20 minutes! The film then gets much, much weirder. Based on a novel by Tiziano Sclavi the author of the popular Italian comic book Dylan Dog (a character actually styled on Rupert Everett), Soavi’s film has the oddest atmosphere. It’s clearly meant to be a comedy, in fact almost a farce, but the tone is surreal, leisurely, and dreamlike. Dellamorte Dellamore is in no hurry to get anywhere fast and although there is plenty of stuff going on in each scene the actors approach their parts with a strange air of disinterest. For example, at one point Gnaghi meets the mayor’s comely teenage daughter. Gnaghi is aroused by the girl, and this provokes him to throw up all over her. At which point her boyfriend rocks up on a motorbike and there is this exchange of dialogue:
“What are you doing down there?”
“He threw up on me Claudio”
“Hey too bad. Would you like to go for a ride”
“I knew you’d understand”
And the pair of them ride off together grinning like loons. She still covered in porridge-like vomit.
The next hour or so features more sex, breasts, and motorcycling zombies than you can shake a stick at. However it also becomes increasingly hypnagogic and hallucinatory. As Francesco gets more depressed about his tragically unsuccessful love life he begins to have visitations from the grim reaper himself who tells him that if he finds taking care of the zombies so stressful, why doesn’t he “just kill the living”.
Events spiral ever further out of control. “Gnaghi, we’re going to need a lot of bullets” Francesco remarks, within earshot of the town’s policeman. Logic gets a jolly good defenstrating, the comedy gets more gran guignol, and the film heads towards an ending that will have more rationally inclined genre fans screaming at the TV.
In fact what Dellamorte Dellamore appears to be is a spoof of the gore films of Lucio Fulci. It has the same dreamlike surrealism of The Beyond and The House by the Cemetery; similar atrocious dialogue and disconnected performances (although in Dellamorte Dellamore’s case this appears to be deliberate); and plentiful amounts of head-cracking gore (although verging on the knockabout splatter of early Peter Jackson or Monty Python); finally there is a strain of aggressive sexism as seen in The New York Ripper. The women in the film are all either total idiots (such as Claudio’s various admirers. “Claudio, Claudio, take me with you” wails one as she chases the zombie version, “ugh, stupid cow” remarks Francesco), nymphomaniacs, or harridans. In fact Soavi takes this sexism to the point of such utter absurdity that it can only be seen as satire. Also it isn’t like the male characters are any less buffoons.
Rupert Everett is great in this, suffering from one of the worst prolonged cases of blue balls in any horror film. The fact that he is about 300% better looking than any other male in the film but is playing a character everyone laughs at, just adds to the atmosphere. Hadji-Lazaro makes a great comic foil, and gets to enjoy a touching relationship (figuratively and literally) with a severed head.
It’s really hard to recommend Dellamorte Dellamore with authority, it is just too esoteric and bizarre for most audiences. Even for hardcore Italian horror fans it is a real oddity (and I may be completely wrong about the Fulci thing). However, if you like to sail on the stranger winds of the cult cinema ocean, this is a must see.
This review originally appeared on http://www.chrisandphilpresent.co.uk/