Rupert Everett plays an undertaker-cum-zombie slayer in Cemetery Man

Rupert Everett plays an undertaker-cum-zombie slayer in Cemetery Man

Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by a new movie coming out that week. This week: World War Z inspires five nights of the living dead.

Cemetery Man (1994)
Just last week, in this same space, I sang the praises of Stage Fright, a late-period Italian giallo blessed with a few notes of uncommon comedy. This week, to cap off five days of zombie-movie recommendations, I’m back to salute another film from the same director, Michele Soavi. The gallows humor is even more pronounced here: An alternately dry and manic existential farce, Cemetery Man treats the shambling, flesh-eating living dead as mostly inconvenient—an occupational hazard for undertaker Rupert Everett, whose boneyard has begun to birth reanimated cadavers. Since reporting an undead outbreak will surely result in lots of tedious paperwork, Everett instead just puts a bullet or the sharp end of a shovel in the noggin of each “returner,” then reburies the fiend with the help of his obese, near-mute assistant (François Hadji-Lazaro). Nothing much fazes this nonchalant sad sack—until he falls for a comely widow, whose spell over him is hardly broken by her untimely demise and unfortunate resurrection.

The original Italian title of Cemetery Man is Dellamorte Dellamore, an Italian play on words that roughly translates to “About Love About Death,” and which better reflects the tone of this very unusual genre hybrid. Soavi plays fast and loose with the supernatural rules—some of the returners are mindless killing machines, others are just rotting versions of their old, living selves—but that’s forgivable in a zombie movie with metaphoric matters on its mind. For discerning horror buffs, Cemetery Man provides plenty of thematic meat on which to feast: It’s about the skeletons in Italy’s political closet, how obsession with death can spoil a perfectly good life, and—via Everett’s encounters with various doppelgängers of his deceased beloved—the fallacy of that old saying about it being better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all. It’s also about Soavi’s gangbusters direction, evident in every oddball angle and playfully macabre set piece. (In one nifty scene, a zombie’s rise from the grave is filmed from the POV of the awakening corpse.) Holding the whole thing together, from start to less-than-focused finish, is the erudite British scene-stealer in the lead. Everett keeps Cemetery Man dramatically and comedically grounded, even as the film increasingly paints his character in a less-than-sympathetic light, and saddles him with a urological dilemma straight out of Seinfeld.

Availability: A DVD can be obtained through Netflix, and it’s streaming on YouTube.