Monday, October 24, 2005

Picked Flick #94: Cemetery Man

Talk about starting out ahead: tell me again why all movies don't begin with Rupert Everett, dripping wet with a towel around his waist, shooting a zombie in the head at point-blank range? Cemetery Man, known to its hometown Italian fans as Dellamorte Dellamore, thusly gets off on the right foot indeed, though it's a stop 'n' go affair ever after. Of all the movies on this list, I think it's the hardest for me to get a bead on, and the one that I'm the most surprised to feel such affection for. It also might be the hardest one to write about, as is further attested by my lame review, written in the preemie infancy of this website.

Maybe I love Cemetery Man because it's one of the few cult films in existence whose cult I blithely stumbled into, without even knowing it existed. Somehow, people everywhere seem to have seen this movie, which I caught on late-night Cinemax, O whorish bride of cable TV, one time when I was house-sitting. Everything that happens early in Cemetery Man happens again at least a dozen more times. Zombies, for the entertainment gods are good, can't stop rising out of the ground, seven days after their initial burial. Rupert, for every other kind of god is good, can't stop taking showers. That killer musical score, all sawing cellos and violins and deep-thrumming basses, never wears out its considerable welcome. The indecently buxom Italian sexpot who turns Rupert's eye, played by an actress called Anna Falchi, keeps dying and resurrecting herself, eventually returning in the guises of wholly different women, all with the same smutty expression. The mayor's daughter gets her head lopped off in a road accident, but when it comes back to life on its own, Rupert's porcine assistant has the politesse to perch it in the skeleton of a burned-out TV. Haven't you ever wanted to look out from the boob-tube instead of in? And did I mention this is played for laughs?

Well, laughs of a sort. Cemetery Man is like Shaun of the Dead as rewritten by Eugène Ionesco. Promiscuously genre-hopping among horror, comedy, Italian national satire, and highfalutin existentialism, Cemetery Man has the surface qualities of a spoof—including its absurdly matter-of-fact nods to Citizen Kane, Vertigo, and Psycho—but none of its comfy core. Its bones are not really funny bones. There's something perversely poignant about its hero's unholy predicament: in trying to flee his thankless job as watchdog, caretaker, and tireless re-exterminator at the local graveyard, he drives out of town until he almost tips over the literal edge of the world... which means that all those zombies aren't a sign of The End at all, but are rather the tottering embodiments of a bloodless status quo. You can laugh or weep, or, like Callum Keith Rennie in Last Night, you can just get horny. Cemetery Man encourages all three, with a mad brio and a frank lack of interest in playing by any rules. I'm still not certain that the picture really works. Recent re-viewings have been distressingly joyless, but isn't that very trajectory from hilarity to nausea the plot and theme of this sucker to begin with? I think I'm gonna be sick, or maybe this is what enlightenment feels like. Either way, I'm sure I'll watch it again. Like the most indefatigable zombie in the cool, cool crust of the Earth, I just can't stop trying again. (Click here for the full list of Nick's Picked Flicks.)

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Blogger tim r said...

Can't wait to track this down. I think I caught five minutes of it on late-night TV once, and it did look, well, weird as hell...

1:33 AM, October 25, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nick, you are now officially my favorite person in the world. For all its inconsistencies, this is one of the best horror films ever made.

12:30 PM, October 25, 2005  
Blogger NATHANIEL R said...

i have not seen this but your description of the opening sequence and plea for more wet Rupert. wet Rupert all the time... well i can get behind that.

2:10 AM, October 26, 2005  

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