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DELLAMORTE DELLAMORE
DVD . Shameless Screen Entertainment.

Dellamorte DellamoreI first saw Dellamorte Dellamore at a much-hyped pre-release NFT screening, where much was expected from the film. It’s always a problem to go into a film with high expectations, because more often than not, you are destined for disappointment. And so it was here – the general audience consensus was that the film was a nice try, but not the return to the salad days of Italian horror that we’d been promised. And the sense of unfulfilled promise seemed to follow the film afterwards – not the box-office hit that had been expected, it eventually slipped out, unnoticed and unloved on video, a new title of Cemetery Man being the final nail in the coffin.

But, time has a habit of allowing films to find their audience, especially in the horror genre, and the film now has the sort of reputation that the producers perhaps expected back in 1994. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a deserved reputation of course, and so this new edition was an interesting proposition – would a second viewing, almost twenty years later, change my mind?

Based on a novel by Tiziano Sclavi, the film stars Rupert Everett as Francesco Dellamorte, world-weary cemetery manager, who has an extra problem to deal with on top on his usual work – seven(ish) days after burial, the dead return to life and need to be despatched in the traditional zombie killing manner. Along with retarded assistant Gnagi, he laconically kills the dead and is seemingly resigned to his lot in life, until a meeting with a beautiful young widow (Anna Falchi) throws him into a state of confusion, and things begin to rapidly unravel.

DEllamorte DellamoreLike a comic strip, Dellamorte Dellamore is essentially a series of skits – short mini-stories that are tied together by an over-riding theme. This is both the film’s strength and weakness. On the one hand, it allows it to move through various plot strands without ever getting bogged down, but on the other, there is no real story to get you teeth into. Instead, there are amusing vignettes involving Gnagi falling in love with the Mayor’s daughter and, after she is killed in a road accident, keeping her living severed head at home with him; Dellamorte continually seeing doubles of his great love Falchi, but never finding a happy ending to their relationship; and Dellamorte gradually slipping out of reality, as both his life and the film become stranger and stranger and he stops seeing a difference between the living and the dead.

All this is stunningly put together – director Michele Soavi brings a real sense of style – if sometimes a somewhat self-conscious one – to the film, with genuinely remarkable visual images; this is one of the most beautiful horror films you’ll ever see. The film itself offers an interesting mix of poetic beauty, gore, eroticism (Falchi, described by Dellamorte as “the most beautiful living woman I’ve ever seen”, spends a lot of the time naked – something I have absolutely no problem with) and some clumsy moments of slapstick. Certainly, the humour is still an issue – for almost every effectively laconic line delivered by Everett, there is a moment of dumbassery (the severed head shuffling along the ground, for instance) that would be more suited to a Troma film.These are brief moments, but they threaten to unbalance the film and seem an ill-considered idea.

But, to answer my earlier question: yes, this film proved to be a much more enjoyable and fascinating affair second time around. I still think it’s about fifteen minutes too long, but the sense of the bizarre, the weird dream-state that much of the movie lives in and the intriguing mix of sexuality and death make it genuinely unique and strangely compelling. For once, it’s a film that probably is as good as its fans claim.

DAVID FLINT

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