Directed by long-time Dario Argento assistant Michele Soavi and starring Rupert Everett this nineties comedy horror is one of the oddest films ever made, and I’ve seen over 981 odd movies. It’s absurd, it’s pretentious, it’s ridiculous and sometimes silly, while some of the acting is truly awful and most of the characters sound dubbed even when they clearly aren’t, but despite such issues it’s a film I’m extremely fond of.
The plot’s not actually that complicated, though nearly everything else in the film is, as cemetery keeper Francesco Dellamorte (Everett) keeps watch over the graveyard and has to keep on shooting the undead in the head as they have an annoying habit of returning to life seven days after their demise, and sometimes even more quickly than that. Assisted by the all but mute Gnaghi (Francois Hadji-Lazaro) he also has a bizarre love for reading phone books and falls in love with three different women, even though he’s only spent less than five minutes with them, all of whom look identical and are played by the same actress (Anna Falchi).
Francesco has a love for philosophising about everything he encounters, or cynically mocking events, he’s quite the nihilist too apart from when he falls in love and has hot and sweaty make out sessions before they even exchange phone numbers. He pontificates on all manner of subjects but the nature of love and death are the main things, and the film is laden with symbolism throughout, be it his name (Dellamorte meaning “Of death”, rather conveniently) while it turns out his mother’s maiden name was Dellamore (“Of love”) and he’s obsessed by both. Not that the undead rising bothers him that much most of the time, and when his beloved dies of fright he’s devastated for, ooh, a good sixty seconds before forgetting all about her for a large chunk of the film. One shot of the duo kissing mimics the painting “The Lovers” by Rene Magritte, and I’m sure there were many other references to famous art that I missed.
It’s also deliberately funny at many points, when Gnaghi burns an old phone book Francesco freaks out and shouts “But that’s the phone book, are you crazy, that is my favourite reading – just because we’ve got the new one doesn’t mean we have to say we have to throw the old ones away, these books are classics” though why he finds them so fascinating is hard to explain. Much of the violence is extremely casual, with one fantastic sequence seeing Francesco killing off an undead horde while chatting to his friend Franco on the phone, and it’s also a film which contains a flirty talking head who Gnaghi falls in love with, one member of the undead is buried with his motorcycle and returns to life melded to it, while a girl who loves one of the dead is truly put out when Francesco tries to help her, exclaiming “Mind your business, I shall be eaten by whoever I please”.
On the down side it has quite the odd relationship with sex, Gnaghi falls in love with a fourteen year old girl (who ends up as the aforementioned talking head who conveniently has the ability to fly, though none of the other corpses do), one version of the woman Francesco loves is raped by the town mayor but is horribly happy about it, saying that though she hated the first time she loved the second, and after finding out the a woman he slept with was a prostitute Francesco burns her and her friends to death. For some unknown reason everyone thinks Francesco impotent so incapable of being a rapist / murderer, though he proves them wrong on the latter front, and the film’s relationship with the casual slaughter of the living is plain weird.
Some of the acting is weak too, Everett’s great and carries the movie, in the hands of a lesser actor it would be a disaster, and Francois Hadji-Lazaro is really decent too, but Anna Fulchi is unfortunately pretty wooden, it’s not the worst performance I’ve ever seen in a horror movie but it’s not far off and she was presumably cast due to her willingness to disrobe whenever required and let Everett cover her body in kisses / saliva. Some of the townsfolk are little more than caricatures and the bizarrely stupid cop who never suspects Francesco of doing wrong, even when he’s wandering around a hospital with a gun where four people have just been shot dead, is played in a less than subtle manner.
Some of the Francesco’s thoughts about the world are either plain mad, pretentious or on the nose and daft, and an appearance from Death itself doesn’t exactly help it from being so ridiculous. Yet despite everything I’ve mentioned I can’t help but like it, the story zigs and zags all over the place, when it’s being deliberately funny it did make me laugh a lot, and even some of the dodgy acting is strangely endearing. The director over reaches and tries to say too much in too short a time, and sometimes does so quite badly, but at least it’s something quite unique and as long as you can forgive it’s shortcomings it’s a film you’ll probably secretly cherish.