Dellamorte Dellamore (Cemetery Man). 1994. Italy/France/Germany. Directed by Michele Soavi. Screenplay by Gianni Romoli, based on novel by Tiziano Sclavi. With Rupert Everett, François Hadji-Lazaro, Anna Falchi. In Italian; English subtitles. 35mm print courtesy of the UCLA Film and Television Archive. 100 min.
“The living dead and the dying living are all the same.” Said to be “the most celebrated hero of [an] Italian horror series,” the long-running comic book character Dylan Dog, the Nightmare Detective was introduced in 1986 by author Tiziano Sclavi, who asked his illustrator to model his creation on British actor Rupert Everett—without the performer’s knowledge. Loosely based on Sclavi’s comic and his 1991 novel Dellamorte Dellamore, this screen adaptation is centered on disaffected cemetery attendant Francesco Dellamorte (Everett), who is lovelorn and weary of both the living and the dead. The film’s imaginative, restless visuals reflect its director’s early infatuation with Sergio Leone westerns, Hollywood musicals, and his work as a protégé of Dario Argento in the “Italian horror factory.” Its mixture of Italian gothic and British black humor account for much of its charm, but were unsettling to many on its initial release. Further confusing audiences who were not familiar with his connection to the source material was the casting of Everett, who had recently come out as gay and brings a subliminal queerness to the leading role. Enhanced by the film’s editing and mise en scène, Everett’s self-consciously narcissistic performance is effective, but appears to have complicated the gender equation for viewers. Despite his character’s Hitchcockian obsession with three lookalike women, played most alluringly by Anna Falchi, it is the masculine figure of death and his male sidekick, a double for Curly Howard of the Three Stooges, who amount to his most significant relationships. (Groucho Marx is Dylan Dog’s sidekick in the comic.) The fact that the film was produced at the height of the AIDS epidemic can also be seen to have influenced the existential nature of its male bonding. Though it was a hit at home, producers blamed the unusual hybrid film’s indecisive marketing for its failure to find a wide audience outside Italy. Remarking on its cult status today, Soavi suggests that viewers now have a clearer understanding of his film as “a metaphor for the world around us.” We will be screening what may be the last surviving 35mm theatrical print.