Directed by Michele Soavi, 1994
As an opening sentence there’s little I can do to make this seem less hyperbolic, and for that I make no attempt to apologize, but I shit you negative when I say Michele Soavi’s work on Dellamorte Dellamore is some of the best direction the celluloid art has ever seen – of any genre.
I’ll be honest and confess that until a few weeks ago, I’d never heard of Dellamorte Dellamore or Michele Soavi, and I am baffled as to how this happened. I was 9 when the film was made, so that can partly serve as my excuse, but I’ve no other explanation as to why I’ve never once heard even a whisper about Soavi or this masterwork spoken aloud. And that is a crime, because Dellamorte Dellamore deserves to be that ace up the sleeve for a film buff in a pissing contest with another geek over naming unknown masterpieces.
Imagine if the best aspects of the earlier, more experimental films of Sam Raimi, Dario Argento and Peter Jackson were sewn together into some kind of Frankenstein child. That kid would grow up wishing he could be as complete as Michele Soavi’s immaculate child is.
Rupert Evert plays Francesco Dellamorte, caretaker of the cemetery in the small Italian town of Buffalora. The only thing in his lonely life, other than his mentally handicapped assistant, Gnaghi, is his job, which involves burying the dead and make sure they stay in the ground, because for whatever reason the dead in Buffalora tend to want to get back up. He hates the town and its people, who all think he is an engineer and impotent for some reason. He falls in love way too easily with all the beautiful women who come to the cemetery to mourn, only to have his heart broken again and again by death in its varying forms.
But that’s not what this movie is about. It’s not about him having to kill a bunch of zombies to maintain his lifestyle, a la Dead Alive. It’s not a survival story, a la Evil Dead. It’s just life for him. Dellamorte just wants something, anything, from life just so he can know he is alive and that there really is a difference between, "the living dead and the dying living."
The narrative isn’t exactly non-linear, but it’s certainly not formulaic. There’s no clear goal in sight for Dellamorte to reach. Each day/night just brings him one more reason to be depressed. Reality then begins to falter, whether Dellamorte is going insane or is becoming more lucid is up for grabs, and in a desperate move he is coaxed, by the reaper himself, into believing the best way to avoid having to perpetually re-bury the dead is to shoot the living in the head before they’re sent to him.
I’ll admit that if it came down to it, the movie wouldn’t survive as a masterpiece on its story alone. You can never guess what is going to happen next, which is great, but it’s not a pulse pounder, per say. What does keep your blood flowing and your eyes glued to every photon blasting out from that cathode ray tube is Michele Soavi’s flawless, inspired direction. Every single shot flows into the next like a river through a dream. The photography is stunning. The music is possessing. The frame and blocking is just flat out phenomenal. People tell me I’m a good writer, but I feel like an idiot trying to explain how hypnotic this film is. This is a director who clearly knew the exact genetic code of the movie he wanted to make.. The end result is just something you have to see to understand.
It’s the kind of movie that demands to be studied by any aspiring horror filmmaker, and admittedly I am that cliche. Every frame has purpose and is presented with such conviction that you never question what you’re seeing, even if the bizarre mechanics of the story may have you uttering, "what the fuck!?", every now and then (I know I did).
It is a remarkable piece of surreal filmmaking, but never too detached or ephemeral. I wasn’t at all surprised to learn that Soavi was the assistant director on several of Dario Argento’s earlier films. Though I must admit that I prefer the blend of the surreal/corporeal that Soavi sells over that of Argento’s, which is often times too self-gratifying.
I can now understand why the press release for the upcoming DVD labelled it as the, "most requested horror titles of the last decade". I can also understand why Martin Scorsese, super-genius, called it one of the best films of the 1990s. This is one for the books. It’s smart, sharp, funny (but never joke-y), dark, light, bitter and sweet. It is truly, as the title/name translate to, ‘of death and of love’.
Time may have temporarily swallowed it, but that’s why DVDs were invented. I don’t even care if it ever gets a mainstream following, all I care is that it gave me a chance to see it, because I know that even after just one viewing, it bore its hooks into my mind’s cinematic eye for life.
Death, Death, Death comes sweeping down,
filthy Death the leering clown,
Death on wings, Death by surprise,
failing evil from worldly eyes,
Death that spawns as life succumbs,
while Death and love, two kindred drums,
beat the time till judgement day,
an actor in a passion play,
without beginning, without end,