RETRO REVIEW: Splatter Cinema and the Plaza Theatre Unearth a Blood-Soaked Valentine With CEMETERY MAN!

Posted on: Feb 9th, 2014 By:

CEMETERY MAN (1994); Dir. Michele Soavi; Starring Rupert Everett, Anna Falchi and François Hadji-Lazaro; Tuesday, February 18 @ 9:30 p.m. (photos and merch table open @ 9:00 p.m.); Plaza Theatre; Trailer here.

By Aleck Bennett
Contributing Writer

Bringing classic gore flicks back to life is the mission of Splatter Cinema, and this Tuesday’s engagement at the Plaza Theatre is a special one indeed: Michele Soavi’s brilliant CEMETERY MAN!

Along with his compatriot, Lamberto Bava (son of the legendary filmmaker Mario Bava), director Michele Soavi breathed a bit of life into the twitching corpse of the Italian horror renaissance kicked off by Dario Argento and Lucio Fulci. Both worked under Argento as assistant/second unit directors, while Soavi took on acting roles in a number of Italian horror films as well (that’s him as the metal-faced mystery guy in DEMONS and as the boyfriend forced to watch his girlfriend puke up her intestines in CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD). And while Bava’s films typically went for the blunt, straight-ahead shocks of DEMONS and gialli like DELIRIUM, Soavi typically gravitated toward the surrealistic and fantastic elements of SUSPIRIA and THE BEYOND. 1989’s THE CHURCH and 1991’s THE SECT—both made under the auspices of Dario Argento’s production—both showed the kind of promise that he held as a filmmaker, but were hindered by scripts that drew too freely from highly influential works (THE CHURCH hews closely to Argento’s SUSPIRIA and INFERNO, while THE SECT is ROSEMARY’S BABY redux).

But once out from under his mentor’s wing, Soavi soared with perhaps the last great film of the Italian new wave of horror, CEMETERY MAN (released in Italy with the much better title, DELLAMORTE DELLAMORE, a pun on the main character’s name which translates as either “about death and about love” or “about the death of love”).

Francesco Dellamorte is the caretaker of the Buffalora cemetery, assisted by his mentally handicapped assistant Gnaghi, who can only speak the syllable “gna.” Dellamorte’s humdrum life consists of maintaining the grounds, crossing out the names of the dead from phone books and killing the reanimated corpses that rise after seven days of interment…all of which he undertakes with the same bored stoicism. It’s a job, after all, and shooting the zombies is easier than going through the paperwork needed to get any help. When he becomes infatuated with a young widow and Gnaghi falls for the mayor’s daughter, however, things take a turn for the worse.

Soavi’s film is full of delightfully dark comedy and the kind of atmosphere the Italian horror scene hadn’t witnessed in years, comparable to the best of Bava, Fulci and Argento. The tone and visuals not only echo the best of Italo-horror, but also the best of Terry Gilliam’s works—no surprise, as Gillaim devotee Soavi was second unit director on 1988’s THE ADVENTURES OF BARON MUNCHAUSEN and reportedly shot about a quarter of that film. Rupert Everett is especially effective as Dellamorte, bringing the right amount of pathos and longing to his dour role, while still delivering believable doses of sarcasm, wit and violence. And while the film isn’t quite as graphically violent as many of its Italian zombie counterparts, its effects (by maestro Sergio Stivaletti) are expertly pulled off.

It’s a rare film that can combine detailed character study, an exploration of the joys and pain of love and romance, rollicking comedy, explosive violence and the inevitable reanimation of the dead. But CEMETERY MAN is it. If just about anyone else tried to do it, it would likely come out as pretentious and scattershot, but Michele Soavi is the man who proved it could be done and done successfully.

Unfortunately for the Italian horror film scene and its fans, Soavi retired from feature film work after CEMETERY MAN to care for his ailing son, though he took on some television work in the years following. And while rumors of a return to horror have been suggested (with news of a potential sequel to CEMETERY MAN floated over the past two years), Soavi’s resurrection remains something the faithful still anticipate with bated breath.

Aleck Bennett is a writer, blogger, pug warden, pop culture enthusiast, raconteur and bon vivant from the greater Atlanta area. Visit his blog at doctorsardonicus.wordpress.com

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Retro Review: Splatter Cinema Opens the Gory Gates of Fulci’s CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD

Posted on: Aug 8th, 2011 By:

US poster for CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD, released here as THE GATES OF HELL.

By Philip Nutman
Contributing Blogger

Splatter Cinema Presents CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD (Paura nella città dei morti viventi) (aka THE GATES OF HELL) (1980); Dir: Lucio Fulci; Screenplay by Fulci and Dardano Sacchetti; Starring: Christopher George, Catriona MacColl; Tues. Aug. 9; 9:30 PM; Plaza Theatre; Trailer here.

Regurgitated guts. A drill bit to the head. A pick axe in the eye…

Welcome to Lucio Fulci’s CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD, one of the most memorable – and shocking – “gore” films of the 1980s, presented in all its uncut, gruesome glory this Tuesday night at The Plaza Theatre, brought to you by those celluloid-lovin’ maniacs known to Atlanta residents as Splatter Cinema.

This may look like Christopher Lee, but it's actually the suicidal priest in THE CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD, now available also on Bluray DVD from Blue Underground.

For this month’s gut-wrenching, retro bloodbath, it’s spaghetti splatter with lots of weirdness on top. The late Italian director has been variously reviled by film fans as either one of the worst movie-makers of all time (he’s definitely not) or hailed a horror visionary and unique director. Honestly, there was no one quite like Lucio, but he would never have won an Oscar or its Italian equivalent. A distinctive director, yes; talentless, exploitive hack, NO!

For ATL Retro readers who only know his name in regards to his pasta horror flicks of the late ‘70s through the mid-‘90s (Fulci died of a heart attack in 1996), it should be noted that he made dozens of films over a 30-plus year career, which spanned comedies, costume dramas, spaghetti westerns, giallo thrillers and many more. Like acclaimed director Roman Polanski, who started out making absurdist dramas, weird thrillers (KNIFE IN THE WATER [1960]), became known as a “horror” director because of REPULSION (1965), THE FEARLESS VAMPIRE KILLERS (1967) and ROSEMARY’S BABY (1968) before making one of the greatest movies of all time, the retro noir CHINATOWN (1974), Fulci escapes classification; he is sui generis.

One of the LIVING DEAD in Fulcio's zombie classic.

But splatter and zombies, and madness and more zombies and splatter (and the disgusting THE NEW YORK RIPPER [1982]) are what have seemingly become Fulci’s legacy. That said, he made two of my favorite Italian movies, the sprawling, hysterical historical costume drama, BEATRICE CENCI [1969]) and the insane psycho-thriller, DON’T TORTURE A DUCKLING [1972].

The story, with a vague nod to H.P. Lovecraft, starts in the small New England town of Dunwich, where a priest commits suicide by hanging himself in the church cemetery which somehow opens the gates of hell, allowing the dead to rise. Peter (Christopher George), a New York City reporter, teams up with a young psychic, Mary (Catriona MacColl), to travel to the town where they team up with another couple, psychiatrist Jerry and patient Sandra, to find a way to close the gates before All Saints Day or the dead all over the world will rise up and kill the living.

Bleeding eyes were the tamest effect in Fulci's CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD>

CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD was Fulci’s second foray into “undead” territory after 1979’s ZOMBI 2, a quick cash-in on the success of Romero’s DAWN OF THE DEAD (1978). The first of his unofficial “undead” trilogy (CITY was followed by THE BEYOND and THE HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY in 1981), this is one of the director’s best horror films. According to the fine folks at The Plaza, the print also is one of the most complete, good quality prints you’ll see on the big screen at this time – uncut, with all the infamous scenes intact. A must-see for all lovers of ‘80s horror and spaghetti splatter, and a primer for would-be filmmakers, CITY is loaded with atmosphere, shocking moments and typical Italian weirdness which unfolds like a fever dream. In other words,  park your left, logical brain hemisphere at the door and just go with the demented flow…You have been warned!

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