I first saw this film back in the 90s at the Glasgow Film Theatre when it was called The Cemetery Man and I was swept up by this mad stylish meandering story with its strange dark humour and gory effects. I always preferred the Italian title because its meaning, Of Death Of Love really fits it so much better as well as sounding a whole lot sexier. I did manage to see it on VHS but it just didn’t seem to be appearing on DVD but now Shameless have finally released it uncut in UK, which give me a perfect chance to revisit it.
Francesco Dellamorte (Rupert Everett) is the caretaker of the cemetery in the small Italian town of Buffalora which is cursed with the dead coming back to life within seven days of their death. Francesco and his almost mute assistant Gnaghi (François Hadji-Lazaro) take care of this problem by efficiently killing the returners a second time with a head-shot either from Francesco’s handgun or Gnaghi’s spade. Francesco is tall, handsome and depressed and likes the rain while Gnaghi is short round and fairly cheerful and likes the sunshine.
One day at a funeral Francesco spots a beautiful woman, called simply She (Anna Falchi) in the credits, mourning for the dead man and he falls for her. He makes a fool of himself trying to talk to her but he gets another chance when she returns to visit the grave. She’s not very impressed when he clumsily assumes that the older dead man was her father when, in fact, it was her husband. Francesco’s attempt to talk to the woman fails miserably but just She’s leaving the cemetery he mentions that the cemetery has an ossuary. He shows her into the ossuary and She gets sexually excited by the bones and funeral shrouds.
They make love next to her dead husband’s grave because She never kept any secrets from him. Her dead husband does not appreciate this and he bursts out of his grave and attacks them, taking a bite out her arm. Gnaghi arrives and kills the returning husband. She is pronounced dead by the local coroner Dr Verseci (Clive Riche) and the police chief Marshall Staniero (Mickey Knox) is happy with his own version of what happened to her. He leaves Francesco to take care of her body. Francesco doesn’t want her to be a zombie so he lays her out in the ossuary and waits for her to return. As soon as She does he shoots her in the head and buries her in a grave. A few nights later She comes back again and Francesco is so stunned he lets her kiss and bite him but Gnaghi puts his spade into her head, killing her for once and for all. Francesco realises that She wasn’t dead the first time and that he killed her in the ossuary. Francesco has a vision of death telling him to stop killing the dead and to start killing the living.
Francesco and Gnaghi go into town so Francesco can pick up his pay from the council offices and speak to his friend Franco. They pass a group of obnoxious young people with motor scooters who slag off Francesco for being impotent, a rumour that Francesco himself claims to have started. The town’s Mayor Scanarotti (Stefano Masciarelli) is having lunch at table with his friends and family and invites Francesco and Gnaghi to sit with them so he can talk about the upcoming election. Gnaghi sits next to the mayor’s daughter Valentina (Fabiana Formica) who thinks he’s sweet and charming but despite Francesco’s warning Gnaghi gets so excited by Valentina talking to him that he throws up on her.
Claudio (Alessandro Zamattio), one of the obnoxious young people on a motorbike, drives up and offers to take Valentina for a ride and she accepts and they drive off with the rest of the gang, While driving along the twisty mountain roads they collide with a bus full of scouts on a trip which kills all the bikers and goes off the road killing all the scouts. We see the wheel of the bus go right over Valentina and take her head off. While everyone is grieving Francesco and Gnaghi seems to be happy and Franscesco chats and jokes with Staniero while the scouts sing a song about dying on the boy scout picnic.
This bunch of dead people return a lot faster than usual and so Francesco and Gnaghi are kept busy putting down the zombie scouts. They also have to deal with Claudio’s girlfriend who has heard the rumour that the dead come back to life and she refuses to leave his grave. Claudio was buried with his motorbike and when he returns he does so riding his bike. Francesco can’t manage to shoot him and can’t do anything to stop his girlfriend riding off with him. When he catches up with them Francesco shoots Claudio but the bullet ricochets and kills his girlfriend too. Francesco think he could be in trouble but decides to bury the girl in Claudio’s grave anyway.
When Valentina comes back to life Gnaghi is waiting for her. He frees her head from the coffin and she lets him kiss her. Gnaghi keeps her head inside his broken TV set. Mayor Scanarotti has come to the cemetery with the really pathetic idea of being photographed beside his dead daughter to help him with his election campaign. He’s not very happy when Francesco digs up her body and her head is missing. Then he hears her calling to him and goes into Gnaghi’s room and sees her in the broken TV. Valentina tells he father that she intends to marry Gnaghi and when he objects she flies out of the TV set and bites him on the neck killing him. Francesco then has to put a bullet in her head. Gnaghi is heartbroken but Francesco points out that she was rotting anyway and he needs to find a living woman.
The new Mayor comes to the cemetery to look into a report he has received about the dead coming back but Francesco denies it. That’s when he meets the mayor’s personal assistant who it turns out is She again but as a different woman. She and Francesco fall in love right away. She reveals that she loves him mainly because she has heard that he is impotent and she has a phobia of erect penises and sex. This is a problem because Francesco is not impotent so he goes to Dr Verseci to get his dick cut off. Verseci refuses to do it but gives him a drug that will make him temporarily impotent. It is lucky for Franscesco that he did because the next time Francesco sees her She tells him that the mayor raped her and now She loves sex and is going to marry the mayor but She still loves Francesco a friend.
Francesco goes on a killing spree, first of all knocking off a load of obnoxious young people. Then while driving around two students ask him for a lift and one of them is She as yet another woman. He takes them back to their flat and Francesco falls in love with She again and they have sex. It is only later he discovers that She and her friend are prostitutes. He starts a fire and leaves ignoring the screams and cries of the women.
At the cemetery Staniero comes to see him to tell him about the killings in town. Francesco is a suspect but they have already a man who confessed to the killings at the hospital after trying to kill himself. Francesco is not happy that someone stole his crimes and goes to the hospital. He discovers it is his friend Franco from the council. Francesco shoots a nun a doctor and a nurse dead while talking to his friend. When he leaves the hospital is in chaos because there is a madman killing people. He meets Staniero who sees him with a gun but still fails to make the connection between Francesco and the killings.
Francesco decides he’s had enough and he and Gnaghi pack all their belonging into his car and they head of down the road out of Buffalora and Francesco discovers that his reality was not what he thought at all.
This film is crazy but there is streak of dark humour running through it all. Rupert Everett narrates Francesco’s thoughts throughout the film, including his meditations on the meaning of life death and love. Francesco is never a nice person but I don’t get this modern obsession with creating likeable protagonists. I love this film and I know other people may not. If you like Italian horror or zombie films you may enjoy this too