Dylan Dog Double Feature: CEMETERY MAN (1994) and DYLAN DOG: DEAD OF NIGHT (2010)

Review by LL Soares

This time, I wanted to compare two films based on characters created by Tiziano Sclavi. One, CEMETERY MAN (1994, aka DELLAMORTE DELLAMORE) stars Rupert Everett as Francesco Dellamorte, and is based on an early story about the character who would become known as Dylan Dog, and DYLAN DOG: DEAD OF NIGHT (2010), starring one-time Superman Brandon Routh in the title role. For a long time, I’d heard that both movies were based on the Italian “Dylan Dog” comic books, about a paranormal detective, but I haven’t read the source material. They are, however, very different films.

I remember seeing CEMETERY MAN (1994) back in the 90s on VHS, and having mixed reactions about it. It was very atmospheric and had a lot going on for it, but it also had the common problem of Italian horror movies, that some of the script didn’t make a lot of sense or was confusing.

I wanted to see it again and give it a second chance. This involved buying it on Amazon used, since the DVD, released from Anchor Bay in 2006, seems to be out of print, and is only available from third party sellers. It was on my “Keep An Eye On It” list for a long time before I was finally able to find a copy that wasn’t overpriced. For anyone reading this who has influence with distributors, this would be a terrific movie to reissue in a special edition, since it’s been neglected for so long. I’m not sure if the problems have been in legal rights, or just overall neglect, but this movie should at least be in print and on Blu-ray.

In the 90s, Rupert Everett seemed to be becoming a big name star. Before CEMETERY MAN, Everett was probably best known for appearing in the TV mini-series THE FAR PAVILIONS (1984) and in movies like THE COMFORT OF STRANGERS (1990, based on the novel by Ian McEwan) and the comedy INSIDE MONKEY ZETTERLAND (1992). After CEMETERY MAN, he was in movies like THE MADNESS OF KING GOERGE (1994), the Julia Roberts rom-com MY BEST FRIEND’S WEDDING (1997) and the thriller B. MONKEY (1998), starring Asia Argento. I don’t know if he ever really became a star (or, rather, how well known he is) but he has appeared in a lot of things since.

In CEMETERY MAN, he plays the man in charge of upkeep for an old cemetery in Italy, named Francesco Dellamorte—supposedly an alias that Dylan Dog occasionally used in comics, although here he is not a detective.  I’m guessing that this story takes place before he becomes the detective character made famous in the comic books.

Anyway, back to the cemetery. It has a problem—the recently deceased keep coming back to life.

Francesco lives in a little crypt-like building in the middle of the graveyard, with his mentally-challenged assistant, Gnaghi (Francois Jadji-Lazaro), who talks mostly in grunts, living in the basement below. When bodies rise again, Francesco simply kills them a second time with whatever’s handy, usually a gun which he uses to shoot the zombies in the head, or a shovel if it happens to be nearby. It’s all very matter-of-fact, because it happens all the time and Francesco is used to it. He doesn’t see much chance for change, because he has complained to the local government and they don’t believe him. He doesn’t simply quit, because he needs the job, and I guess killing zombies doesn’t seem too difficult.

Two recent corpses change the cemetery man and his assistant in a major way.

First, there is the very striking Italian actress and model Anna Falchi, who’s character is simply called “She” in the credits. Her husband, a rich older man who she greatly loved, has just died. Francesco is attracted to her right away, when he sees her at the funeral, but she shows no interest in his advances. She says her husband was a wonderful lover and no one would be able to compare to him (that’s a pretty graphic thing to tell a stranger, but okay). Francesco is determined to win her over, and eventually does by showing her an ossuary on the grounds (it’s like a crypt full of skeletons and decaying corpses that are just allowed to rot all together in the same room). When he shows it to her, she is immediately aroused. But when they make love later, on top of her husband’s grave, the deceased husband rises from the earth, and has to be put back down. Before that can happen, he bites “She” and she dies soon afterwards. This devastates Francesco. It is even worse when he has to kill her a second time, after her funeral.

Second, there’s the daughter of the mayor, Valentina Scanarotti (Fabiana Formica), a young girl who catches Gnaghi’s eye. In fact, he’s so overwhelmed by her that the first time they meet, he vomits on her (what a way to get someone’s attention!). When she dies in a motorcycle accident and is decapitated, Gnaghi brings her reanimated head to his cellar room to keep him company. They even plan to marry! But, of course, things go sadly wrong.

The zombies here are a mix of flesh-eaters and more sentient types (one guy, Claudio, is buried with his motorcycle and is able to continue riding it after he reanimated). But all have to be put back in the earth where they belong.

One of the aspects that were confusing here includes a sequence where Francesco, who has loved a girl who rose from the dead, decides that he must kill the living after meeting the Grim Reaper one night. He proceeds to murder a group of bikers who have been mocking him. He is not arrested for the crime, and it’s not really clear why he gets this hatred of the living.

Despite its more puzzling aspects, I liked CEMETERY MAN a lot. It holds up well, and I’m glad I watched it again. Rupert Everett is very good in the lead, the cast is good, and Anna Falchi is suitably striking. The direction, by Michele Soavi, who also gave us THE CHURCH (1989), is effective and atmospheric, and the moments of gallows humor interspersed throughout work rather well. Most of the comic relief is thanks to poor Gnaghi. The script is by Gianni Romoli (who also wrote 20 CIGARETTES, 2010), based on a novel by Tiziano Sclavi. Definitely worth checking out.

****

In comparison, we have DYLAN DOG: DEAD OF NIGHT from 2010, which resurrects the Dylan Dog character, this time living in America (Louisiana to be precise). He’s a detective from the get-go here, and one who specializes in supernatural cases. Brandon Routh, who comes off playing Superman in the underrated SUPERMAN RETURNS (2006), plays him as a kind of nerdy eccentric. He gets involved in a murder case that involves werewolves, a sect of gangster-like vampires, and zombies. In this story, some people just happen to come back from the dead, and his assistant this time, Marcus (Sam Huntington) finds himself reanimated, but he’s not a flesh-eating creature, he’s the comic relief in this one. In fact, there’s a whole underground network of zombies here that deal in body parts: when one of your limbs or organs rot away, you can buy new ones in an underground market.

The other characters include the woman who hires Dylan for the case, Elizabeth (Anita Briem), who has secrets of her own; Vargas (Taye Diggs), a local vampire who wants to be the kingpin of this town; and Wolfgang (Kurt Angle), who wants to lead the werewolves after his father, Gabriel (Peter Stormare) is eliminated.

DYLAN DOG might have been Brandon Routh’s chance at leading another comic book franchise after the Superman job didn’t work out, but it’s a pretty weak film. It’s full of clichés and stupid jokes, and the storyline, involving everyone trying to get ahold of an ancient artifact, is pretty lame. Routh tries to be both mysterious and funny, but he just comes off as bland. In fact, the whole enterprise is rather bland, and there’s nothing much to recommend this movie. It’s just forgettable. Even more so, when compared to the much more ambitious CEMETERY MAN.

DYLAND DOG: DEAD OF NIGHT was directed by Kevin Munroe, who also directed the Teenage Mutant Ninja movie called TMNT (2007) and the animated film RATCHET & CLANK (2016). It’s written by Thomas Dean Donnelly and Joshua Oppenheimer (they both also wrote the Jason Momoa version of CONAN THE BARBARIAN, 2011), based on Tiziano Sclavi’s comic book series (there’s even a vampire in the movie called Sclavi).

So, CEMETERY MAN is worth looking for, and really deserves a deluxe reissue on Blu-ray. And DYLAN DOG: DEAD OF NIGHT isn’t worth your time, and probably deserves to be forgotten.

© Copyright 2019 by LL Soares

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