Cemetery Man was quite simply too complex for the teenage version of myself to handle. It is a horror comedy that traverses over genres, themes, ideas and various sub-textual concepts. To be honest, I am still not as well versed in film theory as I should be and there are writers out there who could break this film down far better than I could but I will go ahead and give my best at explaining what draws me to Cemetery Man. The first thing that really strikes you about the movie is going to be the aesthetic beauty of it, there is no question about that. From the very opening shot where Soavi somehow manages this beautiful tracking/zoom shot that comes directly out of the eye socket of a skull sitting on Francesco’s desk, you know almost everything you could possibly need to know about this film: There is a fascination with death, man coming to grips with his own mortality, this will be a clever story and it will be a visually enlightening film. You can literally gather all of that from the first shot of the movie and then we follow this deathly beauty up with a very abrupt and comedic turn as Francesco, in a very nonchalant sort of way, interrupts a phone conversation he is having by shooting a zombie that had been knocking at the door. This is a horror comedy, but there is a certain amount of serious soul searching going on here as we identify with this character of Francesco who has ultimately come to rationalize no difference between life and death.
Cemetery Man teeters between the world of life and death and it at first dances between the world of reality and fantasy, before fully letting go and being engulfed in a world of impossibilities and strange interactions. Gothic architecture abounds, as we take in this exciting and strange world that Soavi manages to create around us. I simply love the set design and amazing cinematography that comes up throughout. The cemetery itself is lit at night with orange glowing candles that really don’t make much sense in a logical frame of mind, but it radiates a sort of brooding beauty. The crypt that Francesco and Gnaghi share for living quarters makes for something rather disgusting in a visual sense, but it helps bring about that feeling of isolation that these characters have endured upon themselves. Francesco himself isolates his entire world to this graveyard as he never questions what is happening around him and simply accepts. However, when he discovers love, and life along with it, he starts to let the questions flow through him as he begins to question his reality and what is taking place around him.
We identify with Francesco, we understand his plight and we enjoy his company because of how entertaining he is but his character is a haunted man. I do not think that Soavi hopes for audiences to identify with Francesco’s ideals, but instead that we realize the differences between life over death and instead choose not to close ourselves off from the world. Soavi does a fine job in handling all of these questions and ideas and never once boldly proclaims any answers, so that the film remains ambiguous enough that audiences can interpret it via their own feelings. Speaking of Michele Soavi, when you look over the films he is best known for you have to admit that Cemetery Man sticks out like a sore thumb. Without question it is his best film and certainly the best Italian film of the nineties that I have seen, but the drastic change and maturity he showed with this feature in retrospect of his other work (such as Stage Fright or The Church) is pretty amazing.