by RICHARD WINTERS
The film opens with a cemetery worker (Rupert Everett) talking on the phone with a friend. He hears a knock at the door and when he answers it he sees a man with bluish, decayed skin ready to attack him. The worker calmly takes out a gun, shoots the man in the head, and then just as calmly goes back to talking on the phone like nothing happened. Thus begins this very quirky horror comedy that is a send-up of all those old zombie movies and has acquired a cult following. It was filmed in Italy and is based on the popular Italian comic book “Dylan Dog” by Tiziano Sclavi.
The initial premise is fun. The protagonist is Francesco Dellamorte, who with his mute and mentally-challenged assistant named Gnaghi (Francois Hadji-Lazaro), is stuck running a cemetery in a small Italian town where the dead routinely come back to life. It is then up to them to shoot the zombies in the head, which will kill them permanently. This starts a wild array of crazy scenarios that become increasingly bizarre as the film progresses.
Initially I found it to be inventive. The tongue-in-check humor is first-rate as is the snappy dialogue. The film though starts to bite off more than it can chew. All sorts of weird storylines get thrown in, but are never resolved. After about the first hour it no longer made any sense. For instance, there is Francesco’s girlfriend named She (Anna Falchi), who he accidentally kills at the beginning, but then she keeps getting reincarnated as different women throughout the rest of the film. For various reasons Francesco is forced to kill her in different ways all over again, which eventually becomes tiresome. This is only one of the many convoluted, surreal elements that eventually overwhelm the viewer. By the end I was more than happy that it was over and really no longer cared what happened to the characters.
It was frustrating because there were a lot of cool ideas that the film brings up, but drops without explanation. I thought the original idea was good enough that the film could have stuck with that and built around it without going off on so many tangents. The special effects were a problem as well as they looked cheap and fake. It was obvious when they were using mannequins and the blood and gore were thrown in haphazardly.
I did however like the pacing, which moves quickly with no letup. The set designs are imaginative and the dark humor is consistently funny. If I would suggest this movie for any reason it would be that one. Even when the story was getting annoyingly out-of-control it still had me chuckling. The best scene involves Francesco talking to a sick friend in the hospital and when anyone from the hospital staff tries to intervene he shoots them and this creates a memorably macabre image as the room gets filled up with bodies and blood everywhere.
I also liked the character of Gnaghi, who tends to grow on you and becomes a real scene stealer. He is short, fat and bald and looks like a young version of Uncle Fester from “The Adams Family.” He speaks only through grunts, but the way he responds to things is quite amusing and the director comes up with clever ways to make the most of it. The fact that he was played by a rock musician and not a professional actor makes it more interesting. The part where he falls in love with one of the corpses and wants to marry her is hilarious and should have been played out more.
I liked the character of Francesco at the beginning as well. He comes off like a rugged cowboy from the Old West with a nifty matter-of-fact attitude towards his job and is cool under pressure. However, his behavior and actions become erratic and his motivations confusing until, by the end, he is almost alienating. There are also too many segments where he gets caught off guard by an attacking zombie and panics when he does not have his gun handy, which hurts the credibility since someone who has been doing this for a long time and is as savvy as he is portrayed would learn to expect the unexpected and be prepared at all times for it.
This film was a disappointment because it is very creative and the direction by Michele Soavi is slick. Unfortunately it just could not sustain its potential, which makes it a misfire. The film did quite poorly with both the critics and viewing public when it was first released both in Europe and in the states. It was only after being hailed by director Martin Scorsese that it started to find new life in the DVD market. Actor Everett was in talks with American studios to do a big-budget Hollywood remake, but it fell through. A remake would not be a bad idea and may still happen as the horror-dark comedy genre has proven to be profitable in recent years most notably with Zombieland. A tighter script and more money on the special effects could make this a winner.