Francesco Dellamorte (Rupert Everett) is the cemetery caretaker in the small Italian town of Buffalora. He lives in a ramshackle house on the premises, constantly surrounded by death, with only his mentally handicapped assistant Gnaghi (François Hadji-Lazaro) for company. Young punks in town spread gossip that Dellamorte is impotent. His hobbies are reading outdated telephone directories, in which he crosses out the names of the deceased, and trying to assemble a puzzle shaped like a human skull. Gnaghi, whose interests include spaghetti and television, can speak only one word: "Gna."
The Latin inscription over the Buffalora Cemetery gate reads RESURRECTURIS ("For those who will rise again"), and indeed, Dellamorte has had his hands full of late. Some people rise from their graves on the seventh night following their death, reanimated and ready to assault the living. Dellamorte destroys these creatures, who he calls "Returners", before they overrun the town. Buffalora's mayor (Stefano Masciarelli) is so fixated on his campaigning that he seems unable even to hear Dellamorte's pleas for an investigation. In any event, being an outcast in the village and almost illiterate, Dellamorte doesn't want to lose the job. He opens up to his only friend, Franco, a municipal clerk, but doesn't file the paperwork necessary to get assistance: "It's easier just to shoot them."
At a funeral, Dellamorte falls hard and fast in love, with the unnamed young widow (Anna Falchi) of a rich, elderly man. The widow only begins to show an interest when Dellamorte tells her about the ossuary, which she adores. While consummating their relationship by her husband's grave, the husband returns, attacks, and bites her. She seems to die from the bite, but the coroner claims it was a heart attack. Fearing the worst, Dellamorte stays near her corpse, and shoots her when she rises.
Gnaghi becomes infatuated with the mayor's capricious daughter, Valentina (Fabiana Formica). This would seem to end tragically when she is decapitated in a motorcycle accident. Instead, Gnaghi digs up her reanimated head, and an innocent romance begins. The young widow also rises again, causing Dellamorte to believe that she was not really a zombie when he first shot her, in which case it was he who killed her. He plummets into a depression and is visited by the leering figure of Death, who tells him to "Stop killing the dead", asking him why he doesn't shoot the living instead.
Dellamorte encounters two more unnamed women, also played by Falchi. He goes to outrageous ends to be with the first of these, an assistant to the new mayor: when the object of his affection says she is terrified of sexual penetration, Dellamorte pretends that the rumour about his impotence is correct, and visits a doctor to have his penis removed. The doctor talks him out of it, giving him an injection for temporary impotence instead. Meanwhile, the woman has been raped by her employer, and then fallen in love with her rapist, discarding both her phobia and the cemetery man.
His grip on reality slipping, Dellamorte heads into town at night with his revolver, shooting the young men who have made fun of him for years due to his rumored impotence. He meets a third manifestation of the woman he loves, but upon finding out that she is a prostitute, he kills her and two other women by setting their house on fire with a room heater. His friend Franco (Anton Alexander) is accused of these murders after killing his wife and child, and attempts suicide the same night by drinking a bottle of iodine. Dellamorte goes to visit his friend in the hospital, to find out why Franco stole his murders. Sitting by the hospital bed, he casually murders a nun, a nurse, and a doctor. Franco doesn't even recognize him, so even these acts fail to change Dellamorte's situation. He screams out a confession, but is ignored.
Gnaghi and Dellamorte pack up the car, and head for the Buffalora city limits and the mountains beyond. Gnaghi's head is injured when Dellamorte slams on the brakes. They get out of the vehicle and walk to the edge of the road, where it drops into a chasm. Gnaghi begins to seize, and collapses to the ground. Dellamorte, realizing that the rest of the world doesn't exist and fearing that his assistant is dead or dying, loads a gun with two dum-dum bullets to finish them both off. Gnaghi wakes up and drops Dellamorte's gun off the cliff. He then asks to be taken home, speaking clearly. Dellamorte replies: "Gna."Rupert Everett as Francesco Dellamorte
François Hadji-Lazaro as Gnaghi
Anna Falchi as She
Mickey Knox as Marshall Straniero
Anton Alexander as Franco
Fabiana Formica as Valentina Scanarotti
Clive Riche as Dr. Vercesi
Stefano Masciarelli as Mayor Scanarotti
Alessandro Zamattio as Claudio
Katja Anton as Claudio's girlfriend
Barbara Cupisti as Magda
Patrizia Punzo as Claudio's mother
Renato Doris as She's husband
The original title Dellamorte Dellamore is a word play in Italian, della morte (spelled as two separate words) meaning "of death," and dell'amore (again spelled separately) meaning "of love." The whole title could then be translated as "On the Death of Love" or else "About Death, About Love". The protagonist's surname is Dellamorte and towards the end of the film we learn that his mother's maiden name was Dellamore.
American distributor October Films changed its title to Cemetery Man and released it on April 26, 1996.
Rotten Tomatoes, a review aggregator, reports that 63% of 27 surveyed critics gave the film a positive review; the average rating is 6.2/10. Stephen Holden of The New York Times wrote that the film is unconventional but becomes repetitive as Everett dispatches shallow metaphors for fascism. Bob Stephens of The San Francisco Examiner wrote that the film suffers from an uneven tone but "is redeemed by his uncommon visual imagination". Deborah Young of Variety wrote, "A hip, offbeat horror item floating on a bed of dark philosophy, Dellamorte Dellamore is a deceptively easy genre picture with hidden depths." Mick LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle wrote, "It aims high and misses, but it does hold interest with visual flash, wry humor and a couple of sex scenes that can make steam come out of your ears." In more modern reviews, Bloody Disgusting rated it 5/5 stars and called it "one of the greatest cult films of the last twenty years". Joshua Siebalt of Dread Central rated it 4/5 stars and wrote that Soavi's direction and film's humor make it different and memorable.
Director Martin Scorsese called Dellamorte Dellamore one of the best Italian films of the 1990s.
The German distribution company Laser Paradise released the "Red Edition" DVD in 1999.
The Italian DVD company "Medusa" released an uncut version in 2002. This is now out of print.
Anchor Bay Entertainment released the film on R1 DVD in 2006 under the American title Cemetery Man. The release features an anamorphic widescreen transfer, a making-of featurette entitled Death Is Beautiful, a theatrical trailer and an 8-page collector's booklet. This DVD is currently out of print.
In 2011, Cecchi Gori Home Video released a Special Edition Blu-ray version in Italy on their CineKult label. This release also featured a director and writer commentary as well as several making-of documentaries.
The film was also released on DVD by Shameless Screen Entertainment on 27 February 2012. This Region 0 release included a director and writer audio commentary, an exclusive booklet of Alan Jones’ personal on-set memoirs, trailers, photo gallery, and English audio and optional Italian audio with English subtitles.
In January 2011, Fangoria reported that director Michele Soavi was planning a sequel. Soavi planned to shoot the film sometime near the end of 2011 or early 2012. He would produce the film himself and wanted the film to be a great, strong, shocking Italian horror film.