Cemetery Man: A Review

The “Zombie” genre has been around for quite some time. To be fair, “Zombie” movies are really a sub-genre, of a sub-genre. Horror is the genre, Vampires make up a sub-genre, and what is a zombie but another type of vampire? (maybe it’s the other way around: what is a vampire but a sort of zombie?).

Anyway, the genre really got going with George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead. Romero saw the zombies as a metaphor for us, and used the fright film structure to satirize American Society.
Romero took the satire even further with Dawn of the Dead, which pitted consumerist zombies against consumerist survivors in a modern shopping mall.

The Dead Series spawned a third film, Day of the Dead, and the parody Return of the Living Dead, and its sequels.

Dario Argento (who had a connection with Dawn of the Dead) made many low budget, extremely gory zombie flicks in Italy.

Along the way many films have imitated Both Romero and Argento. I contend that movies like Halloween, and Friday the 13th (and their sequels) are members of the zombie community. Think about it, undying, slow moving, implaccable, remorseless killers stagger about and hunt hapless human victims. (I suppose by my logic Jaws also fits, but perhaps that’s taking it a bit far).
So, after all that build up, here’s the first mention of Cemetery Man, the film I’m reviewing.
Cemetery Man is about a grave digger (Rupert Everet, of My Best Friend’s Wedding) who must dispatch the dead, who tend to rise from their graves seven days after being planted. No explanation is given for this phenomenon, nor is one needed.

In the tradition of Zombie movies, the dead are re-killed by a bullet to the head; we would expect no less.

Everet keeps a detached, reserve about him. His reaction to the horror he encounters seems to be annoyance at all the work he has to do. The thought of a bus load of dead children doesn’t shock him, or fill him with sadness, or even rage, it makes him dread all the hard work he will have to do. He is perfectly laconic, and indifferent to human suffering.

He is helped by a mute assistant (Francois Hadji-Lazaro, who was fine in City of Lost Children)
Then things start to change. He falls in love, and this being a zombie movie we can see where it’s going. The moment his love appears we know that she will die, and that he may be forced to deal with the zombie she will become.

However, the film offers the possibility that she doesn’t die, or that she does and the cemetery man loses his mind.

Things are complicated more by the mute assistant falling in love with the severed head of a dead girl (weird, huh? I said most people would hate this movie).

This movie treats the zombie genre like no other film has. Through attitude, and tone it transforms it. Through reaction, it transcends it. It shifts gears more quickly than a NASCAR driver on amphetamine. Like some of the best films of the French New Wave (Shoot the Piano Player, Breathless) it moves effortlessly from funny, to macabre, to sad and back around again.

Whereas Romero made zombies scary, comic, pitiful, and human, this film mostly forgets them. The zombies are much less important than our strange grave digger, and his, at times belated, reactions to them.

Cemetery Man is a strange, distant, cold movie. It inverts a well-worn genre, and in the process creates something new and interesting.