Part schlocky horror, part aerobics video and part THE CORPSE VANISHES (literally one fifth of the movie is comprised of scenes from the Bela Lugosi picture), THE UNDERTAKER is an uncompleted film that someone attempted to finish and failed. Known mainly for being Joe Spinell's final lead performance before his untimely death in 1989, the picture is a mishmash of non-sequential cuts and uninteresting padding that adds up to 83 minutes of pure bewilderment.
What’s an undertaker to do when business is slow? Sit around praying for a pandemic. Not if you’re Roscoe (Joe Spinell, MANIAC) you don’t. When his mortuary finds itself with shelf space to spare, Roscoe decides to take the proactive approach and heads into the field to drum up business. Following young and attractive women home at night, Roscoe focuses his efforts on a very specific clientele, some of which he kills by slitting their throats, others by drugging so that their death appears to be from a stroke. Either way it means more work for him and Hazel (Martha Schoeman), his senile old mother, or wife; the picture isn’t very clear on this. Truthfully the picture isn’t very clear on a lot of things, like, what in the Hell is going on?!
It isn’t long before Roscoe’s unorthodox business practices begin to get out of hand and the growing pile of dead bodies catches the eye of his nephew, Nick (Patrick Askin). Nick is pretty sure his Uncle is up to something but needs an expert opinion to validate his concerns. Looking for help, Nick pesters Mrs. Hayes (Rebeca Yaron), one of his professors who just so happens to be teaching a class on necrophilia, into accompanying him to his Uncle's laboratory. After convincing Mrs. Hayes that he isn't trying to get into her pants, Nick and his teacher sneak into Roscoe’s basement in an attempt to uncover who or what it is that his Uncle has been whispering sweet nothings to at night. Before they can find anything however they are quickly chased away by Hazel, raising the questions, why is this scene even necessary?
I found myself asking this question repeatedly throughout THE UNDERTAKER as the majority of the picture is nothing more than filler, no doubt included to prolong its runninh time and add padding to what would otherwise be a short film – the picture would have probably played better as such. Take for instance the opening which features footage of a pixilated rock video intercut with clips of aerobic routines. The aerobic scenes relate somewhat to the picture in that the apparent all-female faculty of the local school spends their nights either making love or working out. The excruciatingly bad rock footage however has nothing to do with anything. Perhaps the picture's strangest and most blatant use of padding is its frequent cuts to footage from Bela Lugosi’s THE CORPSE VANISHES. Clips from Boris Karloff’s THE TERROR and Ronald Reagan’s BEDTIME FOR BONZO also show up. It’s possible that the filmmakers were trying to make a comparison to Roscoe’s character and that of Dr. Lorenz but it’s more likely that such clips were used because they are in the public domain and provided a quick and convenient way to stretch the picture past the sixty minute mark. Not withstanding its abrupt and absurd ending, THE UNDERTAKER's biggest problem is its haphazard editing, which feels completely random. Scenes are seemingly juxtaposed without any apparent rhyme or reason with clips often repeated, cut prematurely or allowed to run on for far too long. Those who enjoy the alternative comedy of Tim and Eric ("Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!") may actually come to treasure this release as the picture plays similar to one of their public access style sketches.
Baring the title DEATH MERCHANT, Code Red presents THE UNDERTAKER full frame and with little fanfare. Quality is on par with an unloved VHS tape as sporadic tape rolls and odd waves of discoloration pop up frequently. Audio is an equal mess; with levels so unbalanced they will drain the life right out of your remote batteries from having to adjust the volume so frequently. Extras include a brief four minute interview with Robert Forster and his daughter, Kate. Both discuss their time working with Joe on HOLLYWOOD HARRY and the subsequent wrap party for which thankfully there were no cameras present. Robert also provides a brief introduction to the picture. A collection of Code Red trailers, including NIGHTMARE, THE CARRIER (which I highly recommend checking out), THE VISITOR, SLITHIS and HORROR HIGH top off this release. (Jason McElreath)
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