The Undertaker (1988)


Robert Forster reminds viewers that this is Joe Spinell’s last starring role prior to the film.  Joe Spinell makes his way through the film in a drunken and drug addled haze spitting his lines with seeming disdain and minimal coherency.  His untimely death played a major role in this film’s abandonment and it’s resultant resurrection in an unfinished state.  Truthfully, there is no amount of finishing that would put this film in the category of MANIAC or THE LAST HORROR SHOW.  THE UNDERTAKER is not a good movie and it borders on incomprehensibility much of the time but it does have is own weird charm.  The movie is made with obvious heart and an odd respect for older horror films but little knowledge of basic story structure.

The opening scene leaves no doubt this film is firmly routed in the 80’s, albeit the late 80’s.  Case in point, several buffed and baked sports bra sporting babes with hair of varying sizes perform their workout routine with an odd music video intercut.  The original title THE DEATH MERCHANT appears on a VHS tape and then placed in a VCR.  It seems to be business as usual in this little New Jersey town.  Uncle Roscoe (Joe Spinell) heads into the city to watch THE CORPSE VANISHES yet again.  I guess Bela Lugosi just happens to head the hot ticket in town…or else no one will sue them for using it since it’s PD… anyhow.  Nicky (Patrick Askin) goes to meet his Uncle Roscoe but he hears something weird as he listens outside the door to the laboratory.  Roscoe is talking to the latest corpse to turn up at the funeral parlor and creeps Nick out.  Luckily it’s necrophilia day in sex-ed class and he tries to explain it to Miss Hayes (Rebeca Yaron) because he is sure she will understand.  She doesn’t have any idea what the shit is going on other than Nick is creepy.  He is finally able to convince her to go to the funeral home and I’m not sure if anything actually happens…they run off and he goes missing.

I would say that when Nick and Miss Hayes escape is when the film loses the narrative thread but that would be lying.  Spinell loves his long-winded meandering monologues that may or may not make sense and there are a few of these strung together, briefly separated by odd or nonsensical scenes.  The biker attack, Roscoe leaning against the back of his car, Roscoe showing Nick how to sex up a corpse at a tender young age, the list goes on.  The film is thrown together with poor editing and there is a ton of padding.  Perhaps Spinell’s failing health led to the reliance on using the same scenes and public domain film footage.  The heaping helping of missing people eventually lead Miss Hayes, her friend, Nick, and the police to Roscoe’s door where he chews scenery, blows snot and tears hell through this cluster of a movie.  The ending is a hoot though you may not enjoy the journey.

The acting is godawful with Joe Spinell being the only professional among the cast.  He spouts nonsense throughout the film as he sneers at those playing opposite his Roscoe.  The only earnest word he utters as far as I can tell is repeated ad nauseam throughout the film.  Joe Spinell says “moron” as often as Gary Busey says “butthorn” in BULLETPROOF.  Though it seems he may in fact only say it once and it is dubbed in fifty times in post.  I bet the filmmakers thought, “Wow!  He just nailed it!” The flick has more padding than a flat chested sixteen year-old on prom night.  For fuck’s sake how much film is there?  There’s a lot of aerobics going on (not bad), a horrible rock video, and scenes from THE CORPSE VANISHES, THE TERROR, and AFRICA SCREAMS.  Throw in the reused shots from the feature itself and there is maybe half an hour going on here.  The film had some promise.  The story, if handled well, would be quite intriguing, they had a bankable genre actor, they just lacked a budget, technical know-how and the ability to tell a cogent story.  This one is for die hard fans of Joe Spinell, Code Red, or bad horror.

Forced trailer for FAMILY HONOR.  Other trailers are accessible through the menu.  They are NIGHTMARE, THE CARRIER, THE VISITOR, SLITHIS, and HORROR HIGH.  The special feature is an interview with Robert Forster and his daughter Kate remembering Joe Spinell.  THE UNDERTAKER is available from Code Red’s Big Cartel webshop in a limited quantity.

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