For years Roscoe has been the town undertaker. However, inside his funeral home, he’s been amassing a bloody collection of human souvenirs, which he uses in unspeakable acts of violence and perversion.
Judging a Book by its Cover
– Pretty grim looking cover aside from the necktie/machete which is neat.
Directed by Franco de Steffanino
Starring Joe Spinell, Rebeca Yaron and Patrick Askin
The film opens with a woman’s car breaking down so she hitches a ride with a sketchy biker who unsurprisingly tries to rape her for services rendered. She escapes immediate harm and catches another ride with a stranger in his car. The next scene has her on a mortician’s slab with a slit throat. The next day, the small town’s mayor is finishing up a late meeting and sends his assistant home but she’s stalked by a figure in the shadows who attacks her through a window…after the shower scene of course.
The body of the assistant is dropped off at the town’s undertaker, Roscoe, as the police investigate the strange cause of death. We instantly see how weird Roscoe can be around the bodies while he’s preparing them and how anti-social he is around the living. Roscoe catches his nephew, Nicky, listening in on one of his conversations with the dead but he’s off to school before Roscoe can talk to him.
It just so happens that Nicky’s teacher, Pam, is covering necrophilia in class today and Nicky needs to talk to her about his uncle yet can only make the questions sound like he wants to date her at his uncle’s funeral home. She’s intrigued by the concept but already in a committed relationship so responsibly denies wanting to date a student. Roscoe finds that Nicky’s a liability and gets rid of him along with another body, partially torn that he has to kill his own family. Pam notices Nicky’s disappearance and clues in that maybe Uncle Roscoe is to blame for the rash of killings/disappearances while Roscoe realizes that Nicky probably talked and has to cover up his tracks if he wants to keep up his body collecting.
Joe Spinell plays a terrific mad man; if you’ve watched his work in Maniac and The Last Horror Film, you get a bit of that same character type — the killer with a tortured soul. However, his acting is a bit suspect as he mumbles his lines in several scenes and looks annoyed in others. The film did have issues behind the scenes so maybe they were showing on screen. He’s still better than the rest of the amateur cast though they’re not that bad as far as you’d expect in a typical slasher film.
Any slasher worth watching needs to have a decent amount of blood and The Undertaker doesn’t skimp on the blood-letting. The murderous mortician kills in nasty ways including stabbing a victim through the neck, another in the eyeball from behind the car seat, and driving a machete into another’s skull. Showing an even more twisted edge, he also guts a nude woman he has tied between some trees and shows his softer side as she dies. The film touches on the topic of necrophilia angle but it’s really only alluded to and merely an added to make an evil character all the more creepier. If you really want more than that than I suggest looking up Nekromantik, weirdo.
Story: 5 – A small town’s mortician is also a serial killer who preys on the local women and may have his way with their dead bodies.
Blood: 7 – There’s a nice, juicy mix of violence and blood. Some scenes are fun to watch, some slightly disturbing given the subject matter.
Nudity: 7 – Usually seeing a bunch of nudity in a film is a nice plus but in some cases in this film, you’d rather not see dead boobs on a mutilated body. I’m assuming you’d rather not see it anyway.
Overall: 6 – The Undertaker is a pretty standard slasher in most respects but certainly worth a watch if you can find it.
– The Undertaker was the last leading role for Joe Spinell who died not long after filming had been completed. He apparently had the only copy of the film at the time of his death and it was never officially released until 2010 when film distributor Code Red put out an edited version with some public domain footage added to pad the running time. Distributor Vinegar Syndrome found most of the original negative and released a more complete version of the film in 2016 (this is the version I watched.)
-Although the film’s director is credited as Franco de Steffanino, it was really directed by William Kennedy, Steve Bono, Frank Avianca and Richard E. Brooks.
-The first victim was Joe Spinell’s then girlfriend.