The Undertaker (1988): Joe Spinell’s Lost Slasher

undertakerJoe Spinell, the man who drove feminists and movie critics insane with his performance in Maniac, was working on three slasher films (Lone Star Maniac, Maniac 2: Mr. Robbie, and The Undertaker) shortly before his death in 1989. Maniac 2: Mr. Robbie was never completed beyond a few promotional scenes and Lone Star Maniac for Tom Rainone was announced but Spinell died before shooting began. Spinell lived long enough to finish The Undertaker but the film was never officially released in the United States. Producers sold the film to Double Helix Films, which managed to release the film in foreign markets before going out of business.

According to Michael Weldon’s review for The Undertaker in The Psychotronic Video Guide, Spinell plays Uncle Roscoe “an undertaker in a religious cult” who “kills people to stay immortal and buries the bodies for profit”. That’s pretty much it for the plot synopsis and Weldon spends the rest of the review discussing Spinell’s career and mentioning two other films released after his death. Franco Steffanino is listed as director and William Kennedy is listed as screenwriter. One has to read the brief review for Operation War Zone to learn The Undertaker was never released.

The best source for information about Spinell’s last slasher film can be found in Steven Puchalski’s article “Digging Up the Undertaker” in Fangoria #229. Puchalski claims the only version of The Undertaker in existence is a rough cut passed around by Spinell’s old drinking buddies. It’s also revealed chances of an official release are slim because the film rights are lost due to the death of one producer and the disappearance of the other. As for the film itself, the article fleshes out the plot (Uncle Roscoe keeps the corpses of his female victims for personal use), plays up the nasty gore (handled by Arnold Gargiulo II), and describes the numerous scenes involving stand-ins for Spinell (Joe was pretty much wasted on booze and drugs during the shoot). Also mentioned in the article is a behind-the-scenes video shot by Spinell during the making of The Undertaker. One of Joe’s pals claims it was nothing more than Spinell getting drunk and busting the balls of his co-stars. The tape went missing after Spinell’s death.

As a slasher fan I know lost slashers don’t always stay lost. As a Joe Spinell fan I hope his final slasher gets an official release with lots of extras, a couple of commentary tracks, and the behind-the-scenes footage shot by Spinell. Considering Joe’s connection with William Lustig (Joe saved him from a career of directing porn) and Sage Stallone (Joe’s godson), it would be fitting if Blue Underground or Grindhouse Releasing released the film on dvd. Even without an official release I wouldn’t be surprised to see The Undertaker pop up on one of those shady “50 Scary Movies” packs that seem to lurk in the horror sections of name brand electronic stores.

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17 Responses to “ The Undertaker (1988): Joe Spinell’s Lost Slasher ”

  1. Quote:

    “It’s also revealed chances of an official release are slim because the film rights are lost due to the death of one producer and the disappearance of the other.”

    That seems a little sketchy. Didn’t this have a VHS release? I remember seeing a VHS at a flea market ages ago.

    -RHR

  2. I’d love to see this. Spinnel was magnetic. Sleazy as hell, but I could never take my eyes off of him!

  3. I never heard of this before I read the Fango article. It drives me crazy that a fairly recent can be “lost”. Where are the Double Helix prints?

  4. I vaguely remember a VHS of this at a Chiller Theatre convention in NJ but didn’t but it. If I see it @ the April 2010 show I’ll surely grab a copy.

  5. BUY rather.

  6. There’s a copy on ebay auction ending in 3 days.

  7. So if there is a VHS out there, and it was released to foreign markets, there should be a print to master it from. As far as the rights, if all involved are dead, the rights should revert to Double Helix, or be in public domain. Someone should investigate this further…..

  8. I did get in contact with someone who knows a thing or two about Double Helix Films in an attempt to find out about the rights to The Undertaker. My source informed me there is a company claiming to have the rights to the film, but no formal announcement has been made yet. I trust my source but the company in question has a habit of claiming the rights to long lost films but never seem to release them on dvd.

    There are bootleg copies of The Undertaker floating around the States but I don’t know if these are taken from the version released to foriegn markets or from the rough cut copy Sal Sirchia, Spinell’s friend, got from editor Lorenzo Marinelli. Sirchia could make a career out of selling copies of his tape at horror conventions.

  9. Code Red owns the rights to this…

  10. Then it will never see the light of day!!

  11. ^^^LMAO, so true

    Didn’t the Fango article mention airings on some HD network? I’m guessing they weren’t showing the workprint so if anyone knows what network they were referring to then whoever runs it must know where the print came from.

  12. If I could go off topic for a sec. A blog back in April mentioned a new forum. Is that still a possibility or was it abandoned :?

  13. “My source informed me there is a company claiming to have the rights to the film, but no formal announcement has been made yet. I trust my source but the company in question has a habit of claiming the rights to long lost films but never seem to release them on dvd”

    Well, I released 13 films for 2009 and the sales was terrible.

    If this so-called company has the signed contract, has material, but you are questioning them. Maybe it’s best they sit on it and walk away.

  14. Well, maybe you should release movies that you know are gonna sell well (yes, I’m thinking of Nightmare, Night Warning, The Mutilator and Rituals).

  15. I Agree With Richard On Those Horror Classics.

    They Need To Release These Classic HORROR FLICKS As Well

    1. CURTAINS
    2. DEATH VALLEY
    3. NEW YEARS EVIL
    4. THE OUTING
    5. THE VIDEO DEAD

    And Probably Alot More I Missed

  16. Having seen the bootleg I can say it’s not a very good movie, there’s plenty of nasty plot elements and some good gore, but the script and acting are awful.

    The film is also floating around on various torrent sites, (my apologies if mentioning torrenting is against the rules), so it is available to that extent…

  17. This shows real exrpitese. Thanks for the answer.

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