Joe 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.