The Undertaker (1988) Review

undertakerUncle Roscoe (Joe Spinell) is a small town undertaker who loves his work and his customers, literally.  Roscoe is a necrophiliac who turns his female victims into brides while male victims become members of the wedding party.  When Nick (Patrick Askin) discovers his uncle’s dark secret he alerts teacher Pam Hayes (Rebecca Varon, or Yaron depending on the source), which puts them on Roscoe’s hit list.  A cop (writer/director Will Kennedy) and a bumbling security guard are also on Roscoe’s trail.  But Uncle Roscoe has a few tricks up his sleeve and plenty of room in his secret cellar for anyone trying to stop his unholy lust for cold flesh.

Joe Spinell’s final performance in The Undertaker is sad, shocking, terrifying, and amazing.  It’s tough watching the great Joe Spinell stagger through scenes, read his lines from the script on his desk, and glare into the camera whenever he thinks a scene should end.  At times his speech is so slurred that it makes his dialogue damn near unintelligible.  Joe’s performance really comes alive during the second half of the movie.  Just when you think there’s no way Uncle Roscoe can get any crazier, Spinell descends to a whole new level of madness.  With his wild eyes and psychotic laugh, Joe Spinell becomes a chilling portrait of pure insanity during the final showdown with Rebecca Varon.

There are several gory kills to wet the appetites of blood-thirsty slasher fans;  decapitation, disembowelment, an eye gouged out, throats slit and ripped, and a face shoved into a frying pan.  Some of the kill scenes are blunted by bizarre editing but it doesn’t distract from the overall impression  the movie is a real bloodbath.  The sleaze factor really gets cranked up to eleven when Joe or stand-in Will Kennedy fondles the corpses.  Flesh fiends who prefer their women above room temperature will be satisfied with the copious amounts of nudity provided by living characters.

The Undertaker’s biggest flaw is the crazy editing which is so shoddy that it makes one think the film was never finished.  Some scenes are blink-and-you-missed-them short while others drag out long after the actors have finished.  There are several instances were a scene is suddenly interrupted by unrelated footage for no apparent reason.  A couple of kills are played on fast forward accompanied by Joe Spinell’s dubbed in laugh.  In its existing form, The Undertaker is a mess but the film could be saved if the surviving footage was re-edited.  There is an interesting story lurking among the jumbled scenes and garbled dialogue.

Currently, The Undertaker is considered a lost slasher but it has the right ingredients to become a cult classic if it ever gets an official release.  Joe Spinell’s amazing performance in his final slasher film is the best reason to search for the footage.  Also, The Undertaker has a strange sort of low budget, grind-house charm.  There is a rumor The Undertaker will receive an official release in the next year or two.  Hopefully, those rumors are true because Joe Spinell’s last slasher shouldn’t stay lost forever.

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5 Responses to “ The Undertaker (1988) Review ”

  1. oh Thank God, YES!!!!! THEY BETTER BE SERIOUS WITH THAT RELEASE!!!!

  2. That’s fabulous news!! I love Spinell in all his sweaty sleazyness, and this could out sleaze Maniac!

  3. I Read On Codereddvds Website Its Being Released On Dvd In October

  4. October huh?

    Is that 2014 or 2015? ;)

  5. [...] his review of The Undertaker, Thomas Ellison exposed at length the patchy editing of what seemed to be an unfinished movie. His [...]

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