Monday, June 21, 2010

The Undertaker and his Pals (1966)

Directed by TLP Swicegood
Starring Ray Dannis, Sally Frei, Karen Ciral, Dodie Warren

"Do you ever think, when the hearse rolls by..."

It's the perfect crime, really. Doc, an amateur surgeon, Spike, the owner of a greasy spoon diner (which, by the way, is actually called "The Greasy Spoon") and a crooked mortician named - naturally - Mort (Ray Dannis, RIP), dress up in ghoulish black leather outfits, complete with helmets and goggles, and zip around town on motorcycles, snatching up young women. After mauling and murdering them, the cook takes a few choice parts to serve up the next day, while Mort rifles through their ID, sniffs out their nearest relatives, and hits them up for funeral expenses. Of course, the fact that all the women have food-related surnames (Sally Lamb, Ann Poultry, etc) should make it easy to figure out what's what, especially since the pun-loving cook names his daily specials after whatever dame he's just iced (Leg of "lamb", anyone?), but the local fuzz aren't as on the ball as they could be.

The undertaker and his pals continue their citywide murder spree, chopping up local detective Harry Glass's (Rad Fulton)  secretary, Friday (that's right, his 'Girl Friday' is actually named Friday), and turning her into hamburger.

Harry decides to snoop around, and he is soon joined by Friday's twin sister, Thursday (dunno who the actress potraying the double-role is, but...hubba hubba!), and together, they not only figure out who's responsible for the citywide wave of female murder and mutilation, but they decide to take the homicidal bikers down themselves.

Luckily for them, the bumbling trio has already succumbed to in-fighting. The cook gets dipped in acid, the surgeon paints the highway red with his own blood and leather, and the undertaker...well, let's just say he may soon require his own services.

A pitch-black comedy filled with gore, gags, and girls, The Undertaker and his Pals is a must-see for both boner-cinema enthusiasts and proto-splatter scholars. While nobody gets naked and the gore is mostly mannequin parts and meaty splotches of ketchup, the overall vibe is so anything-goes that it feels like a full-bore dip into graphic exploitation. Originally part of a gleefully obnoxious drive-in triple-feature curated by Ted V Mikels - Mikels' own Corpse Grinders toplined the bill - Undertaker is one of the weirdest exploito-quickies of the era, a balls-out orgy of wince-worthy comic routines, over-amped "acting", kitchen sink splatter, and sexy 60's chicks. Clearly influenced by Blood Feast, mysterious director TLP Swicegood uses all of HG Lewis's gross-out tricks - including spliced in surgery shots - and adds a welcome sense of self-aware gallows humor into the mix.

Interestingly, all the gory moments in the film are clearly edited down - reportedly by Mikels prior to the theatrical run -  and every version currently floating around on DVD - and since the film's been in public domain for decades, there's a lot of them - appear to be from the same 60-ish minute print.  So there's a good chance that Undertaker, in it's original form, is a lot more explicit. Unfortunately, that version may no longer even exist. Still, even in its truncated form, this is still great fun, a sort of punk rock take on the Famous Monsters "monster kid" culture of the mid 60's. It's also got a great end-title tune ("I cut in, I cut up, I cut out"), and a bopping jazz soundtrack. Well worth the buck it'll cost you to snap this one up.

- Ken McIntyre 

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