The Undertake (1988) is underwhelming

Whilst this 1988 film has nothing to do with the most successful persona of Mark Calloway, of the great wrestlers of all time, it does have a lot of the hallmarks of professional wrestling of this era. Bad acting, weak camera, incredibly cheap tricks, a near-incomprehensible plotline, and the audience constantly having to work to maintain the willful suspension of disbelief are all on show here. The end result is something that is utterly unenjoyable as intended, and only marginally fun as a beguiling slice of bad cinema.

The basics of it are very basic. Joe Spinell is the titular character, who runs and funeral home and goes around killing people. Mostly it’s women and mostly it’s in unpleasantly quasi-sexual manners. The reasons for this are either because he was born bad, or because he’s being possessed by a horror movie, or because he needs the cash. Over the course of the movie, he mostly looks dodgy as hell, mumbles drunkenly, and sweats a lot.

The film-within-the-film is better than the actual movie, so it features in the trailer

Oh yeah, and all those murders we talked about. These turn up about every 10 minutes and are overly-staged attempts at Giallo, with a mixed bag of results. Mostly the ideas are more effective than the execution, especially when there is obviously speed-up footage involved, and you’ll end up going “eeeewww” before chuckling at the ineptitude. By what in most films would be the final act (this movie isn’t big on conventional concepts of storytelling) they feel like a contractual obligation, only adding to the snarkable content.

“Mrs Robinson, are you trying to seduce me?”

The victims are mostly young students from the local university, and who all just happen to be in the Necrophilia 101 class. They’re keen on sex, pretty attractive, and have the basic acting skills that meant we speculated this was co-shot with a porno. They’re well versed in ignoring the blindingly obvious, willfully walking into obvious traps, and screaming with their boobs out that the core audience of people who aren’t sure if they want to kill or kiss them will be conflictingly aroused throughout. I can’t remember any specifics of the individuals, but then the script treated them as interchangeable lumps of flesh to be violated so it’s not surprising. However, unlike Spinell, the undercard cast all do appear to be trying their hardest.

“You need to leave now… I must do terrible things…”

The rest of the film is inept filler material, with a lot of nods to trying to make the film look bigger than it is. One of the tricks it loves to use is the foley track to find the lack of cast. This just about works when they make a single person at a desk appear to be in an office, by putting them in a corner, tightly framing the shot, and then playing non-specific hubbub sounds. Far less successfully is when they choose a one-shot set up the main victims walking through a courtyard to simulate a busy uni campus, and play the sounds of a whole American Football match over the visual after the characters have gone. There are also a range of long parking and driving away sequences, which are always the hallmark of quality time padding.

“And then I said “Did I leave the gas on?” “

The film was a “lost movie”, having never had a cinematic release and only coming out as a bootleg in 2010. Whilst people are free to speculate why this was, the fact that it’s absolute Trash suggests it’ was because the producers decided to cut their losses rather than fear of releasing something that could undermine the very fabric of society. It has few, if any, redeeming features and manages to feel 10 years older than it actually is. It’s bad due to an outright lack of effort from the producers, and no amount of youthful optimism from the newcomers cast can get around that.

The Raggedyman

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