About the Author: You can read the music and film criticisms of R.D Francis on Medium and learn more about his rock ‘n’ roll biographies, along with horror and sci-fi novellas, on Facebook. He also writes for B&S Movies.
Are you in the mood for a hammy n’ macabre horror flick of the worst Ed Woodian proportions, rife with bad puns and pratfalls (“Mort the Mortician” takes a Three Stooges-inspired tumble on skateboard) punctuated by trombone “Wah-Wah-waaaahhhhhhs” that would give Benny Hill or Paul Hogan pause? Do you have a hankering for a hokey Sweeney Todd knockoff?
How about graphic-rubbery violence via bloody store-mannequin legs—punctuated by kidnapping, murder and cannibalism that makes the one-take scenes of Night of the Ghouls look like The Exorcist?
Well, how about a film starring an ex-TV Batman (no, it’s not Adam West)?
Damn, this is hard sell.
How about a film starring an ex-husband of Kim Darby (who our young hearts crushed on via the 1973 TV horror, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark) who got top billing in an ‘80s Halloween rip, Don’t Answer the Phone, co-starring with the guy who forced Buttermaker to coach the Bad News Bears (Ben Frank)?
Yes, we have better things to do with 63-minutes of our lives. And it would be longer if not for the original cut of the film being banned and its graphic, sans one scene, stock-footage of real surgeries being removed, resulting in this shorter Mill Creek TV edit. (No print of the unedited version is known to exist . . . and not worth searching for, anyway.)
The truth is: If The Undertaker and his Pals hadn’t lived far beyond its shelf-life, courtesy of early ‘70s Drive-In double bills with the somewhat similar The Corpse Grinders (people turned into cat food) and Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, which left youthful impressions on the future members of the Misfits and the Gravediggaz, as well as Rob Zombie, no one would have bothered to search out this cinematic tombstone. (For those of you who didn’t know: The Misfits used the movie’s posters in their promotional materials, while the Gravediggaz and Rob Zombie sampled lines from the movie into their songs “Rest in Peace” (6 Feet Deep) and “What Lurks on Channel X” (Hellbilly Duluxe), respectively.)
Ah, the rock ‘n’ roll connection of the film got your attention.
Let’s fire up The Undertaker and his Pals!
Costar-detective, Robert Lowery, television’s second Batman, burned through a marriage with noted ‘40s actress Jean Parker (she co-starred with Lon Chaney in the ‘40s film-noir piece, Dead Man’s Eyes) and co-starred with future Monkee Mickey Dolenz in the late-‘50s series, Circus Boy. But once the guest TV roles dried up, and Lowery landed in “The Case of the Cannibal Restaurateur,” he saw the writing on the wall. After starring in a forgettable western-comedy, 1967’s The Ballad of Josie—he retired from the biz.
The heartthrob star and ex of Kim Darby in this horror-parody, James Westmoreland (as Detective Harry Glass) started out in the biz as “Rad Fulton”—his agent’s answer to Rock Hudson. Outside of a short-lived ‘60s TV western, The Monroes (when he began using his birth name professionally), his career never rose beyond bit parts in TV series and films. Don’t Answer the Phone was his biggest—and final movie; he retired after one-off episodes on T.J Hooker and The New Mike Hammer.
So who’s responsible for paring the Batman and the star of Bonanza, I mean The Monroes, in this Herschell Gordon Lewis laugh (not so funny) fest?
Writer-director T.L.P Swicegood started out promising enough. He adapted Robert Sheckley’s human-smuggling adventure, Escape from Hell Island; a film which everyone forgets in the Sheckley oeuvre. (Sheckley’s books: The Prize of Peril, Immortality, Inc., and The Game of X served as the framework for The Running Man, Freejack, and Condorman, respectively). Then Swicegood got the idea of doing a comedy rip on what’s considered as the first “splatter film”: Hershell Gordon Lewis’s Blood Feast (1963). It was Swicegood’s final film.
“Are you going to get to the plot or am I going to have to hit the IMDb?” says the disgruntled B&S Movies reader.
Okay, so there are these, three they-aren’t-Alfred Hitchcock-Norman Bates psychos on Fonzi-cycles—courtesy of, it seems, sepia-toned stock footage clipped from another movie. So The Dork Angels speed around town for three minutes of padding, you know, so as to get the film’s running time beyond one hour. What? They’re talking on phones in wide angel shots? What are they saying? Who are they calling?
Finally! We’re in color for the shot-footage and have our first kill! The “biker toughs” kill Sally Lamb, a blonde Marilyn Monroe-clone kewpie doll during a home invasion—and steal her legs. “Leg of Lamb” is tomorrow’s special. (You see the juvenile “jokes” of this film?)
So in steps not-so-dirty Harry Glass to solve (Da-duh-Dun) “The Mystery of the Bargain Basement Lucio Fulci Gore Murders,” AKA “Who Keeps Killing My Secretaries and Is Setting Me Up?” And big surprise: Harry ain’t Jim Rockford, so the bodies are going under the cleaver, through the meat grinders, and taking acid baths with frequency.
In steps victim #2: Harry’s replacement secretary: Ann Poultry. (Ugh.) Oops, Ann threatened Spike, the cannibal diner’s owner, with the ‘ol “I’m calling the Health Department” ruse.
“Oh, yeah, Sally Fei. Well, I may have jerked off to you when you played a sexy robot in Dr. Goldfoot and the Binkini Bombs, but this (CHOP!) is for taking my money for Women of the Prehistoric Planet,” says Spike. Yep, Sally Fei has become tomorrow’s “Fried Chicken Special.” (Insert trombone, here.)
“Hey, how come you guys never place any meat on your store order,” says the soon-to-be-meat-cleaved-to-the-head, ethnic grocery delivery guy. “You’re just a greasy spoon fry cook. Why are you reading medical text books?”
Thanks ethic grocery delivery guy: patrons now have a choice between white and dark meat for their chicken dinner. (The film’s dialog-joke, not mine; insert trombone.)
“Hey, wait a second, you Jayne Mansfield clone,” says P.I Harry Glass. “You look like that actress Warrene Ott who—not once, but three times—played Jethro Bodean’s love interest on the Beverly Hillbillies during a three year period. Couldn’t you get any other roles?”
“Hey! I did a Bewitched, too. By the way, my character’s name is Friday. I guess they wanted Tuesday Weld for the role and couldn’t get her,” says Warrene.
“Did you read the script, Warrene? It’s a ‘joke,’ because you’ll be ‘Friday’s Special’ at the cannibal diner down the street.”
“Oh, you’re making me hungry, Mr. Glass,” Warrene flirts.
“Well, why don’t you go down to the corner cannibal diner for a Hamburger?” the clueless Harry Glass suggests.
One chloroform whiff later: cue the “scary” surgery stock footage as Doc gets his jollies fondling the internal organs of Jethro’s old squeeze and Spike caulks up “Hamburger Special” on the menu.
So, besides ripping off Hershell Gordon Lewis, what in the hell is going on here? Are they building a Henenlotter-style Frankenhooker in the kitchen? Reviving an Aztec God? Preparing for an Egyptian ritual? Is Mort the Mortician a Nazi War Criminal with Hilter’s head in the freezer? (In this lone paragraph, I just synop’d a better movie that the actual movie I’m reviewing.)
Nope. It’s a bilk-the-bereaved funeral scam. Yawn.
Turn out, business is slow and no one is “paying for the extras.” So Mort, the not-so-Tall Man of the Morningside of these proceedings, AKA The Shady Rest Funeral Home (“Free Trading Stamps with each burial,” proclaims the banner over the front door), is one of the motorcycle toughs. His “Burke and Hare” are Spike, who owns the local greasy spoon, AKA The Greasy Spoon Diner (ugh), and Spike’s Jethro “I’m gonna be a surgeon someday with my 6th grade education” dopey brother, Doc. Thus: Doc gets free surgery practice, Spike gets free meat, and Mort gets bodies to embalm—and “sticker shock” on the extras, because, well, you know, it’s harder to embalm someone without arms or legs and it costs more.
“What the hell? Why did you guys tie me up over this vat with a fog machine inside?” says Spike.
“Didn’t you read the script? That’s a vat of acid. Just scream as we lower you into it.”
“Oh, okay, and what happens to you, Doc?”
“Oh, I do a head-on with a truck on my motorcycle when I botch a kidnapping attempt on Warrene Ott.”
“Wait, arrrhgh-aah-ahhhahaha,” screams Spike entering the fog machine’s belch. “You mean the chick that played Friday? I thought we turned her into Friday’s ‘Hamburger Special,’ in the last scene.
“No, Warrene plays two characters in the film,” says Mort the Dork.
And where’s “Clint” in all this mayhem?
‘Ol Rad Fulton-Westmoreland manages to get himself killed via throwing-a-smoke-bomb-and-metal-crap-through-an-opened-door-crack-and-cue-the-bomb-explosion-sound-effect rigged by the bumbling Mort the Undertaker. Seriously, that’s what happens. Rad walks out the door . . . and he’s gone . . . and I seriously think he quit the film and Swicegood said, “Screw it, he’ll die in a paint can bomb explosion because I can’t afford the pipe to make a pipe bomb.”
And what happens to that ‘ol horn dog, Mort?
Well, since he’s the last man standing from the Morningside Marauders, he falls off a building rooftop trying kidnap Warrene #2, again. But wait, he’s alive?
“Hey, are you going to need me for anything else? I booked a Gunsmoke,” says Robert Lowery.
“Yeah, Robert. We need to end this movie and R.D needs to go. So take this knife and stab this curtained doorway.”
“Don’t worry, Mort’s behind it, ready to kill you. It’s called ‘irony,’ it’ll be funny.”
“Wow, I was in Circus Boy, and this fuck fest is all I can get? I’m retiring,” says Robert Lowery vanishing behind the curtain.
“Wait, Robert, don’t go. You get Warrene in the funny epilog. She even eats a hamburger as the credits roll,” says T.L.P Swicegood.
And with that, I’m going to have a Big Ott and and Six Pack of Sally Fei-Nuggets.