In the early 1960s, a man by the name of Herschell Gordon Lewis unleashed a series of gore-laden horror movies that have become infamous in the horror genre. Movies like Blood Feast (1963), Two Thousand Maniacs (1964), Monster A Go-Go and Color Me Blood Red (both 1965), and A Taste of Blood (1966) pushed the boundaries of violence and bad taste to new heights, helping usher in later splatter films and of course the slasher films that continue to be made to this day.
Originally released in 1963, Lewis’ Blood Feast centered on a psychopathic food caterer who kills woman so that he can perform sacrifices for his Egyptian goddess and also to serve up their body parts in his meals. This gross premise is riffed in 1966’s The Undertaker and His Pals, a film the blends bad comedy with relatively restrained (I suspect the film was cut for this release) moments of gore but plenty of weirdness and dementia.
The central characters consist of undertaker Mort (Ray Dannis) and his pals, a couple of restaurant owners of a local greasy spoon. One of the owners, Spike, works the counter, while the other one—an unsuccessful medical student whose nickname is Doc—works as the cook. When not working, the trio dress up in leather, ride their motorcycles, and seek out victims that they take particular joy in killing. The restaurateurs then take some of the body parts and use them to serve as specials in their diner. The remainder of the bodies is given over to the undertaker, who overcharges the victims’ families to bury them.
The bumbling trio should be easily caught, but the cops are just as stupid. It falls on private dick Harry Glass (James Westmoreland as Rad Fulton) to catch the trio. Glass at first shows little interest in the murders—that is, until his curvy private assistants begin to disappear, only to be found murdered the following morning.
The Undertaker and His Pals is one seriously weird movie, but thankfully it does not take itself seriously. The movie serves up a heaping helping of black humor filled with puns and overwrought routines that come off more as demented than overtly funny. Some of the puns are cute, as victims such as Sandy Lamb are served as the diner’s daily specials (Sally has her legs removed, so the diner creates a special called “leg of lamb”).
All the characters are basically clichés, particularly Glass, a lady’s man who tries to be suave but comes off as creepy. The acting is uniformly over the top, but in the end the results work well, adding a strange, demented feeling to even the most mundane of scenes. A hint of sexploitation with the female victims is there, but the movie pulls back on any explicitness or nudity.
The gore scenes are tame by today’s standards, although the cannibalism angle will churn a few stomachs. There’s even actual footage of an open-heart surgery used to inject some actual realism into the gore-laden angle. Most of the murder victims are women, but the film does not discriminate, with the killers taking out a deliveryman and later one of their own by dunking poor Spike into a vat of acid.
Unintentionally hilarious, enjoyably weird, and lacking little horror, The Undertaker and His Pals hearkens to a time when it was possible to make short exploitation movies that lacked today’s irony or elaborate (but not necessarily complex) plotting. Gorehounds will find that the film has dated itself, but they will also learn how such movies began to push the envelope that subsequently led to the likes of Hostel and the Saw franchise. It would be nice if the full-length version (the one I watched had been snipped), which supposedly has much more gore and violence.