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(aka "The Undertaker" or "Death Merchant")


directed by Franco Steffanino
USA 1988


Mortician Roscoe (Joe Spinell, MANIAC) laments that health food and warnings about smoking have slowed his business down so he starts stalking and murdering beautiful women (in between visits to a theater that seems to perpetually screen the Bela Lugosi film THE CORPSE VANISHES, which a scuzzy character describes as "too gory"). Roscoe's nephew Nicky (Patrick Askin), not introduced until 24 minutes into the film, starts to suspect his uncle. After his professor Pam (Rebecca Yaron) gives a lecture on necrophilia, he tries to talk to her about his uncle. She thinks its just a kinky come-on until Nicky disappears. She contacts the police but Roscoe shifts suspicion onto his missing nephew. Now being stalked by Roscoe, Pam and her roommate Mandy (Susan Bachli) decide to do some investigating themselves. THE UNDERTAKER (onscreen title: THE DEATH MERCHANT) has some historical value as the last leading role for talented-but-not-photogenic Spinell who was memorable from supporting roles in some major films (ROCKY, TAXI DRIVER, CRUISING, THE NINTH CONFIGURATION, SORCERER, and THE GODFATHER among others) but found stardom in cult roles with MANIAC and THE LAST HORROR FILM (FANATIC). The result, however, is more horrid than horrifying. For a film about a serial-killing mortician, there is not a lot of gore to be found. Other than Spinell, the performances are mostly bad (not every starlet who is willing to pop her top can deliver a decent performance) and throughout Spinell seems to have difficulty containing his patience with some of his co-stars (although he may have been scripted that way). Director Steffanino seems to have used every single scrap of footage and some of it quite randomly (the close-up insert of a throat slashing was apparently never filmed so the film cuts away for a few frames to a shot of a couple in bed from the following scene and then back to the post-slashing medium shot and then holds on Spinell). Actors change position relative to each other in reverse angles, several other establishing shots are obviously reused with the same camera movement and the same extras, and some scenes begin or end very abruptly. The ending is most obviously indicative that this is an unfinished film. The heroine doesn't even make it to the funeral home, her friend skulks about and nothing results from her being chased by Spinell whose fate comes out of nowhere and just as quickly freeze frames before cutting to an amusing (or possibly stupid) end shot merging Spinell's image with footage from THE CORPSE VANISHES. The feature is further padded out with several clips from PD titles like THE CORPSE VANISHES, SCARED TO DEATH, AFRICA SCREAMS, BEDTIME FOR BONZO, and THE TERROR (co-directed by Roger Corman and uncredited Francis Ford Coppola, Monte Hellman, Jack Hill, and Jack Nicholson) as well as some oh-so-eighties aerobics footage.

Eric Cotenas

Theatrical Release: November 1988

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DVD Review: Code Red - Region 0 - NTSC

Big thanks to Eric Cotenas for the Review!

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Code Red

Region 0 - NTSC

Runtime 1:22:54

1.33:1 Original Aspect Ratio
Average Bitrate: 5.55 mb/s
NTSC 720x480 29.97 f/s

NOTE: The Vertical axis represents the bits transferred per second. The Horizontal is the time in minutes.


Audio English (Dolby Digital 2.0 mono)
Subtitles none
Features Release Information:
Studio: Code Red

Aspect Ratio:
Fullscreen - 1.33:1

Edition Details:
• Introduction by Robert Forster (16:9; 0:21)
• REMEMBERING JOE with Robert Forster and Kate Forster (16:9; 3:55)
• Trailers for NIGHTMARE (16:9; 2:38), THE CARRIER (4:3; 1:40), THE VISITOR (4:3; 3:15),
• SLITHIS (4:3; 3:01), and HORROR HIGH (16:9; 2:18),

DVD Release Date: 5 October 2010

Chapters 12



Edited on video, THE UNDERTAKER (onscreen title: DEATH MERCHANT) looks as good as the source allows. The master demonstrates some rare instances of tape noise but I doubt this film can look better.

Audio is mostly okay, although some of Spinnel's improvised muttered monologues are not always fully audible. Actor Robert Forster (who also provides a 20 second intro) and his actress daughter Kate relate their memories of Spinell in a short set of interviews. Trailers for other Code Red round out the release.

  - Eric Cotenas


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Code Red

Region 0 - NTSC



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