Wednesday, October 26, 2016

HubrisWeen 2016, Day 21: The Undertaker and His Pals (1966)

I'm not saying cannibalism is something that should be encouraged, but it is rather fascinating how distasteful most modern human societies find the concept. Certainly many of our mammalian relatives find it a much more normal activity to engage in, as anyone who has ever had a pet rodent who decided her litter of newborns needed to be made a bit smaller can attest.

It may have something to do with the fact that humans in general find the idea of being eaten somehow more horrifying than simply dying, combined with the fact that being eaten by another human is a pretty clear violation of any social contract you can think of. And, of course, there's the key point that in order for a cannibal to have a meal, they generally have to kill another person first and we definitely frown on murder in polite society.

Well, unless you're a police officer, though I hope we never find out if the same people who support murderous police officers would just as eagerly stand behind a cannibal police officer.

Of course, if there's anything worse than cannibalism, it might be finding out you've been fed long pig without your knowledge. To steal a joke from an old Onion headline, imagine how you'd react if you found out the hot dog you had just eaten had fulfilled someone's wish to be an Oscar Meyer wiener?

Now, a restaurant that feeds its patrons back to each other is certainly fuel for a horror movie, but as Sweeny Todd shows, it can also be fodder for dark comedy. Unfortunately for me, The Undertaker and His Pals is a full-on comedy, and we all know the worst kind of bad movie is a comedy. I braced myself going in, sure that I could handle its 63-minute running time. Surely the film couldn't actually make that feel twice as long, could it?

One of these days I'll learn my lesson, surely, but it ain't this one.

We open with three "toughs" on motorcycles doing donuts by a couple phone booths an an "Enter Not Do" road marking. Now, we're supposed to take these mooks to be what Donald trump would call "bad hombres," what with the black leather jackets and the Jolly Roger patches on their chests. However, I find it hard to take a sinister motorcycle gang seriously when they're wearing those round white motorcycle helmets.

When Speed Racer goes rogue.
At any rate, they seem to choose a name from a phone book and then ride their bikes over to an apartment complex. We see them make this ride in what feels like real time because the movie is 2 hours minutes in and already feels the need to pad itself out. Inside her apartment, Sally Lamb (Karen Ciral, one of the few actors the IMDb bothers to link to a character) is...filling an envelope on her couch, dressed only in a negligee. The camera leers up her legs at first, but this will shortly prove to be foreshadowing rather than just leering. However, the agonizing minutes we spend watching her prepare a letter for mailing will not amount to jack shit.

One of the bikers goes to her front door while the other two climb up her fire escape. Lamb mistakenly opens the door when he knocks and he tries to break her security chain, sending her fleeing back towards the other two who have just entered via the window. They pull knives on her as the third guy breaks in and she ends up being pushed onto their knives. I admit to a genuine laugh when the film cuts back to the framed photo of her sailor boyfriend on an end table as his expression changes to reflect horror at what he's watching them do to her.

What a coincidence, these are the faces I made during the movie, too!
Well, the bikers saw off Lamb's legs and make off with them. After the title card, we arrive at the funeral parlor belonging to the titular undertaker. One of the sight gags is so out of date I had to look it up, because the parlor has a sign over the door reading, "We give Trading Stamps!" Turns out this is basically the same as saying they have a frequent shopper rewards card. The parents of the dear deceased Sally Lamb are arriving for her funeral, and per the demands of visual comedy her father is skinny and her mother is fat.

Inside, Mort the Undertaker (Ray Dannis), cues up a reel-to-reel tape recorder that accidentally starts off with a rock song, "There's Never Been a Devil Like Me," which I can't identify the origin of, unfortunately, but it's pretty damn good. Mort realizes his mistake and hist a switch so the recorder somehow starts playing a funeral dirge instead, but...I don't think you can do that on a reel-to-reel.

At any rate, much levity is had at the fact that the Undertaker has taken great pride in the makeup job he did on Lamb but he has massively overdone her eye shadow. He also takes her father aside as her mother weeps and tells him they usually find it best to settle the bill at this point, since it helps to take a griever's mind off their loss. When the father reacts with rage at the hefty price, Mort gleefully replies, "See, you've forgotten your grief already!" It seems he quoted them $144.98 for the service, but they didn't read the comically lengthy contract they signed so he was able to jack the price up as much as he wanted.

When the mother comes over and demands to know how either man can talk of money at a time like this, Mort then says he could have just put their daughter in a small coffin instead of sewing plastic legs on her, which causes her father to faint. Mort promises that they will pay, no matter what.

Meanwhile, we wander over to the office of Harry Glass (James Westmoreland, credited as Rad Fulton) and within his debut scene I already want to see the bastard dead. In walks his secretary, Anne Poultry (Sally Frei), an attractive brunette in a tight red dress who is apparently Harry's secretary and bedwarmer, and he treats her with even less respect than that arrangement implies. He ignores her when she asks what he thinks of her hair and dress, until she finally has to make him look at her. When she asks why he won't marry her and pledges to jump out the window if he doesn't, he pretends to phone an unemployment agency to get a new secretary.

Eventually he talks her into joining him at his favorite local diner, the Greasy Spoon. It might be the only restaurant in town, for all I know, but there's not many folks in it at any given time. At any rate, the special of the day is "Leg of Lamb" and the movie makes damn sure you get the significance. The proprietor of the diner, Spike (No Clue), greets them and immediately takes a shine to Anne. However, she doesn't care for him calling her "baby" and tells him he can call her "Miss Poultry." Spike laughs at that and starts calling her "Chicken," which she just loves. However, Spike does eventually get to taking their order and when they both order the special, Anne finds it odd that he just yells "two orders" to the cook. Spike shrugs and tells her they don't currently have anything else but the special.

While Spike isn't listening, Anne and Spike discuss the diner's chef, who goes by Doc (Beats Me). Seems Doc failed out of medical school and then he became a short order cook in this dump, instead. Naturally, when Spike brings out their meals, Harry immediately notices that the meat is not lamb, despite Spike's smirking insistence that it is.

God, even when he's justifiably being a jerk I just want to punch him.
That's enough for Harry and he declares it's time for them both to go without eating or paying. However, Anne makes the mistake of insulting Spike and threatening to have the health inspector come in and shut them down.

That night, after Anne gets home and strips down to her negligee as well, she hears what is apparently supposed to be her cat but the person making "cat" sounds is no Frank Welker. When she goes outside in her negligee, we see the three bikers walking up toward her house and one kicks over a potted plant, which is given a significant close-up--I guess because we're supposed to notice that one of them dropped his Jolly Roger patch, but you won't be able to make that assumption until later. Anyway, Anne finds totally unrelated footage of a cat after wandering for ages next to a fence topped with spikes, and then turns to see the three bikers standing and looking at her--whereupon she just backs herself up against a wall and stares at them in fright.

Naturally, Anne ends up impaled on that fence. The next morning Harry arrives on the scene along with the chubby, bearded Police Inspector (Nope, No Idea). The inspector reveals that this is the fifth such murder recently, and there's seems to be no connection between them other than the fact that the murderers always take a portion of the victim's body. All they have to go on is the patch they found (told you), the general proportions of the three men based on their boot prints, and the fact they ride motorcycles. Harry just hopes the police can catch the bastards, and he isn't pleased when the Undertaker strolls up and informs him that Anne had no immediate family so it falls to her employer to handle her arrangements.

Harry is no fool, so when he sees the contract doesn't include the price, he writes down the exact price that Mort quoted him, $144.98. He also make sit clear that there will be no unnecessary upcharges or extras to try and cheat him of more money. The foiled Mort turns to leave and...this actually happens, folks...he steps on a skateboard and goes rolling down the driveway set to zany music. Finally he falls on his ass in the street and the film actually uses "sad trombone" unironically.

Naturally, the special at the Greasy Spoon that day when Harry comes in for coffee and donuts is "Breast of Chicken." Spike gets the coffee and offers his condolences on Harry's loss, but Doc announces from the back that the donuts haven't been delivered yet. He then turns back to studying a medical textbook while holding a scalpel. Just as he reads that a scalpel must always be kept sharp, he manages to slice his thumb on it. The delivery guy shows up after Doc has bandaged his thumb. Given that the delivery guy is black in a horror movie, we can safely assume that he's not going to be around long.

Sure enough, he begins asking why the diner never orders any meat from his store. Doc gives an obviously phony answer about using another vendor to spread the business around, as he goes back to studying. However, he soon notices that the delivery guy is poking around in everything in the kitchen and slowly grabs a meat cleaver and sneaks up on the guy. The delivery guy opens the walk-in freezer to see two human legs hanging from meat hooks, but is still rather surprised when he turns around and Doc buries the cleaver in his forehead.

In the front, another customer--a surly old man--comes in and orders the special. Spike glances into the kitchen, sees the dead delivery guy, and without missing a beat asks if the customer wants "white meat or dark." (Hyuk yuk yuk) The customer points out that chicken breasts don't have dark meat and changes his order to a whole pie. When Spike gives it to him, we see it's a cream pie, and sure enough the old man asks for a box to throw Spike off and then throws it in Spike's face. To top it off, this is followed by the second use of the sad trombone!

Meanwhile, Harry has gone to Anne's funeral. Mort reminds him that he refused any special touches and pulls back the curtain to reveal that the "casket" is really just a stained wooden crate marked "This Side Up" with a few candles lazily placed on top of it. Based on the dimensions of the crate, Anne was probably crammed into it. Unsurprisingly, Harry's response is to slug the Undertaker on the jaw and then smash a vase of flowers over his head before storming out. Mort mumbles about there being no gratitude any more.

Back at Harry's office, we get a sultry saxophone as a shapely blonde (Warrene Ott) walks in and lays herself out on his desk. She says her sister told her he had an opening that needed to be filled and--look, just fill in your own sleazy dialogue and it won't be much worse. The point is, she's here to bang him and type stuff. We get a painful bit of comedy when he asks her name and she says, "Call me Friday," and he misunderstands and asks her name again. There's also an inexplicable jump cut back to the establishing shot of the building in the middle of their conversation before we cut back again. I have zero idea why.

For some reason, when she mentions food Harry advises her to go to the Greasy Spoon for dinner. Spike greets her and asks what she wants and she says she wants a hamburger, but he advises they're plum out. She then makes the mistake of saying she has a pain from being so hungry. Doc immediately comes out of the kitchen excitedly and locks the front door and flips the sign to "Closed." Friday is still trying to figure out what's going on when she sees Spike pouring chloroform onto a rag and naturally by then it's too late.

With Spike's help, Doc gets her on a table stripped down to her underwear and covered with a blanket. He "scrubs in" and then cuts her stomach open with his scalpel and the film briefly cuts in actual surgery footage of some gloved hands poking around in somebody's internal organs. Unfortunately, Friday wakes up, screams, and then dies. Doc shakes his head over another lost patient, but cheerfully tells Spike that at least his operating method is improving.

Is this a food-related health code violation or medical malpratice? Both?
Later, we see Doc cheerfully feeding a woman's hand into an automatic meat grinder that is spitting out ground hamburger meat. (He didn't even take the bones out? Tsk, tsk) Meanwhile, Spike writes up the special of the day on the chalkboard but misjudges the space and thus has to write "hambur-ger." Mort storms into the kitchen as Doc is making patties out of Friday's remains and demands to know where the rest of her is. Doc points to the huge, steaming barrel labelled "Acid" at the back of the kitchen.

The Undertaker is furious that the two have double crossed him. Their deal was supposed to be 50/50--they get half of a victim for the meat and he gets the other half to bury. It's especially irksome because Mort has lost a lot of money thanks to Harry holding him to the quoted price. When Doc notices the bandages on Mort's bald head, Spike jokes that Mort shaved with...well, whatever he said is bleeped out by a cuckoo clock sound effect, so I guess it was a brand name joke and they didn't want to get sued.

At any rate, we see a woman relaxing in a sauna that has a Venus de Milo statue next to the hot rocks. Her two companions leave, but she decides to stay a bit longer, with her eyes closed. And then the film expects us to believe that the three bikers easily waltzed in by using white towels as a "disguise."

Bikers by day, Ninjas by night...
When the woman finally realizes it wasn't her friends who came back in, one of the bikers grabs a chain and smashes the Venus statue before beating the woman viciously about the face until she is slathered in fake blood. Her friends comeback to check on her and what follows is a masterpiece of awful staging.

First, her friends catch the bikers walking out of the sauna with a bloody sack before climbing out the window. However, the physical requirements of climbing out this window means that they walk swiftly to the window and then have to each stand and wait their turn as the biker in front of them awkwardly climbs out. One of the women opens a desk drawer and pulls out a snub-nosed revolver and shoots wildly out the window. However, the film couldn't afford blanks and, worse, they can't even bother to sync the gunshot sound effects to her wildly jerking around to indicate recoil. At any rate, she manages to shoot off one of the license plates.

Naturally, when the inspector calls Harry, he informs him that the license plate belongs to Mort. Harry isn't shocked in the slightest, but now we cut back to the bikers walking into the kitchen of the diner, which reveals that they were Mort, Doc, and Spike all along. Mort not only lost his license plate, but he caught a bullet to the neck. It's just a graze, however, but Mort understandably panics when Doc says he'll have to operate.

Spike reasonably points out that Mort is now a liability, since the police will easily trace him and with Doc's help he grabs Mort and begins pushing him toward the acid barrel. However, Mort suggests to Doc that Spike should be put in the acid, and for no reason I can fathom, Doc agrees. So Spike quickly finds himself hanging by a rope over the acid, begging his cohorts not to kill him. However, Doc assures him it won't hurt if they lower him in quickly enough--and then they proceed to lower him in slowly and feet first.

In his office, meanwhile, Harry calls "Charlie the Stoolie," so the film can for once cut right to the chase instead of running out the clock, because Charlie tells Harry exactly who Mort pals around with. So Harry gets the diner's kitchen and, on a hunch, pulls on the rope and lifts a skeleton out of the acid. A noise makes him lower it back in and then Harry suddenly runs into a very familiar blonde. However, this isn't Friday, it's her twin sister, Thursday (Warrene Ott, again). Given that Harry clearly didn't know Thursday or Friday before, I have no idea why Friday said her sister heard he had a job opening. Nor do I have any idea how she knew to look for Harry in the diner's kitchen!

At any rate, Thursday is instantly romantically inclined towards the "irresistible" Harry and they start making out. He tells her he doesn't know for sure what happened to her missing sister, but he has a bad feeling he does know. He calls the inspector to let him in on the apparent murder plot between Mort, Doc, and Spike-and then, because we're only 46 minutes in, the film decides to grind to an utter halt with driving footage.

Harry drives to his beach house with Thursday, while Doc and Mort follow on their motorcycles. The film thinks this is suspenseful, but I'd have to give a shit about any of the characters for that to work. Harry falls asleep on the couch while Thursday rambles on to him at 4 in the morning (?), and then we see Doc and Marty struggling to drive their bikes over the sand of the beach.

The next morning Harry and Thursday go out driving again while our villains follow behind them and I realize that time is an illusion. I have always been watching this movie. I was born, and I will die, in this driving sequence.

And then a metaphor for the entire film occurs because Harry runs out of gas. He flags a passing motorist down and, to my brief excitement, the oncoming car actually comes within inches of granting my request to "hit him!" (It comes so close, in fact, that I think the actor was actually almost roadkill) Harry, for some reason, just leaves with the guy to get gas, meaning Thursday is all alone in the convertible when Doc and Mort show up and begin chasing her around on their bikes. However, when a truck comes around a corner towards Doc, my prayers are actually answered and he is splatted.

Mort makes a hasty retreat. We briefly see him making a bomb out of a pint can, before turning to look into the camera and say, "All I need is a match!" I made this sound like it somehow follows the last thing we saw, but it does not. At all. Then we jump cut to Harry in his office, explaining to poor Thursday that her sister was killed by the trio for whatever their fiendish purposes required. Unfortunately, when he excuses himself, Mort sets off his paint bomb--and suddenly we realize this is supposed to be in the same building because Thursday hears and goes to investigate. She finds Mort and he chases her up the stairs--with the film alternating between silent music for her running and a slow organ for him staking up behind her.

Incidentally, we never see Harry again. It wasn't even until hours after the film ended that I realized Mort was supposed to have killed him in the explosion. The film granted my request to kill the prick but didn't let me enjoy it!

Thursday is eventually cornered on the roof, but when Mort lunges for her he misses by a good two feet and goes over the edge. Sadly, the bad dummy we see make the plunge is all too briefly glimpsed, but I still rewound it a couple of times to savor it. (Look, I'll take any joy I can squeeze from this piece of shit) Thursday calmly walks back down into the office and is joined by the police inspector. We then cut to the still alive Mort climbing back up onto a lower ledge, whereupon I may have yelled obscenities at the film.

As the police inspector talks about the nature of evil and the tragedy of the murders, he picks up a letter opener and walks over to a curtain in the corner of the office. Unbeknownst to Thursday or the inspector, Mort is lurking behind the curtain with a knife raised. However, Mort is about to get the Polonius treatment, for the inspector punctuates a final point about needing to stomp out evil by stabbing the curtain with the letter opener, thus putting it right through Mort's forehead.

Never opt for the discount lobotomy.
Well, the story is done now, but the movie isn't. However, it at least has the decency to end on a nice note. For that catchy damn tune, "There's Never Been a Devil Like Me," starts up and we see the various dead characters smiling and winking at the camera, usually in ways that reference their fates. It's legitimately fun and rather cute, even. So I do have something nice to say about this film.

Someone has already done a burlesque number based on this, I just know it.
The Undertaker and His Pals was shown at B-Fest the year before I was finally able to make it there. That's fitting, because throughout the film I could only think that it was a perfect fit for B-Fest, particularly as a 2AM mindfuck. Unfortunately, I watched it as just a movie.

There are definitely some entertaining moments scattered throughout the film, but if you were to trim the dead weight the film would probably be all of 30 minutes long. So it's hard for me to really know how to focus my thoughts on it. Sure, most of the time I was furious at it, but it also legitimately made me chuckle a few times, too.

All I can really say about the film is that, if you're curious, it's on YouTube in its entirety and it's only 63 minutes long so despite feeling like three times that, you'll only waste an hour of your life if you give it a shot.

However, you'd probably get more enjoyment by just skipping straight to the song at the end.

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