Color, 1966, 63m.
Directed by T.L.P. Swicegood
Starring Ray Dannis, Warrene Ott, James Westmoreland, Marty Friedman
VCI, Alpha, Cheezy Flicks (US R0 NTSC)

A mostly forgotten early entry in the splatter sweepstakes, The Undertaker and His Pals explores much of the same territory as H.G. Lewis' legendary "Blood Trilogy." The difference here is that the filmmakers go for laughs when they're not splashing fake blood across the screen, though as a result it's somehow less amusing than the "serious," catastrophically acted Blood Feast. Still, Undertaker is a valuable and sometimes daring example of how graphic horror began to infiltrate the drive-ins during the beginning of the Vietnam era.

In the film's first and most striking sequence, we see sepia tone footage of bikers cruising around a neighborhood parking lot. They follow a lovely blonde woman to her home and force their way in where, as the film suddenly bursts into color, they impale her on a huge knife. The victim, a Miss Lamb, is just the latest victim in a string of killings performed by two biker/restaurant owners, who take the choicest meats from their prey and provide plenty of business for their buddy, Mort the undertaker (Ray Dannis). Unfortunately, Miss Lamb also happened to be the secretary for a police detective who begins to smell a rat, particularly when the lunatics' restaurant serves suspiciously named plates like "Leg of Lamb." Carnage and hilarity ensue.

Call it what you will, but The Undertaker and His Pals wastes no time during its one hour on the screen to pack in as many rib-nudging jokes and gory thrills as possible on its meager budget. Apparently the Lewis-like atmosphere was potent enough to attract Z-movie director Ted V. Mikels, who picked it up as a co-feature for his immortal The Corpse Grinders. (Legend has it that some explicit, vivisection-like gore footage was trimmed out by Mikels before the release, but these trims appear to be either lost or a rumor.) After years of cruddy VHS transfers, VCI's DVD looks much better (at least in the context of the film's history) and offers an approximation of the original eye-popping '60s-era color schemes. Apart from some slight softness, the print is in very good shape and sports a clean, somewhat limited mono soundtrack. The disc also includes the highly memorable theatrical trailer, which makes repetitious use of the film's droning, a capella theme song. If you don't mind crappy compression and questionable legality, it's also available as a budget title from Alpha and Cheezy Flicks; remember, you get what you pay for.