Your Favourite Mortician: The Undertaker
It can be a lonely, strange trip living your life at the mortuary. Always being on call and having an erratic schedule will make you appreciate even the simplest of pleasures when they occur. I can’t tell you how good a meal can taste when you can actually sit down and not worry about the phone ringing with someone’s needs or how rejuvenating sleeping a straight six hours can feel after wrenching dead bodies out of the nooks and crannies of a city for four days straight.
Physically, death calls can deteriorate your body over time like a wide ass continually bearing down on a leather wallet in a tight back pocket. Mentally, the responsibilities of a Mortician can cause your mind to become a deep well that’s dark enough to hide any ripple of sympathy, or god forbid – empathy. When morticians snap it’s juicier than any headline in tabloid magazines and darker than any abyss on the earth.
For example, between 1981 and 1984 Mortician Pat Omsberg of Newport, Oregon decided to stockpile sixteen corpses in his garage instead of burying or cremating them. Some of the bodies were so decomposed forensic dentists had to verify their identities. Before he was arrested Omsberg had recently been overhead by the bartender at a bowling alley complaining about how people were too cheap to pay their tabs at the funeral home. He later tried to sexually assault a woman unsuccessfully and killed himself before police could arrest him. If you shoot yourself in the head wrong your body goes into shock and the person usually dies from inhaling their vomit well before blood loss of brain trauma.
With all of this tragedy within an arms length, this mortician likes to take in a night of cinema to bring the madness down to a slow hum. If misery loves company thenThe Undertaker starring Joe Spinell should be considered a theological document.
The Undertaker is a love letter written to anyone who has had their lives consumed by their careers. Joe Spinell plays Uncle Roscoe Holland, owner of Holland Mortuary, and ol’ Roscoe might have had himself a few too many deep inhalations of formaldehyde over the years. Not only is he overweight, mildly crippled, and has the complexion of cigarette burned bacon, he’s also a murdering necrophiliac – all a result from his inextinguishable love of the death care industry. Uncle Roscoe is a case classic old school mortician who feels he is above everyone, yet still schmoozes and manipulates people of affluence like the local Mayor and Police Officers. He also loves kidnapping and brutally murdering women to ‘stir up some business’ and utilize their corpses for his own sexual whims.
The fairy tale Uncle Roscoe creates in his head with nude corpses gets splintered into a million frowns when he finds out his nosey nephew, Nick, caught an eyeful of him serenading a corpse one day and decides he must rectify that situation before it gets out of hand or brought to the attention of authorities. Nick does the right thing and doesn’t tell his girlfriend any of what he witnessed and, instead, runs to his sociology teacher Miss Hayes, who happened to be covering the topic of NECROPHILIA in her class that week. Nick tries to convince her to meet him at his Uncle’s Funeral Home to discuss something with her, but leaves it literally that vague with no further explanation as opposed to leveling with her about what he saw. Miss Hayes tiptoes around the potential student/teacher sexual encounter for awhile, gossiping with her frequently nude roommate about it, until she realizes maybe Nick did need help because he stopped showing up for class and isn’t answering his phone. Miss Hayes alerts the police and in wake of the mounting missing persons cases the town is currently being hit with, the police decide to give ol’ Uncle Roscoe a visit. The rest my friends you’ll have to see for yourself because this Mortician realizes yes, we all die, so why bother ruining the good things in life for others.
As I mentioned before, I think The Undertaker is a fantastic movie that conveys the realistic potential for an epic mental snap from reality people who work in the death industry face. In fact the topic of ‘burnout’ is covered in mortuary schools and once you get involved in this industry you will from time to time hear about colleagues just losing it and deciding a stroll through a rushing river, downing a diazepam cocktail, or listening intently to the barrel of a revolver, was the last right decision they ever made.
Aside from loving the bat-shit performance by Joe Spinell, I also really enjoyed seeing some old school mortician aesthetics in The Undertaker. One example is in every scene inside Uncle Roscoe’s prep room where a body isn’t on the embalming table the bare table is draped with a sheet. I know that sounds ridiculous, but if you have ever worked side by side with an old timer that is one idiosyncratic thing they do out of respect for the dead, the art of embalming, and to pacify the shock any potential warm bodies might get if they get a little nosey and decide to take a stroll through the mortuary. Normally I just leave the bloody embalming table out in the open and to hell with anyone wandering around; it could be a lot worse. Another example that Uncle Roscoe cut his teeth before the era of AIDS and the baby boomers Hepatitis explosion is Uncle Roscoe doesn’t wear an embalming gown or any type of personal protective equipment (PPE), he strolls around in his white lab coat. I suspect some of the readers out there in TV Land probably haven’t been splashed with blood or had a hypo injection site back flow formaldehyde straight into your eye, but that shit burns and that shit is scary!
So by all means kids, grab a copy of The Undertaker and enjoy because it is a great ride. Just keep in mind there are lunatics out there just like, or even WORSE than Uncle Roscoe and they’ll take great liberty in ensuring the care and safe handling of your family members.