Two psychical researchers procure the services of a lady of the night and send her back in time under hypnosis. She finds herself in the body of a past existence - a woman in medieval times waiting to be beheaded as a witch. By avoiding this fate she unwittingly starts to alter history.
Pamela Duncan ... Diana Love / Helene
Richard Garland ... Pendragon
Allison Hayes ... Livia, witch
Val Dufour ... Quintus Ratcliff
Mel Welles ... Smolkin, the gravedigger
Dorothy Neumann ... Meg Maud, witch
Billy Barty ... The Imp
Bruno VeSota ... Scroop, the innkeeper (as Bruno Ve Sota)
Richard Devon ... Satan
Maurice Manson ... Prof. Ulbrecht Olinger
Aaron Saxon ... Gobbo, the Jailer
Don Garrett ... The Knight (as Don Garret)
Dick Miller ... The Leper (as Richard Miller)
I fondly remember Corman's excuse to put a bevy of blonde babes on screen and pretend they were female vikings in Viking Women and the Sea Serpent. Heck, I even enjoyed "I'm a PRINCE!!!", but at times, the stagnation has you thinking, "Oh, yeah, I was watching a movie!" as your trail of thought wanders off. I even recall the yawning plague from the horror he penned in the Gunslinger which was only saved by fiery red maned Beverly Garland.
The Undead (although not pertaining to zombies or ghouls, but the unholy one) has a certain je ne sais quoi...a campy, strange feel. Sure, it was shot on some studio set and it looks like the entire village consists of less than 10 people. However, the effort put into this actually makes it a trip to watch. I don't know what the whole prostitute angle is or the question of whether or not a streetwalker is valued higher than a damsel accused of heresy, but it is a first! The eccentric, yet most recalled character, Smolkin, steals any scene he's in so much so that the "Hey diddle, diddle, the cat in the fiddle..." tune was stuck in my mind that even the homeless guys asking for change gave me odd glances when I was singing that walking near Fulton St. Witch Livia, played by bombshell Allison Hayes (she can hex me anytime!), plays the sultry, seducing spellcaster to a point! No wonder Pendragon couldn't resist (poor dope). Cast a plus for Meg, the gnarled crone who really makes you wonder if she collects toadstools and brimstone in her spare time. Nice chin too! Add in creature transformations, the impishly diabolical Billy Barty laughing from the underworld and this is one strange mamma jamma. Also, they actually took time to write scenes in ye olde English which just throws you for seven loops. This also may require several viewings to figure out what exactly is going on. Oh, last but not least, don't forget cameo by Bruno VeSota who "heads" our cast to his quaint inn.
What's really over the top? Our fey prince of darkness laughs with such levity that cannot be Shatnerized. You have your typical scrupulous doctor who can't even pronounce correctly. It's NEPAL, not nip-pal! I really liked the bureaucractic feel of the Witch's Sabbath too. So be sure to "STAY" and see one of Corman's more entertaining yarns. Also, watch this one MSTified and you'll appreciate it even more. Although I may be mad, but I cannot say....
"The Undead" has all the trademarks of a Corman film. It's got "sensational" themes, cheap sets, highly stylized and overripe Elizabethan dialog, a plot with severe Attention Deficit Disorder, and "B" to "Z" level actors trying hard to maintain their dignity in a thankless situation. If you were to tune into this by accident 30 minutes in, without a glance at a program guide or knowing anything about the plot or the actors, you'd be able to say "Corman" within 30 seconds.
Speaking of the actors, the performances here are what the movie seems to call for. The major exception is the weird angry burst of energy from the time traveler near the end of the movie when he tells the heroine to "STAY!!!!!". It's like watching an outbreak of dramatic Tourette's syndrome.
I don't have a problem with complicated plots and esoteric concepts like time travel, past life regression, romantic triangles and witchcraft. But Corman can't even come close to pulling this ambitious story off in a setting of a kingdom with maybe 12 people in it and a scope of action smaller than most British bedroom farces. Especially when the plot substitutes sheer movement and scenery change for intrigue and story arc, which makes the movie an exercise in padding. Once the hero (Sir Gullible) found his wronged romantic love for the first time, all he had to do was to put her on his horse with him and ride out of the 10-acre kingdom for 24 hours...and the middle 2/3rds of the movie would have been completely unnecessary. I'm pretty sure that Corman and the screenwriter were hoping the viewer didn't think of that.
Of course, then the movie would have been 30 minutes long and had a simple happy ending. This kind of plotting is emblematic of the reason that Corman would never be more than a "Z" level director - good basic plot ideas, but no commitment to getting the details right or making them urgent and convincing.
The movie also apparently thinks we are all morons. The big dramatic choice at the climax is obvious once it is stated - and it's a nice, chewy one where the heroine has to choose between living out her life and having her future selves never come into being, or else meeting her destined fate of an early death and sending her "soul" onto to its future incarnations. The implications of her dilemma and her eventual decision should have been in the actress' eyes and bearing. (Meryl Streep could have pulled it off, no problem); and this actress does seem to have a few chops herself (for a Corman cast member). BUT instead the screenplay bludgeons us over the head with the dilemma for at least five minutes with all the cast members telling her what she should do. And then the time traveler bursts in with his weird and inappropriate "STAY!!!!!" comment and completely distracts the viewer from the drama of the choice that the heroine must make.
In the movie's defense, the "twist" at the end is a bit eerie and unsettling, and the "Devil's" final words to the time traveler have a nice Faustian/Marlowe ring to them. That adds at least one star to the rating.
Also in its favor, the two "babes" do look smashing in their costumes, even if most of the men look completely ridiculous and uncomfortable in their leotards and armor and whatnot.
Billy Barty is in this. He plays an "imp". Barty gives the most generic "imp" performance I've ever seen in my life. It's as if he was reading from the Big Golden Book of Acting under the chapter titled "Smirking,Gesturing And Being Short: Your Best Tools for Impdom."
MSTs coverage of this was some of their best work, but a viewer can find plenty to poke fun at in this movie without their help, if that's what suits them. Ambitous enough, but definitely one of Corman's lesser efforts.
I haven't seen this movie in a couple of decades, but I was looking for good SF/Horror films to give my hubby for his birthday and immediately thought of this one. I saw it when I was a kid and it made a lasting impression on me because it uses the plot device of reincarnation and uses it well. I'm sorry to see it has received such a low rating here because it is an excellent film with a plot that deserved better than to end up as a second-rate drive-in flick.
If you can find a copy or see it on some mid-night viewing you will do yourself a favor by watching it. It has a homey kind of class like a woman of the night whom you know is from a good family. It's a find, how ever you come across it. Having said this, I am off to try to find a copy for my library which has been without this treasure for far too long.