Monday, August 18, 2008


Director S. Torriano Berry sets the tone for his 1996 shot-on-video chiller THE EMBALMER by prefacing it with "A We Had No Money, So We Had Fun Production." And while I'll always admire the let's-put-on-a-show spirit of so many non-professional features, somewhere along the line Berry forgot that the audience has to have fun, too.

THE EMBALMER attempts to create a nightmarish figure out of the fictional urban legend of Undertaker Zack, a mortician who uses his victims' bodily fluids to revive his slaughtered family, but Berry's raw ingredients just don't gel. It could be the poorly-conceived title crawl that establishes the legend ("We all have our childhood myths and legends that scared the sh-- [sic] out of us"), the horrible rap song that accompanies it, or the fact that a villain named Zack simply isn't all that scary.

Berry gets things to a good start, though, in a fairly disturbing prologue in which Zack's daughter witnesses him killing her mother before being murdered herself, but the story quickly derails without ever getting back on track. The film's backstory is a bit heavy-handed and force-fed to the audience, and the plot strains credibility (such as the abusive asshole parents who're too cartoonish to be believable, or that one of the scholarship-bound teens would ditch his promising future to run away with his friend and his gal-pal, and on a whim no less) and digresses too much to gain much momentum.

THE EMBALMER has pretty good production values, given its limitations, and the cast is adequate, although the script tends to turn them into unlikable snits somewhere after the first act. Way too little time is spent with Undertaker Zack or his undead family (though considering the lousy zombie makeup on display, maybe that's a good thing), as the characters wander aimlessly through Zack's dilapidated abode or sneaking off for a little discreet fornication.

Although it shows glimmers of skill (to my surprise, Berry's not an upstart filmmakers like I'd assumed--he was in his late thirties when he made this--but, according to his IMDB bio, a professor at Howard University's Department of Radio, Television, and Film), THE EMBALMER ultimately disappoints due mainly to its lackluster storytelling. Berry doesn't seem to have done another film since, but I'm curious to see what he'd do with a better screenplay at his disposal.

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