To be honest, I don’t know why I spend so much time hunting down and watching no-budget movies like “Embalmer” and its ilk. I guess if I had to absolutely put a reason to it, I would say that a part of me wants to discover another “Evil Dead”, while another part of me is trying to make up for all my misdeeds of the past. After all, what is more miserable than watching one bad z-budget movie after another?
“Embalmer” is a Teen Slasher set in an urban environment somewhere in D.C. if the landmarks in the background are correct. It’s essentially about 4 black friends who go for a ride one night and end up in the house of a mortician trying to resurrect his dead wife and child by using the body fluids of unwitting victims. Sounds great, right? Well, no, not really.
Auteur S. Torriano Berry, whose name is all over the credits, is most likely a film student who has made one too many short films that, over time, has given him the confidence to finally make his feature debut. 1996’s “Embalmer” has all the earmarks of movie done by a film student who doesn’t quite understand his subject matter. With the exception of a crazed mortician killing people, the film wouldn’t even rate as a Teen Slasher, mostly because the screenplay spends more than 70 minutes of the film’s 85 minute running time indulging in “character development.” Now if you know anything about Teen Slashers, you know that the first rule is this: Don’t skimp on the blood and guts for something as irrelevant as character development. For Christ’s sake, you’re doing a Teen Slasher movie!
The second mistake Berry makes, besides not understanding that he’s making a Teen Slasher and not a Teen Drama, is the presence of only 4 would-be victims. The result is that the film is forced to offer up a single brief kill early on to tie us over until the 70-minute mark, when Zach the Undertaker (Dexter K. Tennie) finally makes a full appearance and kills off the home invaders. Teen Slasher movies are about bodycount. You can’t have a movie with only 4 characters, then spend all your time talking about feelings and other such nonsense. Where’s the understanding of the genre? Am I supposed to sit and listen to bad actors express their internal dialogue outwardly? I think not.
All that said, “Embalmer” has better visuals than a movie of its caliber has a right to have. Berry is a good director, and manages to infuse the film with enough movement to cover up his lack of a budget and resources. Besides using shadows and unorthodox camera angles very well, Berry does manage to raise the film’s substandard Teen Slasher screenplay. I just wish Berry had gotten a firmer handle on his genre and realize that a movie called “The Embalmer” is not a teen angst movie, but rather about teens getting killed off at decent intervals.
If you can stomach through 70 minutes of nonstop chatter with amateur actors, then “Embalmer” does offer up a nifty ending. Is it worth the wait? Probably not.
S. Torriano Berry (director) / S. Torriano Berry (screenplay)
CAST: Jennifer T. Kelly … Chiffon
Kenneth E. Mullen … Duane
Myron Creek … Archie
Tracy Owens … Cindi
Dexter K. Tennie … Undertaker Zach
Alena V. Joseph … Zach’s Daughter