Predating Full Moon releases like Killjoy by several years, Embalmer was one of the earliest of the “urban horror” films of the ’90s. The movie brings to life a supposed urban legend of “Undertaker Zach”, a killer so vicious that he inspired a Lizzie Borden-like hop scotch rhyme:
Tell you a story about Undertaker Zach.
He killed his wife with a whack, whack, whack!
His daughter started cryin’ ’cause her mama was dead;
He shut her up by choppin’ off her head.
Whack, indeed. In one of the most convoluted (and largely irrelevant) back stories you’ll ever hear for a horror villain, we learn that Zach was actually a surgeon, not an undertaker. He had been groomed by his family to become the first black President of the United States, but he went against his family’s wishes and chose to study medicine instead of law. What a loser.
His mother was the only person who supported his decision, but due to family pressure, she committed suicide. Zach loved his mother so much that after she died, he killed his wife because she reminded him of his mother, and he killed his daughter because she reminded him of his wife. (“That’s dumb,” proclaims Cindi in ironically the most logical line in the film.) Zach was sent to an insane asylum, where he made a pact with the devil to get his family back. He was given some sort of demonic power to resurrect the dead, so when he escaped, he dug up his family and went to work.
Cut to the present day, and four horny teens (Is there any other kind?) take refuge in Zach’s spooky, presumably abandoned house, not realizing that the doc needs fresh meat to bring his family back to life. Sounds like a horror movie! Directed by Howard University professor and Black Horror Hall of Famer S. Torriano Berry, Embalmer is an admirable effort, but it doesn’t exactly speak well for the school’s film department. Still, you have to cut it some slack for being groundbreaking and because frankly, any urban horror that’s P.A.M. (post-Ax ‘Em) shines by comparison. The budget is understandably nil (make-up = Silly Putty + watercolor), but there are a couple of plot twists to keep the story from flatlining, and ultimately, Embalmer delivers an intriguing and meaningful message: in the ghetto, there are a lot of things worse than a Satanic serial killer.