For as long as anyone can remember, the coming of the undertaker has meant the coming of death.
What do you wanna be when you grow up, Dante? Dante:
I'm not sure. I like working with people... But I like being alone, too... Sheldon:
How about being a mortician — best of both worlds. Dante:
Heeeey... Not bad.
Be they morticians, pathologists, funeral house workers or gravediggers — people who deal with the dead have always been assumed to be interesting, because, well, they deal with the dead. That is why in fiction, it is popular to present workers in those professions as either outright creepy, or at least have a way-off sense of humor
. Especially if they don't look creepy (or aren't normally so), looking at something like this for the first time can creep any guy out. They play around with the bodies of the deceased, joke while performing scientific dissections, or at least die first during a zombie attack. They are also suspect for profiting from someone else's death; after all, such a person may seem a little too happy about the fact that, now that someone has died, the mortician is going to get paid for the funeral.
The trope can just be Played for Laughs
as well as Played for Drama
, with often a lot of overlap between the two. The more unsettling version lurks around the graveyard and has an unhealthy obsession with his deceased clients. When they're not in the graveyard, they can be found in rather eerie places, such as near newly deceased bodies or in coffins. Often they are the primary suspect whenever something particularly creepy happens. May turn out to be a Living Doll Collector
. Prone to spout ominous-in-context lines like "Be seeing you..."
If they accidentally encounter a living person instead of an expectedly dead one, it may be related to Waking Up at the Morgue
or Buried Alive
. Also see Black Comedy
Compare with the Undertaker
character in Westerns
open/close all folders
Anime & Manga
- The Undertaker from Black Butler. Even creepier in the Manga, where it is revealed, by him, that he is the one responsible for the reanimation of the corpses that were attacking everyone on board the ship. And that was just because he was curious! Justified in that he's actually a Shinigami rather than a human — and a rogue amongst their ranks, in the manga.
- Gregory Horror Show is built around this. Good old Gregory is downright unnerving, especially as you learn more about what he is. He suffers from Villain Decay in the other three seasons, however, becoming a victim of the greater evils around him. Still, he does feed off of human souls.
- Green Lantern villain Black Hand was reinvented as one of these in the lead-up to Blackest Night.
- Pierre Tombal: Gravedigger Pierre himself isn't scary, just the fact that all the dead people in his cemetery are living skeletons whom he (and others) treat as residents in the place.
- Lucky Luke: Gravediggers are recurring characters in this series, usually using formol as perfume, having vultures as pets and already coming to take measurements for the coffins before the cowboys are actually shot down. The most recurring undertaker has a body pale skin color, sometimes green.
Films — Live-Action
- Tony Todd's character, William Bludworth, in the first two and fifth Final Destination movies seemed to know a lot more about recent goings-on than he let on. Oh, and he also sounded like the Antichrist.
- This character is a staple of bad movies, if the morticians of Mystery Science Theater 3000 are any indication.
- Very subtly played in Return of the Living Dead, which you could easily think to be an inversion. Ernie the mortician is strongly implied to be an ex-Nazi: when we first meet him, he's listening to a World War II German march on his headphones, and when startled, he produces a Luger. Later on, we see a poster of Eva Braun in his office.
- The Phantasm films have the Tall Man, adding a touch of Humanoid Abomination for effect.
- The mortician Dobbs in Dead & Buried is a bit too interested in making the bodies presentable. He's also turned everyone in town, including himself, into a zombie.
- Oliver!, both the stage and film versions, has a whole family like this. They even get a song, "That's Your Funeral".
- The title character in Cemetery Man, despite being a handsome Rupert Everett, is still pretty crazy and spooky.
- In the 1993 anthology film Body Bags John Carpenter portrays the Coroner, a wacky character who has a twisted fascination with the corpses he gets every night and hosts the framing segments. Among other things he holds conversations with the dead people around him and even plays around with some of them. Subverted at the end when he turns out to be another corpse come to life when the real coroners appear.
- In Neil Gaiman's American Gods, Ibis and Jacquel's Funeral Parlor is run by two Egyptian gods, one of whom (Anubis) consumes a part of every organ of the deceased. This actually lines up with Anubis' mythological portrayal, and it's implied that him taking part of the heart in particular is actually a sign of great respect.
- Averted (bordering on discussing this trope) in one of Dean Koontz's novels, where it is specifically stated that the morgue crew the protagonists meet are totally unlike the stereotypical image of their profession in fiction.
Radio & Audioplay
- The '40s and '50s radio (and later TV) sitcom The Life Of Riley had a comedic version of this in Riley's pal Digby "Digger" O'Dell, "The Friendly Undertaker", who specialized in hilariously morbid puns referencing his line of work, such as his usual greeting ("Hello, Riley. You're looking very... natural today") and signoff ("Well, goodbye, Riley. I'd better be... shoveling off").
- Played for Laughs in The Goon Show with Gravely Headstone, as in the following (quoted from memory):
Seagoon: You can't bury me, I'm still alive! It's impossible!
Headstone: Not impossible, but one should have to box exceeding clever.
Seagoon: No, wait, you can't bury me yet — I want to join the Guards.
Headstone: No man under six foot can join the Guards. Come along.
Seagoon: No, no! Keep away! Aaagh!
Myths & Religion
- The Vodoun/voodoo deity Baron Samedi a.k.a. Saturday takes this appearance. In some lore he lurks in graveyards looking for people to turn into zombies.
- Hamlet fits into this trope with the gravedigger, digging a grave while joking about who is to be buried there.
- The gravedigger in Quest for Glory IV is a creepy hunchback who is nonetheless friendly and helpful despite his... unusual sense of humor. His name is Igor, too.
- Dampe from The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is often seen lurking around the graveyard when you are young Link, it gets kind of unsettling what with the Poes that also lurk around there. Bizarrely enough, a cute little kid idolizes Dampe and spends daytime wandering around the graves trying to mimic the gravedigger. He pays you a lot of rupees for a spooky mask that helps offset his cuteness.
- The creepy gravedigger in God of War. Actually Zeus in disguise.
- Mr. Russett from The Lost Crown is a subversion: he looks fairly creepy, but is actually one of the most helpful people Nigel meets.
- Dumb Hounded: The first Droopy cartoon has the wolf character jump off a building while a mortician suddenly appears next to him during the fall, takes his coffin measurements and then disappears again.
- In its first Halloween episode, South Park featured morticians eating while preparing Kenny's body, and accidentally spilling sauce into the embalming fluid. And this of course leads to a Zombie Apocalypse.