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Film / The Undead

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This article is about the film. For actual undead, go here.

Two psychiatrists and a hooker walk into an office. Set up to a bad joke or set up of a bad Roger Corman movie?

You don't have to choose!

An ethically challenged "psychical researcher" by the name of Quintus has hired a Brooklyn streetwalker named Diana for $500. But in this movie, she'll be turning the trick of time travel. See, Quintus believes he can put Diana into a hypnotic trance and send her back into her past lives. His colleague, a somewhat homely bald man, is skeptical. Turns out that Quintus is kind of an evil genius. He succeeds in putting Diana into that trance and he succeeds in sending her back in time to a past life as "Helene," who is wrongfully accused of being a witch and thus faces execution in the morning. Score one for Quintus.

What follows is a somewhat mangled string of plots, counter-plots, knights, witches, "enchanted" gravediggers, imps, taverns, more time travel and princes of darkness. Yes, Satan is an important player in Mr. Corman's little production. As Quintus explains a few times, never very clearly, Diana/Helene is left with a choice: because Diana helped Helene escape prison before her execution as a witch, Helene can either live out her life in Dark Age Europe with her mediocre love interest, and in doing so snuff out the existence of her future lives from the time paradox, or go back and allow herself to get beheaded at dawn on schedule, thus ensuring all future iterations of Diana will exist and flourish.

For the Mystery Science Theater 3000 version, please go to the episode recap page.

This film contains examples Oo:

  • Anachronism Stew: Among other things, Smolkin's hearse is Victorian-era style in an ambiguously medieval setting, and Livia's dress has a zipper.
  • Accent Upon The Wrong Syllable: In addition to "PENDRA-gon," "Nepal" is apparently pronounced with the stress on the first syllable, so it sounds like... something else.
  • And That's Terribe: With a touch of Informed Wrongness. At the Witches' Sabbath, Pendragon remarks "Never have I looked upon so depraved an act", as the Devil... heals a leper. (In exchange for his soul, true, but still...)
  • Aerith and Bob: Starring Pendragon, Scroop, Livia, Gobbo, Quintus, and...Meg.
  • Beauty Equals Goodness: Inverted with Meg and Livia.
  • The Cameo: Billy Barty plays The Imp.
  • Can't Take Anything with You: Quintus shows up in the past without a stitch on. Possibly the inspiration for The Terminator.
    • But he somehow does still have his wristwatch in the past.
  • Cloud Cuckoo Lander: Smolkin.
  • Cool Old Lady: Meg Maud, who is probably the most competent character in the whole picture.
  • Creepy Good: Meg.
  • Crossover Cosmology: Even though Satan and most medieval Christian folklore is demonstrably real, reincarnation is a major part of the film's premise.
  • The Dead Can Dance: To attempt to put those attending The Witches' Sabbath at ease, Satan calls for "Song and dance and gaity!" What comes forth are a trio of corpses dancing languidly to a morose tune.
  • Deal with the Devil: And get a free tattoo in the bargain!
    • Livia almost tricks Pendragon into selling his soul to free Helene (again, although she was already free at the time); Quintus talks him down by suggesting that he rent his soul to Satan, instead. The Devil doesn't bite.
  • Death Equals Redemption: Helene's Heroic Sacrifice inspires Diana to rethink her life.
  • Did You Just Scam Cthulhu?: Some while back, Meg actually managed to outwit the devil, losing her beauty but keeping her supernatural insight along with her soul.
  • Disposable Sex Worker: Implied but ultimately subverted. Quintus is perfectly willing to throw Diana's life away, but Prof. Olinger steps in to make sure she's safe.
  • Establishing Character Moment: Quintus makes it clear to his old professor that if he won't help him with his experiment, he'll carry on alone — even if it means Diana's death. Olinger, though disgusted and incredulous, goes along with him to make sure Diana gets through the session alive.
  • Evil Is Hammy:
    • Richard Devon steals any scene he's in as Satan.
    • Billy Barty, since he can't speak as The Imp, over-emotes constantly.
  • Fanservice: Allison Hayes as Livia, the evil witch. Va-va-voom.
    • Helene's dress seems to be meant to draw your eyes to her breasts.
  • For the Evulz: Satan wants Helene to stay, simply because he would love to see the timeline go nuts over the temporal paradox.
  • Good Witch Versus Bad Witch: Meg Maud Versus Livia.
  • Gratuitous Iambic Pentameter: Most of the dialog in the past is blank verse, and the meter varies between characters.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Helene decides not to tamper with history for her own benefit, and accepts her wrongful execution.
  • Herr Doktor: Professor Ulbrecht Olinger may not have the accent, but he definitely has the name.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: Satan tempts Quintus to wait and watch Helene's execution, only to explain that he was only able to time travel when both Helene and Diana were alive, meaning that he's now Trapped in the Past.
  • Hot Witch: Livia. According to Meg, she was one of these for awhile, but she lost her youth and beauty when she tricked her soul back from Satan.
  • The Imp: Billy Barty dials the imping up past eleven.
  • Idiot Hero: Pendragon is a good knight. He is not a smart one.
  • Informed Flaw: Smolkin claims to be insane, but he's aware of everything going on. His form of insanity seems to be just singing non-sequitur songs about death. That's not including the idea that if you think you're insane, you're not insane.
  • In Spite of a Nail: Despite the body count presumably being vastly different in the original history, history works out as long as Helene dies on time.
  • Irony: Diana, a prostitute, shares her name with the virgin goddess of the hunt.
  • Know-Nothing Know-It-All: Scroop brags that he's prepared his tavern against any witch getting inside. Livia clearly enjoys the fact she's sitting in the middle of his preparations.
  • Lantern Jaw of Justice: Pendragon.
  • Large Ham: Many cases, of course, but Quintus is the best example when he tries to convince Helene to STAY!!!! in the past.
  • Lawful Stupid: Oh, dear God, Pendragon.
  • Make Wrong What Once Went Right: Quintus wants to alter time for the hell of it. So does Satan.
    • Quintus goes back and forth on this. When he first alters the timeline by sending Diana back he panics when he realizes what happened, and goes back himself specifically to fix it. When he realizes the situation is more complicated he concludes that it should actually be Helene's decision. By the the moment of truth however, he tries to talk her into staying just to see what will happen.
  • Male Gaze: Livia is introduced for a second time by a slow pan up her body.
  • Medieval Morons: The film's medieval setting is a backwards, conformist society that terrorizes and executes innocent women like Helene at the drop of a hat while letting actual witches like Livia stroll about unchecked, and even a good knight like Pendragon is credulous and easily duped. It speaks volumes when the wisest characters in the movie (Meg-Maud, a benevolent witch, and Smolkin, a cursed gravedigger) are the social outcasts.
  • Mugged for Disguise: Quintus. Again, possibly the inspiration for the Terminator films.
  • Murder the Hypotenuse: Livia framed Helene for witchcraft so that she could have Pendragon to herself.
  • Non-Indicative Title: From a modern perspective: three zombies (or possibly ghosts; it's unclear) show up for a very brief, stilted dance scene during the Witches' Sabbath. These are the only genuine undead in the film. The main plot's actual focus is time travel and witchcraft. However, "undead" in the film's time period means someone who is alive but should be dead, meaning Helene, who was given the choice to escape execution — therefore, being "undead".
  • Obfuscating Insanity: Smolkin has a bizarre manner and claims to be mad, but his actions are entirely rational bordering on Only Sane Man. This allows his casual palling around with both sides even though he's in the good camp. Pendragon calls him on this.
  • Our Time Travel Is Different: Apparently when you send someone's spirit back in time, your body and soul can ride piggy-back on it.
  • Out-Gambitted: Quintus learns too late that Satan is more aware of what's going on than he implies.
  • Plucky Comic Relief: Smolkin the gravedigger.
  • Reincarnation: Exploiting a fad of interest in the topic at the time the film was made. See also The She-Creature.
  • Rhymes on a Dime: Smolkin, who sings most of his dialog.
  • Sadistic Choice: If Helene submits to execution, her cycle of reincarnations live on. If she runs, Helene lives the rest of her life, but all her future lives will never come to be.
  • San Dimas Time: Justified in that the two doctors are following along Diana's reactions to the events in real-time.
    Quintus: Please, Professor, we must hurry. (looks at watch) The time here probably matches the time then, which means that it's close to midnight, the time before the Witch's Sabbath.
  • Satan: A particularly silly looking one.
  • Satire/Parody/Pastiche: Smolkin's morbid variations on old Playground Songs.
  • Smug Snake: Quintus, oh so much.
  • Summation Gathering: When the entire main cast gathers in the cemetery near the end for Quintus to exposit about Helene's condition.
  • Tempting Fate: Scroup, the tavernkeeper. "No one can say that Scroup is one to lose his head!"note 
  • Using You All Along: Quintus learns too late that the target of Satan's attention was never Helene — it was himself.
  • The Vamp: Livia, who constantly tries to seduce Pendragon into either loving her or selling his soul.
  • Voluntary Shapeshifting: Livia and her imp can do this with the aid of a Match Cut and a sparkler.
  • Weak-Willed: Diana is "almost devoid of willpower" according to Quintus. While he phrases it in particularly insulting terms it seems to be an objective fact — the much less unpleasant Professor Olinger also confirms that the technique needs someone especially "weak and impressionable" and Diana takes only a few seconds to be put into a trance.
  • Ye Olde Butcherede Englishe: "Noweth?"