“The Mortuary Collection” is a remarkable new horror anthology — one that lives up to the greatness of its predecessors to which it pays loving homage.
“The world is not made of atoms…it is made of stories.”
Anthology horror films always find a way to harken back to that nostalgic renaissance period of the early eighties, when masterpieces like George A. Romero’s Creepshow (1982) and Spielberg’s arrangement for Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983) enjoyed wide theatrical releases and great critical and commercial success. If imitation is a form of flattery, then Creepshow represents one of the most imitated constructs of recent memory.
Creepshow, of course, took its cues from the 1950s shock horror comic era, when rags like Tales from the Crypt and Vault of Horror were produced by the now infamous EC Comics brand. Each issue featured a collection of short horror tales with a twist or shock ending. And each story was introduced and concluded from ghoulish narrators like the Crypt-Keeper, the Old Witch, and the Vault-Keeper.
The 2019 gothic horror anthology The Mortuary Collection seeks to tap that vein of nostalgic anthology horror.
Ryan Spindell’s love letter to the sub genre is certainly a standout compared to the plethora of uninspired, dismal rip-offs released over the years.
The film opens with an introduction of the small town of Raven’s End — Astoria, Oregon in real life — as a newspaper delivery boy scuttles through the town on his retro bicycle and finally reaches his last delivery spot, the town’s mortuary. The mortuary’s location in a Victorian-era mansion serves its purpose perfectly, as does its mortician, Montgomery Dark, played perfectly by a heavily made-up Clancy Brown — evoking the essence of his contemporaries, Christopher Lee and Vincent Price, who had played similar roles.
Montgomery serves as the film’s narrator and a critical component to the story’s wrap around structure.
After holding a memorable funeral service for a recently deceased child, Montgomery is surprised to meet the sharp-tongued Sam (Caitlin Custer), an alluring young woman who claims she’s interested in the mortuary’s help wanted sign. Seemingly undisturbed by the macabre, Sam endures Montgomery’s attempts at rattling her resolve with spooky tales involving various souls who had been passed through the mortuary’s hallowed halls.
This introduces essentially four short tales of the EC Comics variety: a female con-artist meets her match during her latest score; an over-sexed fraternity brother learns an important lesson for shirking safe sex protocols; a beleaguered husband caring for his invalid wife learns the true meaning of ‘til death due us part’; and a lone babysitter squares off against an escaped lunatic on a dark and stormy night.
Naturally, the stories are chock full of twists, and each of the antagonists receives comeuppance for their crimes in do time.
The film’s last segment, “The Babysitter Murders,” is based on Spindell’s 2015 short of the same name and undoubtedly shines as the most polished segment in the anthology.
The segment, down to its title, which was the original working title for John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978), wears its love for the slasher sub genre and Carpenter’s work on its bloodstained sleeve. Spindell and his art department’s talents for unparalleled visuals and attention to detail propel The Mortuary Collection into horror’s major leagues, only seconded by Brown and Custer’s strong performances.
However, the film suffers most from its failure to adequately blend humor with horror, not to suggest that Spindell and the cast did not aim to play it straight. Additionally, despite some amazing gross out gore gags and admirable practical effects, the reliance on visual effects in various scenes degraded Spindell’s otherwise puritanical approach to nostalgic horror anthology films. The rather long run time (approaching 2 hours) also hurts, rather than serves.
Overall, Spindell creates a wonderful world of gothic horror in the form of Raven’s End’s spooky mortuary, and Brown steals the show as the story-obsessed mortician and narrator.
The Mortuary Collection’s aesthetic appeal more than guarantees a long career for all involved, and it should come as no surprise if a sequel emerges from Spindell’s impressive feature length directorial debut.
The Mortuary Collection earns four butterflies for its incredible art design and ambitious resemblance to some of the horror genre’s most storied anthology opuses from yesteryear.