Fantastic Fest Review: THE MORTUARY COLLECTION Is An Assortment Of Horror Favorites
Stories and their message are the focus of writer/director Ryan Spindell’s directorial debut, The Mortuary Collection. This gothic anthology provides an atmospheric mélange of horrific delights that deliver nice bends and twists to the familiar.
When a young girl (Caitlin Custer) attends a funeral in an old mortuary, she stumbles upon a secret room full of curiosities where she meets the towering, ominous mortician Clancy Brown), who guides her through his collection, sharing four stories of wild, unique, and memorable deaths. Thus begins the narrative skeleton surrounding this delightful, morbid, and clever anthology.
The Mortuary Collection draws upon four very distinct horror sub-genres and fuses the surreal storytelling of The Twilight Zone with the goopy aesthetics and dark humor of Tales From The Crypt. The collection includes a nice buffet for horror fans to gorge upon while also presenting a different period setting for each new tale, moving chronologically from the 1950s through the 1980s. There’s a monster movie, a slasher film, a body horror, and tale of psychological madness all lovingly stuffed inside, and each story is bridged by Raven’s End Mortuary’s resident mortician, Montgomery Dark (played terrifically by Clancy Brown), who serves as our narrative ringleader in this revolving door of terrors loaded with fun twists, gore, and humor.
Events are kicked into motion when a young girl comes around the mortuary looking for work. “We’re always hiring,” Dark answers, as he leads her his office which is lined with several books. The books, he says, are records of the deceased who have passed through the mortuary’s hallowed halls, which include not only how they died but why. This intrigues Sam, who demands a story. Dark, being the bona fide many of story he is, is all too willing to oblige.
The horrific direction each story takes is televised before it truly takes flight, but this doesn’t mean that The Mortuary Collection is without its surprises. No sir, Spidell plays with expectation in really great ways — the second story involving a 60s Frat boy that gets a hilariously bizarre taste of his own medicine is a perfect example — and really shows his phenomenal ability to yank the rug out from under the viewer’s feet. He’s balances the horror and humor with relative ease, and imbues the collection with a cohesive style, tone, and vision. Helping the production reach a new level of realization is Lauren Fitzsimmons’ atmospheric production design and the inventive prosthetics designed by Alec Gillis (Aliens, Death Becomes Her, Starship Troopers, Mars Attacks!).
There’s a tongue-in-cheek self-awareness to the anthology that boosts the anthology’s enjoyment factor. Spidell allows some of the shorts to have intentional weaknesses — the first story involving a thieving 50s housewife with a mysterious creature in her bathroom is the epitome of this — and he uses the viewer’s awareness to affectionately poke fun at them via the throughline narrative. The girl looking for work becomes a symbol for the cynical seen-it-all horror fan, critical of every detail but still hungry for more. “All of your stories are predictable,” the girl says to Dark after he concludes a tale. Dark is a classic man of quality and content, who knows that there’s a lesson to be learned from the most familiar of stories. “The form may be familiar, but the message is timeless,” he retorts.
Everything culminates in Spindell’s hugely popular ‘80s-set, slasher-inspired short The Babysitter Murders, which he previously won Best Director for at a previous Fantastic Fest. It’s a cool short that provides enough subversion on its own right, but it also plays a big part in the trajectory of the throughline narrative that glues the collection’s pages together. It doesn’t exactly stick its landing, but there’s a gloss and glide that makes the two-hour experience an amusingly breezy good time, and there’s no shortage of creepy, atmospheric entertainment here.
Recommendation: The Mortuary Collection will be a nice addition to October viewing for horror fans who crave familiar tales with a bit of cheekiness. It will pair well with Tales from the Hood or Trick r Treat.
Rating: 3.5 caskets outta 5.
What do you think? Share your thoughts and feelings in the comments section below, and as always, remember to viddy well!