THE MORTUARY COLLECTION / CERT: TBC / DIRECTOR & SCREENPLAY: RYAN SPINDELL / STARRING: CLANCY BROWN, CAITLIN CUSTER / RELEASE DATE: TBC
Anthology movies, naturally, rise and fall on the quality of their segments, but also on how well they fit together as a whole. In the case of The Mortuary Collection, the framing device for its series of lethal and humorous tales of death is not just an excuse to launch in to the next short, but remains an integral part of the film in its own right and just as significant an aspect of the experience.
In this case, death-obsessed teenager Sam is interested in a working in the local mortuary, and challenges its aged mortician to tell her the most gruesome tales of death to which he has been privy over the decades. As the magnificently monikered Montgomery Dark, Clancy Brown, seemingly made up to look like the Tall Man from the Phantasm movies, has a lot of fun looming ominously and orating in tombstone rumbles, while the far younger Caitlin Custer holds her own opposite the veteran, Sam never appearing cowed by the intimidating presence and revelling in the gradual unveiling of the surreal and death-ridden history of the town in which they live.
Each tale is efficiently alluded to in an opening sequence that drips with nostalgia for the ‘80s when films such as these were popular, and variously involve a thief at a party discovering something otherworldly in the bathroom; an obnoxious and womanising frat boy getting exactly what he deserves after tricking a fellow student into unprotected sex; a melancholic account of a middle aged man caring for his chronically ill wife; and a teenage girl facing the fight of her life after a murderer escapes from a nearby mental hospital.
The highlight of the quartet is the final of these, director Ryan Spindell’s slasher short The Babysitter Murders that ran the festival circuit a few years ago. Rather than just splicing in some pre-existing material its events are deftly incorporated into those of the movie, turning what was a simple standalone tale into an integral piece of the setting’s history that comes back around to resolve the movie’s narrative in a neat and satisfying manner.
While certainly first and foremost a collection of horror tales, an undercurrent of humour also runs strong, keeping the tone light amidst the practical effects gore and gruesomeness that (sometimes quite literally) explodes onto screen. The tone is amplified by the visuals being colourful, hyper-real and heavily stylised, feeling like the stories are live action adaptations of animated shorts shown at 2 am on [adult swim].
Although each tale is set in a different decade and visually styled to the associated aesthetic, they each also possess a timeless quality that allows you to imagine them taking place right up to the present day, relating human foibles that are realistic and relatable whatever the point in time. This also applies the wraparound story, the gothic ambience of the funeral home appearing as something lifted directly from a Victorian backstreet and transplanted into the coastal town.
The Mortuary Collection is a mixed bag that won’t be for everyone, but a distinct assortment of tales of humorous death with practical effects that add to its charm and amplify the retro stylings make the collection as a whole worth seeking out.