Horror anthologies have always been a mixed bag. Think of it as when you stream your favorite artist’s latest CD and find that other than the big hits you may not really resonate with any of their other songs. There may be that obscure “B-side” (does that term even qualify anymore?) that might be a sleeper favorite, but after a listen, you’re done, and all you can recall are the obvious favorites.
The same can be said here. If I can recall a good horror anthology it would be Creepshow from 1982 (despite the critics who savaged it). True, it wasn’t exceptionally high quality but it delivered its scares in the way horror comics of old did (and I’m going way, way back to Weird Tales). The only other would be Trilogy of Terror, but for audiences today, its only scare would be realizing that Karen Black’s career, on the upswing in the mid-70s and peaking in Robert Altman’s Nashville, would grind to a crashing halt soon after where she would make bargain basement horror movies that went straight to video (or cable) and died a quick death. [Also, the movie itself is remarkably tame and campy, but that’s the beauty of it.]
The Mortuary Collection piqued my interest after seeing Chris Stuckmann’s video review on his YouTube channel. Had I not seen anything else, I would have completely bypassed it and moved on to the next batch of festival screenings.
Dear reader, I came into this movie with next to no expectations and came out of it pleasantly surprised. Ryan Spindell’s movie spins a cohesive link of four independent stories connected by a creepy, Lurch-like mortician of the name Montgomery Dark, who receives an application to a vacancy at the mortuary where he operates, surrounded by glorious, old school gloom. Each story is more gruesome than the next. One venture deep into the bowels of pure marital dysfunction that I thought was brilliant. However, there are a few twists along the way, one of them provided by a key character, who plays a significant part in the final tale that has strong shades of both Halloween and The Shining and concludes it in a masterstroke of depravity that had me at the edge of my seat.
Spindell clearly loves the horror genre. In a time when jump scares are the norm for most if not all of the major releases (and even some Indies are getting into it), he lets a scene build onto its own sense of dread. His look is that of an experienced director who knows how much to show and not show in a scene. It simply looks and feels like a living comic book in which you may be given a certain amount of information on one scene, but no more than the characters, which makes for an uneasy view. The fourth and final story is in itself a stand-out and probably would make a full feature-length movie on its own (it exists as a 22-minute short). This is where Spindell lets out all of the visual tricks, some worn, some unexpected, and pulls it all together for a bravura fight between the Final Girl and her stalker. [And can I say that I’ve never seen hair move that way in a movie — it looked almost drawn, the way he has Caitlin Custer move during her more violent scenes that feel lifted from both the aforementioned Halloween and The Shining.]
If I had one minor complaint — but I’m nitpicking — is the look of the periods in which the stories transpire. A sequence in the 60s doesn’t once evoke that era, and the third, which takes place in the 70s, feels like it has elements of other time pieces. However, this is so minor I shouldn’t even be addressing it, but it’s been a thorn on my side to see period pieces look half baked and only feel like a vague rendering of what it was like to live in a specific era.
And on an end note, Clancy Brown. I’ve no clue how this actor has somehow bypassed true fame and awards, but aside from being the sole marquee name on this movie, as an actor, he truly embodies his role down to the mannerisms and voice inflections of Montgomery Dark. Some of his movements had a slight whiff of what Fred Gwynne did as Herman Munster, but other than that, this is an actor who on voice alone drives and elevates this movie.
The Mortuary Collection is available on Prime.