There are certain scary films whose only objective is to get the job done. They aren’t usually the cream of the crop or especially thought-provoking, but they have two or three elements that simply satisfy the needs of the moment—in this case, that moment is the couple of weeks leading up to Halloween. The Mortuary Collection is writer-director Ryan Spindell’s first feature, and he sets things up and knocks them down with mixed results as far as the individual pieces go, but quite satisfyingly overall.
There’s a spooky house on a hill, a place where the kids dare each other to go, but as it turns out, it’s spooky for a reason: it’s a funeral home—Raven’s End Mortuary—run by a deep-throated, ancient-looking mortician named Montgomery Dark (the distressed scenery-chewing Clancy Brown). On this particular day, he’s overseeing the funeral of an unfortunate child, which makes the proceedings more melancholy than creepy, but give it time. Shortly after the event is concluded, a young woman named Sam (Caitlin Fisher) shows up at the door seeking work (there’s a sign in the window), and she seems interesting enough to intrigue Dark. She notices a large collection of books in the spacious structure, and he reveals that they are filled with the stories of every dead person who has come to his funeral home—not only the story of how they died but also why. This kicks off a series of stories, each one set in a different decade, told in an effort to impress Sam, who asks Dark to share with her some of the more extreme death tales.
Less an anthology than a collection of bloody morality tales, there’s a definite Poe vibe going through some of these stories. Most of the people Dark talks about committed some level of offense, with the implication being that they deserved to die. The short story that kicks things off (set in the 1950s) is about a woman (Christine Kilmer) at a party who can’t help but steal from some of the guests and even take a peek inside her host’s medicine cabinet, which leads to something truly unexpected and horrific. The ’60s-set tale is about fraternity brother (Jacob Elori) using the rising popularity of free love and safe sex to get laid as often as possible, until he meets an especially alluring co-ed (Ema Horvath) and shares an athletic evening with her, leading to an unexpected consequence of a sexually transmitted nature.
While the first two stories are laced with humor, the second two are laced with a bit more stony seriousness. The ’70s yarn is about a young couple (Barak Hardley and Sarah Hay), who are only recently married when the wife takes very ill, leading to an agonizingly slow road to death. The husband is so distraught by his wife’s condition, he decides to poison her with an undetectable drug. But things go sideways almost as soon as he decides to go through with it, and before long, he’s trapped in a downright prehistoric elevator with her sawed up body haunting him into insanity. This particular chapter in the collection both moved me and got deep under my skin in the most chilling way.
Oddly and for reasons I won’t explain, the final story is told by Sam to Dark, as she reveals the true reason she came to his door and why she’s been so curious about the young man whose funeral opened the movie. From what I understand, her story is also the short film that Spindell made that inspired this feature-length work. Sam uses her tale of a babysitter under attack from an escaped mental patient who preys on younger children (which is mirrored in the horror movie that the babysitter is watching, “The Babysitter Murders”) to show that the guilty don’t always get their just deserts. It’s a particularly gory and suspenseful entry in The Mortuary Collection, and it results in a pretty excellent reveal that leads into the conclusion of the wrap-around story of Sam and Dark, which in turn make it fairly clear that if Spindell wants to return to this world, there are plenty of unopened books on the mortuary shelves.
As I said at the beginning, The Mortuary Collection gets the job done enough for me to recommend it, but it leans into the familiar a bit too often to be a stone-cold Halloween classic, starting with the mortuary sets that seem lifted right from a Haunted Mansion knock-off ride. That being said, I’m excited about the prospect of seeing more of these tales, many of which reminded me of bloodier versions of the prologues that used to open each episode of HBO’s “Six Feet Under.” Having this storytelling session be about the truth or fiction of bad people who deserve the bad things that happen to them is a nice framework that I hope the filmmaker fine tunes and does more with. But this first entry is a fun, thoughtful and perfectly bloody first effort.
The film is now streaming on Shudder.
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