Something Dark, Twisted and Awesome
The Mortuary Collection is streaming on Shudder
For a while there, horror anthologies seemed to be on the way out. You had your Twilight Zone: The Movie, your Creepshow, Body Bags, and others. Years passed, and while a steady stream of films was released that focused on short-form horror, not too many of them captured the imagination of audiences.
In the last ten or so years, I think there were three films that truly helped to goose the genre and remain beloved to this day. If your taste in horror leans more independent, you’re probably a fan of 2012’s V/H/S. For a more international flavor, you likely love The ABCs of Death, also released in 2012.
Then there’s 2009’s Trick ‘r Treat. It lives in the Goldilocks Zone of horror, in which it’s never too gory, too dour, too nihilistic. All the individual segments have something to say and writer/director Michael Dougherty makes the film with such a gleeful degree of skill that it’s easy to understand why his film has become a Halloween tradition. Could there be a worthy successor? It turns out there is, and The Mortuary Collection makes for excellent viewing during the spooky season.
We’re introduced to the appropriately creepy town of Raven’s End, and its even more appropriately creepy mortuary. Is the man in charge,
Montgomery Dark (Clancy Brown), a figure of fun who brings laughter and smiles to all who meet him? Not so much. While Dark might be a spectral figure lurking in the gothic halls of the mortuary, he needs help running the joint, and that’s where Sam (Caitlin Custer) comes in. She wears her snide attitude like a protective cloak, yet when Dark tells her a few stories about the people who have passed through the mortuary, Sam is all ears.
Those stories are:
- In Medicine Cabinet, a guest (Christine Kilmer) at a swanky party escapes from a drippy guy and hides out in a bathroom. The wallets in her possession are a sign that she’s sharper than the rest of the guests. But that intelligence won’t help her when she decides to snoop into the medicine cabinet.
- Unprotected introduces us to Jake (Jacob Elordi), a college student who’s what they charmingly used to refer to as a womanizer. He thinks he’s got the opposite sex figured out. After he meets Sandra (Ema Horvath), he comes to understand that he doesn’t.
- Till Death follows the marriage of Wendell (Barak Hardley) and Carol (Sarah Hay). She’s lapsed into a coma and his life revolves around her care. An opportunity to remove her suffering presents itself, yet things become far more complicated than Wendell suspected.
- The Babysitter Murders presents a story you think you know. It involves a big house, a babysitter, and an escaped maniac. Here, things are a little different.
There’s no other film genre that’s been as disrespected as horror. Like comedy, a scary movie requires perfect timing. Like action, a scary movie needs memorable setpieces. Like drama, a scary movie absolutely must have proper pacing. Ryan Spindell has lived in the world of horror for years and internalized its lessons. His direction is confident and assured, and along with keeping things moving at a brisk pace, he knows to tweak the tone to fit the story while making sure all of them feel like they fit together.
The fatal flaw of anthologies is that there’s usually one segment that sucks.* As the screenwriter, Spindell must have known that and acted accordingly. You can feel that he’s someone who loves horror yet isn’t shackled by the rules of the genre. Each story is a clearly defined morality tale, and each feels unique. There are moments of tragedy, suspense, and gore that’s gnarly but never too gnarly. Through them all runs a wicked sense of humor that shares DNA with Tales from the Crypt.
The cast knows exactly what kind of movie they’re in and calibrate their performances accordingly. National treasure Clancy Brown anchors the proceedings with a performance that would be right at home next to Boris Karloff. While I could see someone accusing him of being hammy, I think that misses the point. He’s personifying a more old-fashioned kind of horror, whereas Caitlin Custer as Sam is more meta and self-aware, embodying newer films such as Scream. The two of them act as a bridge in a way, showing us how the horror genre has evolved and changed over time.
Like Michael Myers rampaging through the streets of Haddonfield, the year 2020 has proven to be a nightmarish force that’s impossible to stop. Will kids still be able to celebrate Halloween properly through trick or treating?* It’s unclear. What I do know is that if you’re looking to enjoy October 31 with a giant-ass bag of candy and a quality series of creepy tales, The Mortuary Collection is an excellent way to celebrate the macabre and the morbid.
*At this point, I wouldn’t be surprised if candy started spontaneously combusting.