2010s

Review: Ryan Spindell’s ‘The Mortuary Collection’

The Mortuary Collection Movie Film

Even with everything going up in flames, we can take solace in the fact that 2020 has been a strong year for horror anthologies, particularly following the release of Shudder’s lively Scare Package. With nary a dud amongst the collected shorts and a fun, genuinely involving wraparound story to boot, the film is loaded with gruesome practical FX, big laughs and inventive storytelling. Now, it seems that Shudder has done it again with recent acquisition The Mortuary Collection. From the mind of just one creator, writer-director Ryan Spindell (The Babysitter Murders, 50 States of Fright), the movie contains just four shorts, with a compelling wraparound introducing the premise and tying everything up neatly once all is said and done — one of the hardest things to get right with horror anthologies; just ask the guys behind the hit-and-miss V/H/S series. 

The inimitable Clancy Brown gets top billing, as well he should, as creepy mortician Montgomery Dark (really) whose family business, of which he is the sole remaining steward, looms large over the town of Raven’s End both literally and figuratively. Dark lives and works in a massive, gothic mansion located at the top of a steep hill. Mist constantly surrounds it despite the weather patterns. Little children ring Dark’s doorbell and then flee, which is unsurprising considering the great man is hidden under some heavy, and ultra-creepy, old-age prosthetics. Brown’s unmistakable, booming voice sounds even cooler with the weird, unplaceable accent the actor adopts here (I’d kill to have him give a speech at my funeral), and the situation is ripe for him to sit back and lay out the various stories for a captive, unseen audience. Helpfully, he just so happens to have a big ol’ storybook from which he can do exactly that.    

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The Mortuary Collection Movie Film

The audience for Dark’s tales, aside from Shudder streamers of course, is young Sam (Caitlin Custer, The Babysitter Murders), who is eager to work for the mortician but has to learn the ropes first. Although Sam complains that all of Dark’s stories are predictable — to which he sagely argues back, “the message is timeless” — one of The Mortuary Collection’s greatest strengths is it’s incredibly difficult to tell where any of the featured stories are going, likewise where the central duo will end up. The first sees a common thief in a stylish yellow dress coming afoul of a tentacular monster housed in a medicine cabinet. It looks great and feels surprisingly tactile in spite of what are, understandably, computer-generated effects, and it doesn’t overstay its welcome. Up next, teen heartthrob Jacob Elordi (Euphoria, The Kissing Booth series) impresses as a college boy who gets more than he bargained for after stealthing a woman he’s sleeping with (the disgusting and sadly prevalent practice of removing a condom without a partner’s consent, more colloquially known as rape). 

Elordi really goes for it as the typical kind of straight, white, well-off lad who’s never had to fear for his safety — the self-involved Jake doesn’t even take any notice of the posters strewn around campus for numerous missing boys — and totally crumbles once he’s forced to. Without spoiling anything, Elordi’s Jake is tasked with withstanding some genuinely gnarly body horror, and to the Aussie actor’s great credit, he’s utterly committed to the process. Although it’s unlikely Elordi’s standing as a young hunk will be threatened by his presence here (if Euphoria didn’t kill his chances, nothing will), this is indisputable evidence that the kid can really act and has no qualms about tackling challenging material. Up next, a young man named Wendell (Barak Hardley, Spell, Junketeers) is tasked with looking after his catatonic new bride and, after putting an end to their shared misery in a moment of weakness, ends up paying the ultimate price for his selfishness. Hardley portrays Wendell with great sensitivity, as neither a hero nor a villain, while Braid breakout Sarah Hay does a remarkable job of playing opposite him as his borderline comatose wife, in a similar manner to how Olwen Catherine Kelly portrays the enchanted corpse in The Autopsy of Jane Doe. 

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The Mortuary Collection Movie Film

There are terrific FX on show throughout The Mortuary Collection, both CGI and practical, but it’s in the bride short where Spindell utilizes some memorable and disgustingly beautiful visuals, including perfectly-blended sushi and a slow melding together of blood and vomit on a table. Home becomes horrifying as a carving knife is used for a rushed dismemberment, with the implication being that any situation can become deadly at a moment’s notice. In the final installment, The Mortuary Collection intersperses scenes from The Babysitter Murders to wonderful effect as Sam fights for her life against an intruder who, in a move that cleverly subverts a well-trodden trope, appears dripping wet, unmasked and sitting on the sofa in front of her. Aside from being a good advertisement for Spindell’s short, this particular vignette boasts a creative use of a mincer, the view from inside a smashed TV and a switcheroo that only works thanks to the audience’s perception of horror movies — even the fact that she’s named Sam could be seen as a throwback, since so many chicks are called Sam in movies, while The Babysitter Murders is, of course, a reference to the original working title for John Carpenter’s esteemed Halloween. 

Custer’s performance is strong, and she does a superb job playing off Brown, who cuts a commanding figure and naturally gets his own big, showy moment eventually, too. The denouement is wildly satisfying in a manner that recalls the best episodes of Goosebumps and Are You Afraid of the Dark?, however the series that The Mortuary Collection most closely resembles, though, is Tales from the Crypt. Spindell pays homage to many horror productions, yet his film is its own uniquely strange, inventive, entertaining and frequently frightening little monster. Although the film clocks in at close to two hours, there are no moments that feel as though the director is treading water. Likewise, nothing feels rushed either, which is an issue even with Scare Package, which boasts a similar running time but feels less cohesive overall. Perhaps it’s because Spindell is in charge here, and he sets each story around the same town so different characters, like a moustachioed doctor, for instance, are free to pop up repeatedly throughout, tying everything together. 

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The Mortuary Collection M

Raven’s End is a wonderful creation in itself, with a foreboding sky looming over everything, mist clinging to the trees and the constant threat of rain in the air (indeed, it does start lashing before too long). Mondo Boys’ epic score suits the atmosphere perfectly, while the sound design is pitch perfect throughout — you can feel every creak in your bones and, later, the crackling of actual bones is just as keenly felt. There’s a kind of timelessness to the place, from the styling to the set dressing, suggesting Raven’s End could be in a time warp (although the discussions Jake and his college bro friends have suggest a more modern setting). The Mortuary Collection is shot through with real verve, too; Spindell clearly has a distinct vision, and his handle on exactly the kind of story, or rather stories, he wants to tell is evident. Humor is used sparingly but the jokes land consistently, which is no small feat. As anthologies go, The Mortuary Collection is a remarkably solid entry, with zero duds to speak of, which is cohesively told, kicks off at a lively clip and ties everything up neatly with the requisite wink for good measure. Horror fans, in particular, will really dig it, but those outside the dark realm should find plenty to enjoy too.   

Joey Keogh (@JoeyLDG) is a writer from Dublin, Ireland with an unhealthy appetite for horror movies and Judge Judy. In stark contrast with every other Irish person ever, she’s straight edge. Hello to Jason Isaacs.

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