Review: THE MORTUARY COLLECTION, Horror Stories, More Than Morality Fables
Clancy Brown, Caitlin Custer and Christine Kilmer star in director Ryan Spindell's horror anthology film, now streaming on Shudder.
That Kickstarter campaign did allow Ryan and his companions to finish one of the film's segments, The Babysitter Murders, which had a successful run in the festival circuit as a standalone short back in 2015. Four years later, the anthology in its entirety finally had its world premiere at Fantastic Fest this year, and is now touring festivals around the world. One of those is Shivers in the German city of Konstanz, which enabled me to check it out. Was the film worth the long wait? My short answer would be: definitely! The Mortuary Collection is gorgeous from start to finish, and Clancy Brown is by himself already worth the price of admission.
Brown plays Montgomery Dark, a mortician who runs an old funeral parlor. One day, Sam arrives, a feisty young woman looking for a job. As Montgomery starts explaining the work to her, the two diverge into discussing the nature of stories, and storytelling. Sam challenges him to tell her a few great stories, so he proceeds with some pretty grisly tales...
So far, so good. As the set-up for an anthology goes, this is a rather straightforward framing device. But writer-director Ryan Spindell makes the mortuary inbetweens one of the best segments in the anthology, and cleverly has his protagonists point out each tale's weaknesses. The role of horror stories as simple morality fables is mentioned, and subsequently played with. Sam turns out to be a harsh critic, and with remarks like "too unbelievable" and "too predictable", she turns out to be almost unreasonably hard to please. Thankfully the film doesn't become too "meta" about it, as pointing out flaws doesn't completely absolve them. Luckily, Spindell allows for the segments to be enjoyed as well, rather than just to be laughed at.
It also helps that the film's art direction is great. Taking place in some not-quite-real alternate universe, the funeral parlor looks gorgeous, and indeed the whole town in which the segments take place is a collection of clever details and carefully placed anachronisms. It's a beautiful backdrop and each time the tales allow your eyes to wander, you'll find something pleasing to watch.
And speaking of "pleasing to watch", I do need to point out Clancy Brown, who is awesome here. Playing an old giant creepy mortician, you'd think he'd inch dangerously close to Angus Scrimm's "The Tall Man" from the Phantasm films, but the roles are very different. And Brown plays his part with so much relish and glee, the sheer fun he seems to have rubs off on the audience.
The horror anthology genre may have become a crowded one in recent years, but as long as they're as good as The Mortuary Collection, I do not mind watching more of them. This one comes recommended!
Review originally published when the film screened at the Shivers Film Festival in November 2019. The Mortuary Collection is now streaming on Shudder in the following territories: U.S, Canada, U.K., Ireland, Australia, and New Zealand.