Movie Review: “The Mortuary Collection”

   Like I imagine is the case for many of you, I look forward to punching out the final day on my bad year punch card in favor of a better tomorrow. The issues and problems plaguing us will not change because of a change on the calendar, whether it be Covid-19, or the political entanglements ailing us, but I do believe in the symbolic gesture of a fresh start, a chance to let go of some excess baggage you have been carrying with you, at least from a psychological standpoint.

   In the mean time, however, we are in the midst of a pandemic that has claimed the lives of over a million people worldwide, that has caused people to lose their jobs, and worry for their loved ones, who may not be able to fend off the virus as well as some others may. Obviously, what matters most is what we have movies to watch and I have horror films to speak about.

   Joking aside, I do think it is important, in general, to watch new horror films and support modern filmmakers, especially in a situation like the one we are in. I am a lifetime horror fan and a lot of my friends are lifetime horror fans as well, that in mind, I do think many of us build a nest around nostalgia and often try to keep ourselves at that nest, in spite of what’s out there and the fact that the horror genre is not a journey at its end.

   Filmmakers and storytellers are still coming up with great stories, and while it may seem like the 50s or the 60s, the 70s, the 80s, whichever, was the best time to be alive for a horror fan, the best time to be alive for a horror fan is the present. Since we are able to enjoy what came before, as well as look forward to what’s on its way. Personally, I enjoy a lot of modern horror, like the work of Mike Flanagan and Jordan Peele, and film’s like Hereditary and The Invisible Man.

   Sometimes it can be difficult to try new things. To watch a new horror film out of the blue, with a runtime that feels lengthy and a concept that looks like it could land either way. That is what my intention is with Ever Dafter, to wade through and offer insightful opinion, as well as challenge myself to keep on top of the industry I cherish.

   Shudder is a wonderful source for modern horror, especially indie horror, and although I have not talked about Shudder at length, I have had a subscription off and on for years. I did a review of the Shudder exclusive film Always Shine a couple years ago, I will attach a length to the written review in the description if you want to check that out.

   Like many of you, I like to bounce around between streaming services, rarely committing to one for too long, simply because I eventually burn through what I want to watch and want a new selection to browse through for three hours and never watch anything on.

   The same applies to Shudder. I have an on-and-off again relationship with Shudder, where I rarely stay with it for more than a couple months at a time. Their selection is small and niche, but I am usually satisfied every time I return to it for a second helping. Sometimes I think I should keep the subscription year round as a way to offer patronage to the horror community. I won’t, but sometimes I think I should. After all, I need to fund my thousands of streaming subscriptions someway.

   The Mortuary Collection is an American horror anthology film written and directed by Ryan Spindell in his feature film debut. The film is comprised of a cast including Clancy BrownCaitlin CusterChristine KilmerJacob ElordiBarak HardleySarah Hay and Mike C. Nelson. Clancy Brown is a familiar name you’ve no doubt heard of, who I recently played as in Crash Bandicoot 4 where he portrays Neo Cortex and had a lot of fond childhood memories of him berating SpongeBob as Mr. Krabs.

   Anthologies can be a tossup in retrospect. I love the idea of an anthology film in theory. If you look at many of my reviews, you will find one of the biggest criticisms I offer films is about concision and unnecessary, frivolous fluff meant to make it all add up to feature length. An anthology film allows you to trim the fat and offer a satisfying, short film, no need to take a simple concept and embellish it with unnecessary subplots and character developments if the idea deems it unwarranted or incapable of being fleshed out in a way that is organic. In retrospect, however, I can’t think of very many anthology films I have thoroughly enjoyed. The best I can think of being Trick R Treat, with a handful of pleasant experiences along the way to that.

   The Mortuary Collection is thematic in its execution, serving a collection of short stories brought together with a wraparound narrative in-order to establish a sense of continuity to it all. The frame story follows a young woman named Sam who responds to a Help Wanted sign outside the Raven’s End Mortuary. It is there she meets the mortician Montgomery Dark, an eerie fellow who calls to mind Angus Scrimm’s portrayal of The Tall Man in Phantasm, who takes her on a tour of the facility, all while he shares with her a collection of tales each more harrowing than the last.

   I have found framing is very difficult for many filmmakers when it comes to anthology films. Obviously, you want to accomplish a sense of continuity and instill the feeling they all have that connective tissue that justifies it as a feature film and not simply a collection of otherwise unrelated short films. We’ve seen this tackled in numerous ways prior, whether it be a collection of VHS tapes or a few campers exchanging ghost stories, but it can often feel very half-hearted or manufactured. In that respect, I find that sometimes a frame for an anthology can be more detrimental than having merely created a title card for each short film and dumping them all in together without it.

   I think The Mortuary Collection bucks off this stigma in some respect. Sure, it is a little on the nose that the mortician is leading a woman around a morgue telling her ghost stories, but it does come together for a payoff that feels thoughtful and inspired. The only criticism I may have about the scenario is the back in fourth conversation between them occasionally feeling too meta and cutesy, like when the young woman gives her review of each story.

   Each individual short is shot well, as is the film as a whole, and I think it does well at creating a sense of cohesion and a singular product. If you look at a film like Damien Leone‘s All Hallows’ Eve, for instance, which was the catalyst for what became his breakout slasher film Terrifier, the film was more-or-less a way of him dropping every short film he had made over the years, ranging from a variety of different genres and payoffs. Whether I enjoyed each of them is beside the point, rather, it is that they felt like puzzle pieces that did not go together and did not make a proper picture. This film, on the other hand, everything feels like it was cut with the same clothe, particularly with the cinematography, which offers a grimy, green aesthetic that holds up across the whole film, and a consistently high production and thematic structure.

  Each short film is mean spirited and callous, offering a cruel delectability that might do you in or win you over, benefited by fun special effects and a love for the red stuff. I understand, too, that the director’s short film The Babysitter Murders was released in 2015, and was incorporated into the film, and so, it is admittedly guilty of not being a film made from solely original parts, however, that said, I think the director keeps a strong consistence across the board.

   I don’t know if I would single out any story in Mortuary Collection as great, per se, they are more standard in that regard. They generally offer a simple premise and turn that premise around on its head, but, through their consistence and their high level of quality, I think you are able to enjoy the film altogether by the sum of its parts, and not walk away liking only one or two segments.

   The Mortuary Collection is a fun film and I would recommend it to about anyone. It is a strong player in the anthology subgenre and is one of the best horror films released this year.

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