Several recent horror anthology films comprise short films already completed and sometimes screened, with a new wraparound filmed to try and give them some sort of common theme. Other fright-fare portmanteau films are composed of new segments from different directors. Although many of these types of movies work, some feel disjointed because they lack a common theme. Writer/director Ryan Spindell’s The Mortuary Collection consists of material penned and hemmed solely by Spindell himself, and the result is a delightful anthology that has an air of nostalgia combined with the immediacy of current events.
The wraparound features seasoned actor Clancy Brown — well-known to horror fans from such movies as John Dies at the End and Pet Semetary II, and such TV series as Tales from the Crypt and Sleepy Hollow — as mortician Montgomery Dark, and Caitlin Fisher (AKA Caitlin Custer) as Sam, a young woman who applies for the job opening he has advertised. Brown is a blast as the story-weaving mortician, and he heads up a terrific cast. As Dark gives Sam a tour of the place, she challenges him to tell her scary stories of how people died. This framing device works beautifully to set up four stories, one for each decade from the 1950s through 1980s.
The 1950s-set story concerns a woman (Christine Kilmer) at a party who happens to be a thief, and a startling presence that she discovers in a bathroom where she is holing up. Next, in the sixties, a fraternity brother (Jacob Elordi) learns that he should have followed his own advice about wearing protection during sex. In the 1970s segment, a man (Barak Hardley) finds that his ailing wife doesn’t give up so easily on their “‘til death do us part” vows. The final, eighties-set story is Spindell’s 2015 short film The Babysitter Murders, which I reviewed for Gruesome Magazine, saying it “leads viewers to think we are heading down a well-trodden path but instead leads us to unexpected and wickedly fun places, and looks and sounds great doing so.”
The same can be said for The Mortuary Collection. Spindell has created a film — along with a small town — with a deliciously ghoulish vibe. He is obviously a big fan of fear fare, and plays with tropes and expectations marvelously, offering all sorts of clever, well-handled surprises.
Although each vignette has the feel of a different decade, Spindell and his design crews endow all of them with an aesthetic that makes them feel part of a whole, rather than jarringly different. Again, the film is set in a fictitious small town, and though fashion, furniture, and the like may change over time, it always feels like the characters and their stories are grounded in that same wonderfully weird locale.
The special effects in The Mortuary Collection are highly impressive. Most of them are practical effects, and even those that are not usually look darned close to being so. The special effects, visual effects, and makeup departments have all done splendid jobs, offering up plenty of jaw-dropping sights featuring plenty of splatter, bodily fluids, and body parts.
The storytelling is strong throughout The Mortuary Collection, with every installment bringing its unique, twisted pleasures. Though humorous incidents occur in each tale, none are outright horror comedies. Rather, they are terror tales told with macabre funny moments.
Fans of EC Comics, portmanteau films such as Creepshow and such Amicus Productions as The House That Dripped Blood and The Vault of Horror are sure to find plenty of what they love about those offerings in The Mortuary Collection. Spindell gained a great deal of notice with The Babysitter Murders, and his new feature fulfills the promise that short showed. His is an exciting new voice in horror filmmaking, and I look forward to his future efforts.
The Mortuary Collection screened at Arrow Video FrightFest Glasgow, which ran March 5th –7th at Glasgow Film Theatre in Glasgow, Scotland. (4 / 5)