Director: Ryan Spindell
Starring: Clancy Brown, Caitlin Custer, Christine Kilmer
Run Time: 108mins
Between “Scare Package,” “Nightmare Cinema,” and their hit streaming series, “Creepshow” Shudder are building up a strong roster. Now we can add to that roster Ryan Spindell’s “The Mortuary Collection” a wildly entertaining effort that might just be the best of the bunch. More than that, it may be one of the most consistently entertaining anthologies of the post- “V/H/S” boom.
Unusually for an anthology Spindell is the only director on the movie. This factor helps with both narrative and tonal consistency. There is no requirement on him to awkwardly fit a wraparound story around several other directors’ vision. On the flip side, it means he had to come up with all the tales himself, of which there are four plus the wraparound story.
The setting for that wraparound story is a funeral home owned by creepy mortician Montgomery Dark (Clancy Brown). Who recounts some gruesome tales of how various unfortunate (?) souls made it on to his mortuary room slab to Sam (Caitlin Custer). A young woman who claims to be looking for a job. Now, before going any further in this review, it should be pointed out just how much fun Brown is here. He is a deadpan riot from start to finish, very much going full Angus Scrimm for the role (Side note: If there is ever a Phantasm remake Brown should definitely be hired).
Impressively though, as much as Brown may be the star turn, he is matched by Custer, who is also great-fun as the cynically minded, wise-cracking Sam. The character of Sam also in some ways makes it difficult to review as she gives a running meta-commentary pointing out perceived flaws. For example, she points out after the first (and shortest) tale of thieving woman who meets a peculiar end in a bathroom that it is fine but slight as she thought there be more to it or she would have got a more ironic comeuppance. Both of which points will probably be echoed by the audience too (and this reviewer).
Fun though this meta-commentary, maybe it doesn’t always. Upon finishing the second tale of a high school frat boy who does get an ironic comeuppance for his sexually predatory ways, Sam tells Monty (and us) how gruesome, fun and socially relevant it is. All of which is kind of true. It does however come off a little too self-congratulatory, but then Spindell seems to know that as Sam admits she was being a tad ironic.
Also, Spindell has a right to be a bit self-congratulatory as each segment is gruesome, gory fun very much done in the style of EC Comics. And while each falls into horror-comedy there is a mixture of tone with the first segment being absurd, the second really pushing the gags while the third is more melancholic. This story focusing on a husband who reaches his limit caring for his catatonic wife. If there is a drawback, it would be that the opening three segments and the wraparound all have samey visual look to them which makes it feel less anthology like.
Until this point the movie has been a solidly good anthology done in a traditional throwback manner telling grisly morality tales. Where it truly excels though is in the last stretch. First in the final segment, Spindell’s 2015 short “The Babysitter Murders”, which is a brilliant slasher spoof that beautifully plays with the “final girl” cliché and features an entertaining film-within-a-film. But more than that, seeing how he neatly weaves that short into the wraparound narrative. The ending is also a beautiful reminder of the power of storytelling and how certain story forms remain timeless.
Overall: A must-watch for Old-School anthology fans (particularly fans of EC Comics) and up there with the best horror films of the year.
"The Mortuary Collection" is available on Shudder from October 15th