Director: Ryan Spindell
Screenplay: Ryan Spindell
Starring: Clancy Brown, Caitlin Fisher, Christine Kilmer, Jacob Elordi, Ema Horvath
Running Time: 108min
Tis the season to get spooky, and what better place to spend your lockdown Halloween than in front of premium horror VOD channel Shudder and its fine array of original programming. Shudder are adding a number of brand new titles to their catalogue this year including this critically acclaimed anthology film from first time feature director Ryan Spindell.
Horror anthologies are a fantastic way to grab a sampler of different short stories, sometimes from different director and while classics such as Trick R Treat, Creepshow and Amicus favourites like The House That Dripped Blood and Dr Terror’s House of Horrors are frequently on rotation in this reviewer’s playlist, I’m pleased to say that The Mortuary Collection has now been added to that set.
From the first frame, The Mortuary Collection grabs you, introducing you to the town of Raven’s end where our stories all take place. Something feels rotten in this very Stephen King-esque location, and something especially feels off about the creepy mortuary and its mortician, the deliciously named Montgomery Dark (Brown). Dark is looking for a hand to help out around the mortuary and into his life breezes drifter Sam (Fisher) looking for a job. Her condition, though, is that Dark regale her with morbid tales of corpses past from his book of records, something that the mortician takes great glee with, thus giving us our three “stories within a story”…
As well as a vignette in which a female con artist discovers more than she bargained for in a bathroom, we also see the tales of a group of horny students learning a lesson about safe sex and unwanted pregnancies, a desparate husband caring for his catatonic wife, and a babysitter who’s evening spirals into a bizarre series of terrifying events. Each of these stories is bookended by the connective tissue of Dark and Sam and each of the different threads find ways to intertwine… but to say more would be drifting unpleasantly into spoiler territory!
One of the most striking things about The Mortuary Collection is just how good it looks. The gothic set design, saturated with surprisingly rich colours has a certain Tim Burtonesque charm to it, almost like a theme park haunted house, but it is entirely Spindell’s creation and the realisation of Raven’s End, almost a character in its own right, allows each of the sections to join seamlessly together to form a whole. The photography does great justice to these sets, as does the fantastic sound design and the score from the Mondo Boys. This all combines to form a gloriously macabre atmosphere, but what surprises about The Mortuary Collection is just how fun it is.
There’s an air of dark comedy that pervades the stories although this does admittedly begin to drop off as the film progresses and the shorts become much darker. The film successfully feels both modern and retro both in its design but also in its heavy use of prosthetic effects. There is sparing use of CGI, something that only becomes more prevalent towards the end of the film, and the prosthetic work on display adds a most visceral element to the sparks of violence in the film. Indeed the practical effects are so good that when the decidedly more low key CG comes into play it looks jarring in comparison.
The acting is also top notch with the ensemble cast delivering where necessary, but Clancy Brown’s performance as Montgomery Dark is front and center here. Brown is clearly having a whale of a time as the “mortician with a secret” and hams it up like a Boots meal deal sandwich with his delicious performance. Also of note is Caitlin Fisher as Sam, his would be assistant, who’s purpose in the story becomes clearer as the film progresses. Fisher has an energy here that suggests she’s one to watch out for in future genre pieces.
Overall, the Mortuary Collection is a gloriously gothic, gleefully witty collection of short stories that will leave you with a big old grin from start to finish, and is absolutely perfect Halloween viewing. Check it out on Shudder.