The Mortuary Collection Movie Review
Written by Stuart D. Monroe
Premeiered on Shudder
Written and directed by Ryan Spindell
2019, 108 minutes, Not Rated
Premiered on Shudder on October 15th, 2020
Clancy Brown as Montgomery Dark
Caitlin Custer as Sam
Christine Kilmer as Emma
Jacob Elordi as Jake
Ema Horvath as Sandra
Barak Hardley as Wendell Owens
Sarah Hay as Carol Owens
Mike C. Nelson as Dr. Harold Kubler
Ben Hethcoat as The Killer
“The world is not made of atoms. It is made of stories.”
With the first line in The Mortuary Collection, Clancy Brown lets you know that there are tales awaiting you. If you’re anything like me, that gets you a little giddy – anthologies (both on the page and on the screen) are one of my mainline drugs. Variety is the spice of life, for sure, but it’s the potency of those short little stories and their collective tendency to go to the nastiest and darkest possible place that really gets me going.
Opening with a distinctly Game of Thrones-style opening credit roll, we’re introduced to the town of Raven’s End and a paperboy who decides to visit the creepy old mortuary on the hill. He doesn’t have the gumption to hang around when Montgomery Dark (Clancy Brown; The Shawshank Redemption, Spongebob Squarepants) appears. Sam (Caitlin Custer; The Babysitter Murders) isn’t intimidated by Dark, however. She arrives at the end of a funeral for a little boy, snooping around and trying to get a look in the coffin. She says she’s answering the “Help Wanted” sign hanging outside, but there seems to be more to her story than just the seeking of gainful employment. In the library of this very unusual mortuary, there are thousands of books containing the stories of the dead. Sam is fascinated and wants to hear the best ones. Montgomery Dark, “resident mortician and eternal servant of the great beyond”, is all too happy to oblige.
The Mortuary Collection firmly establishes a throwback style and place from the outset. Bicycle playing cards rattle away in the paperboy’s spokes and his vintage camera swings from his neck. He looks like the stunt double for Short Round. It’s a great way to start that sets a classic tone in the first five minutes. The common thread in every tale and the wraparound itself is the attention to detail. The tales tie into each other; it’s one of those movies that peppers in little details throughout (like Dark’s pocket watch) that will have you pausing and double checking to see if you’re right. That’s always fun.
When the proverbial claret flows in The Mortuary Collection, it flows in abundance. There are a number of solid practical SFX kills that hit the mark, with the TV set kill being a highlight that would own just about any film. There is a decent amount of CGI throughout, but I’ll be damned if they didn’t do a stellar job of making it a complement rather than the detriment that CGI so often is. The art direction and set design are top-notch as well.
The clincher is, of course, Clancy Brown as Montgomery Dark. Is that name an homage to Something Wicked This Way Comes? I prefer to think it is, even if it wasn’t intended. In any case, the hallmark of the great anthologies (like the all-time champ, Creepshow) or even a TV series of horror stories (can you say Tales from the Crypt?) is a host to tie it all together and provide the creep factor. And I love the Crypt Keeper and The Creep as much as all of you do, but Montgomery Dark is a “host” with more than just puns, leers, and a shrieking cackle. His old-age makeup is on point, and if you pay close attention, you’ll notice it gets darker as the movie goes on. Nice touch.
Sam is a great counterpoint to Dark, though. She starts off a little unhinged and gets subtly more unhinged throughout the 108 minutes. She’s not just a sounding board for Dark’s ominous musings, though – she’s central to the whole affair in a turn that isn’t shocking, per se, but is exactly where you want it to go.
Everything about The Mortuary Collection is the classic “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” anthology formula. The individual stories start off quick and nasty (there’s a literal warm-up story) before getting down to it. Sam wants something ever nastier, and Dark has plenty to tell.
- “Don’t Stick Your Nose Where it Doesn’t Belong”- A well-dressed lady named Emma (Christine Kilmer; Shameless) ducks into a restroom at a fancy party. She’s digging through the wallets and coats for loot, but this thief bites off more than she’d ever want to chew when she breaks into the locked medicine cabinet. Some cabinets are locked for a reason, and it isn’t always to keep people (or things) out. The “warm-up story” is quick, nasty, and great fun.
- “Better Safe Than Sorry”- Mysterious new girl Sandra (Ema Horvath; The Gallows Act II) arrives on the campus of Raven’s End Tech. She meets Jake (Jacob Elordi; The Kissing Booth), a cocky frat boy who’s passing out condoms to freshman girls. He’s captivated by Sandra, and she’s in his bed before you can roll your eyes at the predictability of it all. It’s Jake, however, that’s about to discover that there are consequences for the guys as well as the girls…at least when you’ve hooked up with Sandra. This one is the highlight in a killer anthology; it’s gooey, visceral, funny as fuck, and just plain wrong.
- “’Til Death Do Us Part”- Carol (Sarah Hay; Black Swan) was all Wendell Owens (Barak Hardley; Spell) wanted. He marries the love of his life, and then his life turns into a nightmare when Carol is stricken with a terminal illness that isn’t killing her fast enough at this point. His friend, Dr. Harold Kubler (Mike C. Nelson; Black-ish), offers him an easy solution, but nothing is easy with Wendell’s luck or Carol’s constitution. The third segment in The Mortuary Collection is laugh-out-loud cruel and heartbreaking in equal measure; the best horror always comes from situations where you can truly empathize with the characters. “’Til Death Do Us Part” will make you empathize whether you want to or not.
- “The Wraparound”- I hate to even tell you anything about what goes down here. It’s one of those kinds of things. What I can say is that it’s Sam’s backstory, and if you’ve paid attention, you’ll get a vicious wrap-up that allows these two to do some seriously fucked up things. Ready for something even more shocking? I’m going to go ahead and coin the term “ember demons”. You’ll see what I mean. Enjoy that.
The Mortuary Collection is a classically styled and structured anthology that still manages to be its own standout take on the format. Legitimately one of the best anthologies I’ve seen in any era, it could be dropped into any era of horror from the ‘80s onward and still work beautifully. Much of that credit goes to Clancy Brown. He’s a true “actor’s actor”, and he puts in serious work here. Considering how good the rest of the cast is, that’s a bold statement.
That’s Clancy Brown for you, though. Don’t act surprised. Just enjoy this treat for anthology fans everywhere that will probably become a go-to staple of the anthology family.
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