Glasgow FrightFest 2020: The Mortuary Collection
Writer/Director: Ryan Spindell
Starring: Clancy Brown, Caitlin Custer, Christine Kilmer, Barak Hardley
Sam inquires about a ‘Help Wanted’ sign outside a funeral home and in her interview with owner Montgomery Dark, four gruesomely disturbing stories are told. Moving chronologically from the 1950s to the 80s, a housewife finds a mysterious presence in her bathroom, a college boy gets a taste of his own fraternizing medicine, a husband makes tough decisions about his wife and babysitters are murdered by a homicidal maniac.
K. The Mortuary Collection manages to be a loving tribute to classic anthologies like Tales From the Crypt and Creepshow while putting its own spin on familiar stories. The set up is simple: Montgomery Dark (Clancy Brown) relays four terrifying tales to Sam (Caitlin Custer) to test her mettle and see if she’s up for the task of working at his mortuary. Clancy Brown is fantastic in his cryptkeeper-esque role, donning old age makeup and a gothic air. The tales each delve into classic scenarios but the filmmakers creatively subvert expectations and twist them into something fresh. It’s a win-win for fans of the genre. There’s loads of nods to everyone from Lovecraft to Carpenter to Raimi and genres ranging from body horror to 80s slashers, plus a good dose of originality. The film cleverly utilizes digital matting to create a larger scope and excellent production design by Lauren Fitzsimmons and art design by Harrison Chambers to recreate certain time periods. They also manage to use the wraparound story to act as a metacommentary on the segments themselves. Other than a few quibbles here and there, some dialogue that feels too modern for the given time periods, this is another highlight of this year’s FrightFest. And one of the best anthology films in recent memory. C. An anthology at its best will still face a great hurdle of personal taste, because not only are audiences judging the movie as a whole but also each segment. However, there’s creative freedoms allowed that are harder to obtain when sticking with one storyline, but you also have less time to connect an audience to the story. Anthologies to me are what slashers are to another, it’s what got me into the genre and acts as my “comfort horror” as people call it. The Mortuary Collection is an outstanding throwback that doesn’t limit itself to nostalgia but builds upon its predecessors. While it won’t become as groundbreaking as Scream was for slashers, it has that same meta intention. Producing a legitimate anthology movie that also breaks down the format. The movie keeps you engaged, not just because of the fun stories of comeuppance linked to classics like Tales from the Crypt but also the connection that each has to one another. The stories are all meant to take place in the same town over a few decades, which utilizes characters from other segments to make an appearance. What makes the links actually work is the threadline story with our Cryptkeeper-type character, portrayed incredibly by Clancy Brown. Brown deserves to be brought up based on what he brings to the storyteller role. Traditionally that character is two-dimensional and purely there for the sake of introducing the story… and maybe providing a few laughs. With the little screen time dedicated to leading us into another tale, he brings a depth to his mortician character that further proves his quality as an actor. These scenes pit Brown against a potential employee, who is critiquing his stories as outdated and lacking “real” horror. This subtly adds to a larger conversation about storytelling and its purpose. The Mortician suggests that stories must represent balance, morality, or ultimately have a message at its core, where the incoming employee is more interested in the twists and scares. This may be seen by some audiences as the Mortician being outdated or holding onto nostalgia, a criticism that impacts many directors (especially from an older generation). I found it instead represented the universal truth that no matter how stories or society may evolve, “story is king” and you should connect to an audience. It’s also important to highlight the production design which is a standout within a movie. It’s a perfect showcase of how even at a low budget the possibilities are endless with appropriate planning. Yeah, I had some minor issues here and there that come with the anthology territory but it’s nothing that took away from my viewing. Ultimately The Mortuary Collection is one of the best anthologies I’ve seen in a long time, from people that love the classics while having something new to say. J. I thought the film did a terrific job of putting the stories in the correct order, from weakest to strongest and that’s not to say any of them were weak. They were all fun and absurd (in the best possible sense). This thing reminded me a little of Chillerama, the Adam Green/Joe Lynch anthology from 2012. That’s pretty high praise in my opinion. I do wish that some of the comedy would’ve been embraced just a bit more but that’s probably only in service to my personal taste. I loved Clancy Brown in this who actually reminded me a bit more of John Carpenter in Body Bags than my colleagues. Or maybe Clarence Williams III in Tales From the Hood. Speaking of Carpenter, in one segment a character is watching a film titled, The Babysitter Murders which I thought was genius. The film is pretty homage-y which is fine because it certainly served its own purposes too and was gleefully entertaining. I was pleasantly surprised with this and if you’re a fan of anything we’ve mentioned you will be too.
C. I don’t know if The Mortuary Collection will stand out among the anthologies that horror fans commonly reference. Its style has been explored and mastered by many before. However, the movie uses this to its advantage to give us a statement on the classic vs. (what became) modern horror. Even its “modern” horror segment would be considered retro by today’s standards, there’s no denying the entertainment value of the collection overall. There are little things, like I agree with Josh that there are a few points where they could’ve embraced the comedy a little more but I give credit to Spindell for building a strong, consistent world. While this can go down as another throwback movie, it fortunately is in the camp with something to say rather than just nostalgia for the sake of fanfair. If I would’ve seen this in my early horror-loving years I think it’d be an instant favorite… So I guess the nostalgia worked on me. Either way I’ll definitely pick up a physical copy when it comes around. J. So the 3 of us agree that anthologies are a tough thing to pull off, especially with consistent quality among each entry. The Mortuary Collection manages to do it and has Clancy Brown. There’s really not much more praise an anthology released in 2020 can get as far as I’m concerned. K. I agree with my other two mutants here, it’s not necessarily groundbreaking or anything but it’s pretty great for what it is. I would’ve liked to have seen more humor too but as far as horror anthologies go, of which there are plenty of terrible ones, this is a pretty solid addition to the genre. Definitely worth checking out. Bloodhound’s average score: 4 out of 5