The chief failing of your average horror collection is often such a movie’s greatest strength. Getting a coherent look and theme out of an anthology is a bear when you’re dealing with many directors, productions crews and “visions.”
A “VHS” or “ABCs of Death” or “Three Extremes” is only as good as the filmmakers invited to participate, and if they’re good, there are frights and we see ideas — sources of dreads and horror — we’ve never considered. But even the best of them are often a visual mess.
That’s what sets “The Mortuary Collection” apart. It’s more of a “Tales from the Crypt” package, all conceived, scripted and directed by Ryan Spindell, but more importantly all sharing a production designer and director of photography.
The thing looks just beautiful, and having the wonderful character actor Clancy Brown as a creepy old mortician “telling” the tales lends it gravitas and ups its cool quotient.
But the stories from Spindell, heretofore a maker of short films (including an earlier version of a “story” told here), are wildly uneven in tension, suspense and horror.
A couple carry the weight of being pitched as “morality tales,” with a lesson being taught, “comeuppance” being served.
One is of limited ambition and running time — basically an exercise in well-lit “creature feature” period piece. And a fifth “story” is the framing device, the old mortician (Brown) and “rhapsodist” (or rhapsode), who deals with the dead and the grieving, intoning a funeral oration and later giving a tour of the place with a young woman (Caitlin Custer) applying for a job there.
That framing story is florid, plummy and almost-amusing, as Montgomery Dark tells the applicant Sam stories from his Raven’s End (the town’s name) funeral home “archives of the various ways which clients have found themselves passing through our hallowed halls.”
They’re the stories of how people died and ended up there, Sam says, cutting to the chase.
So we see a woman nosing around the guest bathroom of a house hosting a 1950s party, perhaps a pickpocket or thief. But when she opens the medicine cabinet, something reaches out to grab her. Can she shut the door and keep it shut until somebody in the party hears her screams and comes to help?
A 1960s “client” was a frat bro (Jacob Elordi), lead Lothario at Sigma Delta fraternity at Raven’s End Tech. We meet him handing out condoms, “keeping everybody safe” at freshman orientation, assuring the coeds that “the patriarchy is dying” and that a sexual “revolution is coming,” and they’ll be in its vanguard.
Yeah, everything about that’s absurdly anachronistic, but never mind.
Then one (Ema Horvath) shows up who is as brazen as he is. It’s just that their night of unbridled (artfully blurry) sex has consequences. Horrific consequences.
A couple (Sarah Hay and Barak Hardley) marries “til death do us part” in the ’70s, only for the wife to become ill with the husband looking for ways to end her misery and his obligation. The helpful doctor (Mike C. Nelson, who plays the same doc in every story) gives him a way out.
Only things don’t go according to plan.
And then there’s the short film that Spindell has remade here, “The Babysitter Murders,” a jumbled assault within assaults involving an escaped murderer from the local asylum and babysitters. This ’80s tale is the only “story” to have a title, and sets the tone for the framing story/job interview “finale,” which is similarly muddled in terms of plot and “message.”
Brown plays a glorious archetype, and more scenes — or even voice-over — of him “telling” the stories would greatly add to the “fun” here. He could even tidy up the incoherence of some segments and underline the point of others.
“The world is not made of atoms. It’s made of stories!”
Because as gorgeous as “Mortuary Collection” is to look at, as seamlessly as the mismatched stories flow into one another, I have to say I agree with Sam’s review — delivered in character after one particularly unsatisfying tale of death.
“I was expecting something with a little more…substance.”
MPAA Rating: unrated, graphic, bloody violence, sex
Cast: Clancy Brown, Caitlin Custer, Christine Kilmer, Jacob Elordi, Barak Hardley, Mike C. Nelson
Credits: Written and directed by Ryan Spindell. A Shudder release.
Running time: 1:48