‘The Mortuary Collection’ Review: Clancy Brown Shines in Anthology
By Daniel Rester
Ryan Spindell has been making horror shorts for years. The Mortuary Collection, expanded from his short The Babysitter Murders (2015), marks his feature debut. It’s an anthology film revolving around stories told by a creepy mortician named Montgomery Dark (Clancy Brown). While many anthologies consist of stories told by multiple directors, and therefore have inconsistent results, The Mortuary Collection is all written and directed by Spindell.
Dark works at Raven’s End Mortuary in the 1980s. One day a woman, Sam (Caitlin Custer), walks in after noticing a “help wanted” sign. Dark interviews her and tells her strange stories about some of the bodies that have come through Raven’s End. The stories he tells provide the anthology segments, with each one taking place in a different era.
The Mortuary Collection is one of the best surprises in the horror genre this year. Spindell shows great confidence as a director, with his touches feeling like a cross between Mike Flanagan and Tim Burton. His film contains gorgeously retro architecture and art decor, while his stories are all a mix of the morbid and whimsical. The segments are unique in their own ways, but Spindell’s voice is evident across all of them. Nothing feels out of place.
Spindell’s film contains four such segments, while Dark and Sam have their own fifth story as the framing device. I will only give the basics about the segments as a lot of the fun of the film is discovering the nuggets of surprise in each bit. Each has intelligent dark humor and splashy gore, but the characters and situations are completely different.
The first segment is very short and involves a mirror and a thief in the 1950s. It has a Lovecraftian feel to it. Spindell warms us up with this brief but effective set piece in a bathroom. The second segment, meanwhile, shifts things to the 1960s and focuses on frat parties and safe sex. It’s a hilarious takedown of coitus-hungry men who use women, with handsome character Jake (Jacob Elordi) learning a tough lesson.
The third segment, in the 1970s, finds depressed Wendell (Barak Hardley) taking care of his ailing wife. The healthcare bills are piling up, so he decides to end her life to ease her suffering and his. Of course things don’t go as planned. The film’s most strangely beautiful image comes from this bit, with blood drops slowly floating upwards in a fast-falling elevator.
The fourth story goes back to Spindell’s The Babysitter Murders, with that title being the original title for Halloween (1978) by the way. This one puts a spin on the “madman attacking a babysitter during a storm” urban legend. It’s a blast.
Brown, in heavy makeup, shines as Dark. He’s a classically spooky character who would be right at home in EC Comics material. Brown lends his deep voice and subtle menace to the role perfectly. He and Custer do a fine job at keeping the wraparound story interesting, with Dark showing Sam around the building in between the stories. Another acting standout is Mike C. Nelson, who plays a doctor character named Harold who pops up throughout the stories; his timing of sharp humor is aces.
Though The Mortuary Collection is breathtakingly designed and shot, its lighting does tend to be a little too dark at times. Spindell perhaps gets too clever for his own good in the final few minutes as well. In attempting to get more meta and subvert expectations, the material starts to feel like its trying too hard for a certain effect. The very end comes across as goofy too.
Despite having a few issues, The Mortuary Collection is one of the better horror anthologies to come out in the past few years. It’s wonderfully old-fashioned in design while also not being afraid of injecting more modern writing and gore approaches. Brown gets a showcase role and Spindell proves to be a directing talent to keep an eye on.
My Grade: 8/10 (letter grade equivalent: B+)
Running Time: 1h 48min