Combine twentieth century period aesthetics with a smattering of practical effects, soak it in Gothic atmosphere and apply a liberal sprinkling of body gore galore and you have the ingredients of pretty much the perfect horror film for this particular film critic. And like a beautifully-packaged and well-timed Halloween gift, those happen to be the precise ingredients that make up The Mortuary Collection coming to Shudder this week. It is a portmanteau centred around the Raven’s End Mortuary, where Clancy Brown’s Montgomery Dark tells aspiring apprentice mortician Sam (Caitlin Fisher) various spooky tales that have led to some of the more memorable corpses he has worked on.
The first two stories – Medicine Cabinet and Unprotected – appear to be set in the early 60s. Medicine Cabinet is the shortest and simplest, featuring a thief (Christine Kilmer) getting her comeuppance via a mysterious tentacled creature living in the bathroom medicine cabinet she snoops in while at a cocktail party. Unprotected features Jake (Jacob Elordi – The Kissing Booth, Euphoria) and Sandra (Ema Horvath) sleeping together at a college frat party. Unbeknownst to Sandra, Jake removes the condom and Sandra has her revenge in the most hilarious and gruesome way possible.
Till Death features a man (Barak Hardley) caring for his terminally ill wife (Sarah Hay). Taking the advice of Dr Harold Kubler (Mike C Nelson), who is a thread tying the stories together, he tries to ease her into a gentle death. It goes wrong, he attempts to remove the body via his building’s elevator and probably the most horrifically scary scene of any of the segments takes place.
The Babysitter Murders has more of a 70s/80s feel, as it is from this era that we get the classic teen horrors, especially involving babysitters and it features the meta inclusion of a movie from this era. This time Sam turns the tables on Montgomery Dark and tells her story. There is an escaped psychopath on the loose and things get gnarly as Sam defends her charge.
It’s hard to imagine that the budget was particularly high on this film, which is writer-director Ryan Spindell’s feature debut. What has been achieved by production designer Lauren Fitzsimmons and costume designers Savannah Kay Gordon and Tammie Merheb is pretty extraordinary – in creating both the twentieth century period details of the stories and the creation of the main Raven’s End Mortuary set, which is like a Gothic haunted house. The other impressive feat is the practical make up effects by Amalgamated Dynamics Inc, which are a huge part of the enjoyment here.
In the best tradition of The Twilight Zone, Tales from the Crypt or Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (or my childhood favourites Eerie, Indiana and Round the Twist), The Mortuary Collection uses the classic horror trope of telling scary stories ‘around a campfire’ and upping the ante with each one, trying to outdo the last. It also features twists and turns and it is unclear who to side with or trust out of the central duo of Montgomery Dark and Sam. I personally preferred the individual stories more than the sinew that ties them together (the mortuary-set scenes), but it is all highly enjoyable.
Veteran actor Clancy Brown (Shawshank Redemption, Starship Troopers) sinks his teeth into his role and is almost unrecognisable as the creepy mortician. Caitlin Fisher also gives an interesting performance as seemingly a bland blonde, but with more going on under the surface. If you are familiar with Jacob Elordi’s two best-known characters – Noah and Nate – seeing the particular flavour of revenge that befalls him here is decidedly delicious. Barak Hardley is a stand-out for his role as the desperate husband trying to do the right thing.
What Ryan Spindell has achieved here, for a first feature, is really impressive. He has created a world that has depth and richness to it, with detailed period production design and fantastically gory practical effects. If you like your horror on the fun and enjoyable side, rather than the relentlessly traumatic and harrowing side, then this is the Halloween treat for you. One of the best Shudder offerings I’ve seen in the last year or so, make sure you don’t miss The Mortuary Collection.
The Mortuary Collection comes to Shudder on October 15.