I watch the anthology horror Trick R Treat nearly every Halloween. Few anthologies manage to strike quite the same balance of humour and horror as that one, which makes it a perfect movie to screen with pals or even on your own. To me, it’s a stone-cold classic.
Well move over, Trick R Treat. Ryan Spindell’s The Mortuary Collection is here to give you a run for your money. With a fantastic framing story featuring one of my favourite actors, Clancy Brown, under a buttload of makeup to play a supremely creepy mortician and one of the best segments I’ve ever seen in an anthology, The Mortuary Collection is sure to make its way into heavy rotation around Spook-a-Doodle time.
Like Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark, The Mortuary Collection is about stories and their pervasive and persistent nature. The title refers to a collection of stories about people that have died in particularly unique ways, and have had their earthly shells prepared for the afterlife by Montgomery Dark (Brown). A young woman, Sam (Caitlin Fisher), is applying for the job at Dark’s funeral parlour and shows an interest in the collection, prompting Dark to tell her three stories about death and comeuppance (usually in the form of death). The framing story also births a fourth, bonus story that’s the most fleshed-out of the bunch.
What’s kind of neat about The Mortuary Collection is that it seems very aware of itself and how each of the stories plays into anthology horror tropes. While the first story about a thief who gets what’s coming to her in the bathroom of a party is fairly thin and generally not great besides some sick Lovecraftian tentacles, it’s forgivable when Sam echoes the audience and calls Dark on the story’s shortcomings. The second story, about a college debaucher who finally meets his match, is one of the best of its type. It manages to skewer toxic masculinity in a hilarious and genuinely stomach-turning way, and I would almost say it causes The Mortuary Collection to peak a little too early. The third story about a man whose care for his catatonic wife takes a violent and absurdly comedic turn is emotional and (like much of the film) strangely beautiful as well. When the film finally loops back onto it’s framing story for the fourth segment, it piles twists upon twists and calls back to itself in delicious ways, including the clever use of actors from the prior segments.
The tone of The Mortuary Collection is all about humour, and there’s nothing overly scary here that approaches the likes of anthology classics like Creepshow, the V/H/S series, or Southbound. If you’re easily squicked by gore effects, there’s a bloody buffet offered up here and not a single punch is pulled.
Visually, The Mortuary Collection is a marvel. Owing it’s beautiful (and beautifully disgusting) practical effects and cinematography to production designer Lauren Fitzsimmons and cinematographers Caleb Heymann and Elie Smolkin, it pops off the screen and is fully engrossing in its lushness. There’s a fairy tale quality to the whole thing that extends to its curious time period, which is somewhere between modern-day, the 1950s, and the 1970s. If I could compare it to anything, tone-wise, it’d be the recent reboots of Riverdale and Sabrina The Teenage Witch.
Oh, one last note. If I haven’t sold you on how much fun The Mortuary Collection is, let me just leave this here: it’s got one of the most elegantly-crafted, affecting, and brain-breaking exploding penis shots I have ever seen. Happy Halloween everyone!