Today marks the last Friday of June, and as such it will be the last Friday Night Frights film selected for being a first-time feature. As some of the other choices have been a little heavy in tone, I thought I’d make this one a little more fun and have opted for anthology horror The Mortuary Collection, written and directed by Ryan Spindell.
First André Øvredal released Scary Stories to Tell in Dark, now comes The Mortuary Collection, an anthology film that taps into that same dark energy. Told in more of a portmanteau style than a simple anthology, The Mortuary Collection begins in a funeral home as a young woman, Sam (Caitlin Custer), responds to a Help Wanted ad. Believing her to be incapable for the position, the funeral director Montgomery Dark (Clancy Brown) begins to recount the stories of how several people (bodies) came to his establishment.
Choosing to have all our stories linked by our storyteller helps to create a cohesive narrative, one that flows easily from one tale to another. All too often with anthology films everything can feel a bitty and compartmentalised, but not here. The tales themselves play out like a slightly more adult Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. Those that were disappointed with the lack of gore in the former will be delighted by what Spindell has to offer in The Mortuary Collection. In terms of content, each story is very much its own beast; Spindell takes the viewer on a whistle stop tour around the varied sub-genres of horror, with no two stories the same. Given the vast variety in tone and subject matter, there should be at least one story to please everyone. A personal highlight is the second entry, which follows a frat boy whom gets more than he bargained for after a one night stand. The others illuminate the dangers of bathroom cabinets, the burden of being a carer to a loved one, and a spin on the classic babysitter alone urban legend.
As different as each individual component is, they all share a similar aesthetic. Spindell bathes each one with that almost timeless fifties-esque Gothic chic. The timeline of the film, and the stories housed within, is never explicitly stated, but from what we see onscreen they could pretty much be placed anywhere. It’s a smart move to approach the visuals in this way as it means that The Mortuary Collection stands a good shot at longevity. Everything, right down to the costumes and music, is kept fairly classic, with Spindell opting to stay away from fads that’ll soon be forgotten. As clean as everything is kept though, there is at least an element in progression from story-to-story, be that in the look or thinking of the characters, they clearly push forwards from what appears to be the fifties to the eighties and beyond.
Having worked in the short film arena for several years, The Mortuary Collection is the perfect way to ease Spindell into feature length. When you boil the movie down to its bones, it’s a handful of stories stitched together. His background in short format shows, and he demonstrates that he knows just when to pull back and when to show more. Again, it’s another advantage with him being in total control, rather than just manning one component. Were it to be a traditional anthology directed by several different filmmakers, each segment would be around the same length – giving them all equal opportunity to get their voice out there. Having just one voice at the reins means that the audience’s expectations can be played around with. Some stories play simply as footnotes from Montgomery Dark jumping straight into the action, whereas others are given the time they need to properly breathe. There’s an odd complimentary structure to them as well, with each story fitting into the usual beats of a linear narrative. So rather than possessing a feeling of start, stop, and repeat, you usually get within an anthology, they all build towards the films finale. The final babysitting segment works beautifully as the film’s overall climax.
A film that feels at home when surrounded by the likes of The Twilight Zone, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, Tales From the Darkside, Creepshow, and Eerie, Indiana, The Mortuary Collection and its fictional location of Raven’s End is similarly begging for further exploration. Highly recommended to watch by candlelight with friends, accompanied by optional ghost stories, The Mortuary Collection taps into a strand of horror that has been absent from our screens for far too long.
A re-invigoration of a bygone horror sub-genre, The Mortuary Collection offers a series of well orchestrated scares set within a world crying out for further exploration.
This review first appeared on THN. The Mortuary Collection is available to watch on Shudder now.