Directed by: Ryan Spindell. Starring: Clancy Brown, Caitlin Custer, Christine Kilmer. Runtime: 1h 48 min.
Editor’s note: This review was originally posted on Sept. 1 for its release at the Fantasia Film Festival. I am reposting this because it has just been released on Shudder in the U.S., Canada, U.K., Australia and New Zealand. I watched this a second time and found the world building even smarter, and the tone of it all even better as you know exactly what you’re getting into, and think this bumps it up to my like a 3.5/4 in my mind.
The strength of any good anthology film lies within its framing story. I loved certain shorts in V/H/S but didn’t care for the burglars in the house in the main story, but V/H/S 2 was more effective because it simplified matters. As for Ryan Spindell’s The Mortuary Collection, the framing story is simple and effective, as Spindell throws in some very smart world building.
Set at Raven’s End Mortuary in Boggy Bay, a mortician named Montgomery Dark (Clancy Brown) is visited by a young woman, Sam (Caitlin Custer), who is looking to fill an occupancy at the mortuary. Montgomery recalls the strangest deaths he’s seen through his career in fantastical stories. After each story, the pair talk about the tale and Sam usually expresses her disappointment in them, and Monty attempts to one up himself.
The other mark of any good anthology film is the strength of the stories and segments. Most of these stories are exaggerated, though Monty claims that they’re the death stories of people who have passed through the mortuary. The first story is the shortest, and while not necessarily the sweetest, it has some humour as a woman goes into a bathroom and finds something strange in the cupboard. The second story starring Jacob Elordi has more humour and was probably my least favourite if I had to choose, but I generally liked all the stories here. He’s just a basic frat bro named Jake in a fable about safe sex.
The third story is what really hooked me into this film because I loved how it played out. It’s about a husband and wife, and the story hits the right emotions and the right balance between bizarre and realistic. There’s an amazing visual sequence here and the short’s also the scariest as it’s based in situational horror and feels like a real fear for married couples. The first two stories are more fantastical, and while this story is still out there, it’s inching closer to something realistic because of its concept. It also takes time developing its characters because it benefits from a longer runtime. The same can be said about the last story about a babysitter.
Spindell made a short film called The Babysitter Murders and that short is the segment in the film, and it is my favourite one. Spindell always finds ways in all these stories to subvert expectations, even though Sam claims they are predictable, and the writing is the strongest part about his film. The final “contained” story might also be the best because it’s told by Sam, as an ode to 1980’s slasher movies and that is exactly my taste. Montgomery’s stories are good; but hers is a showstopper that made me love the film, and it’s awesome how it leads into the finale.
Caitlin Custer steals a bit of the show in the third act playing to all the layers within her character. Montgomery Dark is very much our host throughout, however. I love the voice Clancy Brown is doing for him, and the make-up looks great. He totally looks like a creepy mortician that local kids would tell each other exaggerated stories about, especially because his prosthetic teeth make him look like he could eat them in one bite. He’s a perfect host for this Tales from the Crypt kind-of format, and Brown plays into the occasionally hammy performance well.
His stories also give such a rich history to the character and to the town as they seem to take place in different decades, slowly catching up with the present day. There’s a cheesy charm to The Mortuary Collection that could turn some off with its tongue-in-cheek nature, but I’m a huge fan of Are You Afraid of the Dark? so it felt nostalgic watching this film because of the use of different eras, and they fit each story well. The score captures that nostalgic feeling perfectly, too, as this fun film really is just an ode to spooky stories and strong storytelling.