The Mortuary Collection is a gothic, expressionistic, and winning riff on a number of horror influences.
Ryan Spindell’s The Mortuary Collection is an absolute blast, a delightfully gory and darkly comic throwback to old horror anthology films. While stuff like the VHS and ABCs of Death franchises imposed a fairly strict format upon a wide range of creators, Spindell writes and directs all of the segments in this collection himself, allowing for a more consistent experience than one usually gets with these kinds of portmanteau films. Spindell has even got his own version of the Crypt Keeper on hand, the incomparable Clancy Brown, acting as emcee for the proceedings. Brown is Montgomery Dark, first introduced under layers of skeletal old man makeup and presiding over the funeral of a child in his growly baritone (and relishing it perhaps a bit too much). When a young lady named Sam (Caitlin Custer) comes inquiring about a job posting at the funeral home, Dark regales her with tales of all the dead folk who have passed through his doors. Dark’s first story is the shortest — essentially a brief gag that sets the tone for what’s to follow, as a woman pickpocketing unsuspecting men at a party decides to open the wrong locked cabinet. The second involves a manipulative college student who lies to a one-night stand about wearing a condom and gets a particularly grisly comeuppance. The third follows a put-upon man who’s tired of caring for his invalid wife. When he decides to rid himself of his burden things do not go as expected. The fourth is the longest, a cheeky homage to Carpenter’s Halloween that happens to feature the same young lady who is interviewing with Mr. Dark. It’s got the most obvious twist of the bunch, but, like the other stories, it’s willing to go to a particularly dark place to make its point.
Spindell is working through a number of influences here, most obviously EC Comics and Tales From the Crypt, but also early Tim Burton and Sam Raimi, Fred Dekker, and a healthy dollop of ’80s slashers. He’s got a finely tuned sense of the gothic and expressionistic; the production design throughout is ravishingly beautiful, with deep, dark colors, elaborate patterning, and a lavish attention to detail. It all feels very out of time, with Spindell mixing and matching eras and modes with gleeful abandon. It’s mostly affectionate, although Spindell occasionally tries to put a lampshade on the whole endeavor by having Sam remark upon the history of these kinds of omnibus films with ironic snark. It’s about the only bum note in an otherwise wonderfully realized bit of funhouse horror, though Spindell ultimately repudiates this ironic touch with the film’s final swerve. All in all, there’s an appealing sincerity here, an endearing devotion to the genre and its tropes that leaves a lasting, easy smile.
You can currently stream Ryan Spindell’s The Mortuary Collection on Shudder.
Originally published as part of Fantasia Fest 2020 — Dispatch 3.