Eye For Film >> Movies >> The Mortuary Collection (2019) Film Review
The Mortuary Collection
Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode
They don’t make ‘em like they used to. Except when they do, and then there are treats like this.
The film opens with a boy cycling through town on his bike, and if you get the weird sensation that you’re watching an Eighties kids’ film, that might not just be because of its style but because the dock he sets out from is the same one featured in Richard Donner classic The Goonies. The house where he ends up, however, is straight out a Seventies Amicus horror opus, and one look at its looming, dour-faced inhabitant – a magnificent Clancy Brown – is enough to send our erstwhile young hero rushing out of the driveway and out of the film as fast as his wheels can carry him.
This isn’t a film about heroes, though that’s not to say that it doesn’t have a moral message – several, as one of its characters will note, but mostly pointing in the same direction. Brown’s character, elegantly suited yet somehow not altogether human-looking, is the mortician who has been running the house as a funeral home and crematorium for many long years. It’s a lonely life but things start to look up for him with the arrival of the fresh-faced young Sam (Caitlin Custer), who has seen a job advert outside and says that she would like to become his assistant. The mortician likes this idea but is sceptical at first – will she really have the stomach for it? Insisting that she has, she invites him to test her with a gruesome story, and he duly obliges. So begins a long night of storytelling and spooky discoveries.
Horror anthologies haven’t had a great reputation in recent years because most of them have been put together piecemeal – usually a case of somebody inviting submissions on a film and choosing the best ones, or simply asking their director friends to contribute, neither of which is guaranteed to work well even on the happy occasions when the shorts themselves are okay. Mortuary Collection director Ryan Spindell wanted to go back to an older format in which the shorts are made by the same team and work together as parts of a greater whole, contributing to a meta-plot. This film took him seven years to make but it succeeds admirably, and one can only hope that it goes some way towards reviving the subgenre.
The first thing you will notice about the film is its lush period styling – exactly what period is not quite clear, with the shorts apparently referring to events that have taken place across a number of years – but the overall effect is very smooth, with everything blending together visually to magnificent effect. Brown gives the film the kind of iconic weight of past masters like Christopher Lee and Vincent Price, whilst Custer’s lively and confident performance balances this admirably. The shorts (four in all) focus less on originality than on character and style, each with its own distinct atmosphere. There’s some beautiful costume work and the production design is first rate.
The old fashioned nature of the film is likely to divide audiences, with some preferring more modern fare, but for those who love the Amicus and Hammer classics, The Mortuary Collection is to die for.Reviewed on: 08 Mar 2020