Fantasia International Film Festival runs August 20th through September 2nd as a completely online event. We’re used to attending in person in beautiful Montreal, Canada, but we’re excited to cover this fantastic festival virtually too. Our coverage of this year’s Fantasia Festival continues with our review of The Mortuary Collection.
The horror genre sees more “love letters” to the films of the 80s than any other, and it’s easy to see why. It was a decade known for fun, over the top genre romps where sheer entertainment outweighed pesky details like logic. Such films are still being made, but recent years have seen a turn towards darker, more serious horror as well. Writer/director Ryan Spindell’s feature debut yearns for the former, and The Mortuary Collection succeeds with a gooey, silly, and purely entertaining time.
While too many horror anthology films neglect the wraparound tale — the segment that introduces, connects, and concludes the stories within — Spindell knows that’s part of an anthology’s charm. We’re introduced to Montgomery Dark (a devilishly fun Clancy Brown), caretaker and mortician, as he wraps up a service for a deceased child. As the mourners leave he notices a young woman enter, and while it’s unclear at first why she’s there the pair soon settle into a challenge of sorts. Sam (Caitlin Custer) asks the mortician to share tales of the dead, and he complies.
First up is a tale that barely counts as a tale at all as a young woman at a party escapes to the bathroom to examine the loot she’s stolen on the sly from various men. Her curiosity and greed see her punished, though, as the secret of the host’s medicine cabinet is a deadly one. Up next is another morality play with a bit more meat on its bones. Jake (Jacob Elordi) is a fraternity legend raw-dogging his way through incoming co-eds with reckless abandon, but his latest conquest leaves him with a parting gift. The third tale follows a loving husband (Barak Hardley) who grows tired and tested by his invalid wife. He makes a fateful decision that goes horribly awry in wonderfully EC Comics fashion.
While Montgomery serves as storyteller to this point, the fourth tale comes from Sam as she attempts to outdo the much older man. Spindell re-purposes his own 2015 short “The Babysitter Murders” here to great effect. It’s a standalone tale, but it fits into the feature as its most important segment for reasons that soon come clear. For those who haven’t seen it, the story follows a young babysitter forced to defend herself against an escaped lunatic from a nearby asylum. It’s an inventive, thrilling, and fun approach to the familiar setup.
Like all anthology films, the segments in The Mortuary Collection are a mixed bag. Happily, none of them are failures, and instead the majority are pretty damn entertaining. The stories begin in the 50s and move forward a decade at a time, but while that makes for differing settings it has little bearing on the film overall which maintains an 80s vibe throughout. The tone also shifts somewhat at times, and while the bulk of it aims for humorously grim and gory silliness the tale of the worn-down husband has a heavier air about it. There’s an undeniable drag during this segment, in part because of that tone change amid an otherwise lightweight and fun romp. The story still works, though, even if it does lack the pop of most of the others.
Spindell’s clearly working within a limited budget here, but The Mortuary Collection serves as reminders that creativity and fun don’t always need big bucks to shine. The babysitter segment looks and feels terrific, and various splashes of gore and style imbue the other segments with their own thrills. The frat boy tale is another strong entry, and it absolutely pops — that’s a pun, people, that you’ll appreciate more after seeing it — with cathartic energy and body-horror nastiness.
The wraparound, though, deserves its own praise. It’s a fun little setup, and both Brown and Custer do strong, snappy work bantering between their characters as the story’s conclusion comes into focus. It’s a terrifically entertaining tale in its own right, but it also does a fantastic job building a framework for the film as a whole and offering the possibility of a follow-up. Hopefully a sequel happens, but even if it doesn’t, The Mortuary Collection is a bloody blend of familiar beats, fresh takes, and pure fun. Give it a spin… if you dare.