The Mortuary Collection
2019, NR, 112 min. Directed by Ryan Spindell. Starring Clancy Brown, Caitlin Fisher, Tristan Byon, Josephine McAdam, Eden Campbell, Hannah R. Loyd, Christine Kilmer, Mike C. Nelson, Jacob Elordi, Brennan Murray.
REVIEWED By Richard Whittaker, Fri., April 23, 2021
There's a sinister tale to be told in Raven's End – or rather, tales. As a young newspaper delivery boy (Byon) cycles through its mist-shrouded streets, there's clearly much awry in the seaside town. Too many strange sightings, too many missing people, too many claws on the lobsters, and too many crows. There is, however, only one funeral home, and that is where Montgomery Dark (the eternally wonderful Brown), the town's mortician and funeral director, works, resides, and collects bodies and stories. The corpses go into the ground or his basement crematorium's retort: but the stories, ah, the stories of the poor unfortunate souls, those he collects, with the ultimate aim of sharing with the right person.
Horror anthologies can be challenging. The individual stories have to mesh tonally, without repetition. They must be strong, but not overshadow the framing story: that admittedly would be challenging here because of the towering, glowering presence of Brown, who was clearly born for this kind of Gothic comedy. Toughest, they can't afford a weak chapter – which, peculiarly, is how The Mortuary Collection's library opens, with a story so slight that it doesn't get a name. "It's not bad," quips Sam (Fisher), the young woman who has arrived to apply for the job. What's the job? All the sign on the hanging shingle outside is "help wanted," but helpfulness doesn't seem to be her forte. A snarky audience, she seems to be hellbent on critiquing the morality tales and stories of comeuppances that Dark tells over each of the bodies in the cold, dark, labyrinthine chambers underneath his cold, dark, rambling, Victorian manse.
Writer/director Spindell resisted the temptation (and producer pressure) to merely adapt his 2015 short "The Babysitter Murders" into a feature, instead folding that story into his quartet of fantastical fables. He took advantage of the short's midcentury modern shooting location to root The Mortuary Collection in a near-timeless Americana for its three original tales. It's how it makes sense that the towering, glowering, crepe and velvet Dark, and Seventies final-girl-with-a-twist Sam could even interact. Each segment has a grisly moral that feels akin to Creepshow and Tales From the Crypt without ever feeling derivative. Moreover, they also veer into surprisingly hard-hitting territory, of birth control, gaslighting, and euthanasia, without ever feeling preachy, and each explodes into a grisly, monstrous ending that makes Raven's End feel like a worthwhile destination.
Most of all, it's the sharp banter between Brown and Fisher that keeps it perpetually on the right side of deliciously entertaining, and strikes a very usual balance. Most anthologies have the framing mechanism simply service the stories they contain: Instead, Spindell weaves each tale into the bigger fabric, like bloody fat quarters making up a gruesome but surprisingly snugly quilt. When the pieces all are sewn together, the fully assembled The Mortuary Collection may well be the most wickedly fun anthology since Trick 'r Treat.
Available on Blu-ray, VOD, and Shudder.