This review is part of our Fantasia Festival 2020 coverage.
The Pitch: “The world is made of stories…” and they are left behind by the dead. Montgomery Dark (Clancy Brown) is an aging mortician tasked with not only caring for the bodies of his recently deceased clients but for the stories of their deaths. These he collects and keeps in the massive library of his sinister and dilapidated mortuary. After officiating the funeral of a child, he meets Sam (Caitlin Custer), a young woman looking for a job. Her interview takes a turn for the macabre as she asks Montgomery to scare her with his tales, setting the stage for this spooky anthology.
It was a Dark and Stormy Night… Set in the vague past, The Mortuary Collection feels like Scary Stories to Tell In the Dark for twenty-somethings with a dash of 1,000 Ways to Die thrown in for seasoning. With a distinct urban legend feel, these stories could have happened 50 years ago or yesterday, and the mortuary serves as the perfect anchor. It’s an ancient and decrepit house, as mysterious as the business it traffics in.
With each story, we descend further into the building as the stories themselves grow darker. Piled up newspapers outside screaming “Riot in Kirkside Asylum” are just the icing on the creepy cake. Brown is fantastic as the keeper of stories, too, riding the line between threatening and comforting so that we never know quite how much we should trust him. His counterpoint, Sam, is brazen and fearless, the opposite of the female characters we’re used to seeing from this retro time period.
Have You Heard the One About… Writer and director Ryan Spindell subverts gender norms at every opportunity. Though the stories may feel old fashioned, thanks to fantastic period costumes and set design, the moral messages are anything but. These stories feel familiar but Spindell gives them an updated twist, playing with our expectations based on decades of stereotypical conditioning in a way that never seems heavy handed.
While all four segments are wickedly fun, the crown jewel is a twist on the urban legend of the babysitter that unfolds parallel to a fictional movie, The Babysitter Murders (a cheeky nod to the original title of John Carpenter’s Halloween). It’s an effective shorthand that plays with our expectations and horror knowledge while going in an entirely different direction.
And That’s Why You Never, Ever… Each story reinforces the throughline that we cannot escape karma. Though we may get away with our misdeeds for a while, they will always come back to bite us. An alluring woman discovers that beauty often hides dangerous secrets. An alpha male frat bro experiences the other side of his conquests. A husband learns that caretaking is indeed hard work. And a babysitter learns to always answer the phone. The framing device intertwines with the stories in delicious irony with a sinister undercurrent that threatens to go too far, but never quite crosses the line.
The Verdict: With a spooky atmosphere, retro feel, and a creepy performance from a horror legend, The Mortuary Collection is a perfect movie for stormy nights at home and best enjoyed over a big bowl of buttery popcorn. Just make sure you’ve locked your doors, and be fully prepared to lose sleep as you listen for things to go bump in the night.