Despite our well-documented enthusiasm for anthology horror films here at Vampire Squid Towers, we have to admit that they are a mixed bag. Even the very best of them will have a dud story (or several) that ends up spoiling the broth. Bucking this trend, The Mortuary Collection, a new film that boasts four separate, interweaved tales of terror, is remarkable for its consistency.
There’s something deliciously campy about Clancy Brown‘s performance as Montgomery “Monty” Dark. With his baritone delivery and stuffy formality (with just a hint of ghoulish glee), it’s a role that, in another age, could have gone to Vincent Price or Peter Cushing. It’s Monty’s job to show prospective new hire Sam (Caitlin Fisher) the tricks of the trade. As he does so, he regales her with dark tales of how the mortuary’s residents met their demises.
In the first tale, a woman encounters a tentacled monster lurking behind a bathroom cabinet. In the second, a predatory frat boy gets his just desserts after a one-night stand. In the third, a man at his wit’s end considers killing his comatose wife, but things do not go to plan. The final segment has the ring of urban legend about it, as a babysitter contends with an escaped lunatic. All the sequences have a darkly comedic sting in the tale, and the familiar anthology themes of hubris and comeuppance run throughout.
Visually, the film is very strong. The production design is on point, with each story taking place in a tactile world of slimy textures and spattering gore. Director Ryan Spindell has a great eye for icky detail and a commanding use of vibrant colour. The Mondo Boys step in to provide a bumping soundtrack, which ranges from gothic spookiness to grindhouse sleaze.
It is the curse of anthology formats that, with each segment having a short runtime, filmmakers are often forced to fall back on storytelling shorthand, familiar scenarios and predictable twists. Spindell pre-empts this criticism by having Sam lay into each tale after it is told. It’s a funny bit of meta-commentary on the genre. Although it doesn’t entirely distract from the predictability of some of the tales, it does demonstrate a bit of welcome self-awareness.
The final tale, which was originally a short film in its own right, is by far the strongest segment. Here, Spindell turns his hand to balls-to-the-wall action for the first time, and the frenetic chaos he conjures provides an excellent climax for the film. As with most of the segments, its twist is somewhat predictable, but it has a sense of boisterous energy that carries the day. It’s a shame that the film then wraps up its framing narrative with a slightly more hokey and stale crescendo, which unfortunately takes some of the wind out of its sails right at the end.
Genre fans aren’t likely to find much in the stories that The Mortuary Collection that takes them entirely off guard. It is likely that savvy viewers will be able to guess the broad outline of each story. However, the visual flair and anarchic sense of fun in its execution will keep them feeling fresh.