By Ed Sum
(The Vintage Tempest)
Playing at Fantasia Digital Film Festival 2020 On Demand till Sept 2. Buy your virtual ticket here.
From Fantastic Fest 2019 to Fantasia Digital Film Fest. 2020, The Mortuary Collection is making its rounds to other celebrations on cinema. Filmmaker Ryan Spindell‘s work is a retrospective on modern 20th century horror—four tales set in the 50s and onwards to spotlight a particular style of horror relevant for that time. If further screenings and a home video sell out prove successful enough, maybe he will consider making a second volume where it goes back to the ages I adore–The Wild West, Renaissance and Victorian Age.
Although the stories presented here are good, I feel he can go deeper with the subject and offer a thematic package instead of what he made here.
The first tale is simple enough with its Call of Cthulhu vibe. The artwork and style reflected in this piece has a heavier Jazz era set design than rock-and-roll. I’m reminded of the full colour art inserts found in the Cthulhu 4th Edition RPG book. But when considering this tale is supposedly set in the 50s, this chapter hardly conveyed that. There’s no Happy Days here. The effect this piece offers is more of a simple shock just to provide the obligatory tentacle sequence that some enjoy in horror.
“Till Death Do Us Part,” the third story set in the early 60s/70s, is perhaps the best narrative of the three. When a man (Barack Hardley) feels chained to taking care of his love (Sarah Hay), who is catatonic, his hopes for freedom can be achieved if he gives her a pill. Curiously, she comes alive… The pathos I saw in his desire for freedom when contrasted to the intro, where they got married, said everything. He loves his wife very dearly. However, to continue taking care of her when she is hardly mobile felt very compelling. This man doesn’t want to say he’s hurting inside to the doctor who visited, but he is.
When he considers the unthinkable, what happened next even had me surprised! Maybe he took the pill instead of her, but we’ll never know.
Spindell’s work is a mixed bag of suitable pieces and one reused tale. The Fraternity piece will certainly have its accolades. Jake (Jacob Elordi) is a charmer. The girls are attracted to him. However, when he takes a liking to one and refuses to use a condom, just what happens next is snicker worthy. This story is one I would love to see expanded on because there’s a potential Dunwich Horror vibe being alluded to. When you see this work to the end, it’ll leave you begging for more like I did.
The wrapping narrative is just as good too, but I pretty much knew the outcome a mile away and it lacked the gravitas needed to keep this movie consistent. It delves into EC comics territory, and I thought about the age old Creepshow movie more than thinking this one was going to be original.
Sam (Caitlin Custer) is cute and she must have an agenda other than to learn how to be a goth when visiting the funeral home. Clancy Brown chews up the scenery as Montgomery Dark, the mortician who runs the place. When she demands that he tells her a few stories and counters with her own (eventually), I thought her tale was thematically off. “The Babysitter Murders” is a deconstruction of all those 80’s slasher films, and I didn’t care for this tale. My favourites are the Puppet Master and Nightmare on Elm Street series. They allude to ancient voodoo and the ability to walk between the waking and dead realms as a practice to make them stand out over Halloween.
Some eras are better than others when reflecting on how slaughter and death is meted out. That’s why I find tales (literary and cinematic) set in the Victorian age far more disturbing (it’s tough to beat the lasting mystery of who was Jack the Ripper and the emerging revision of the classic vampire as a romantic figure). The Black Death was also a difficult time, which does not get enough love in cinema. Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal is classic for a reason.
While these tales here are more like one-offs conveying what Sam expects from a modern tale of terror, there was no narrative arc to put them all together. This film could have benefited from it, since we’re dealing with how Dark came across these stories. He’s immortal for a reason. The stories he’s heard could have been far more wide and varied. It did not need him appearing at the end of each story to collect that body, but instead just have enough to show that the undertaker will soon arrive, hence the title A Mortuary Collection.
3 Stars out of 5