Anthology films have always held a special place with horror fans, whether it’s some of the early versions such as Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors  to The Vault of Horror  or the more well-known creations Creepshow , Tales of Poe , or Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark , regardless of your taste there’s something for everyone. However, the anthology projects were once or twice a year, and now they surround the fans from every angle, and remember there’s going to be one tale in the collection you aren’t going to like for some reason.
Filmmaker Ryan Spindell is the man behind this adventurous project, some might have heard of him from his contributions to Sam Raimi’s 50 States of Fright  and others through his short film The Babysitter Murders ; which a version of is included in this release of The Mortuary Collection. However, I know Ryan through another means, namely one of his first productions entitled Kirksdale ; which is mentioned in this film and I recalled seeing at the now defunct Terror Film Festival in 2008. He also noted that for an anthology movie it sounds insane to do the project as an independent film, especially noting the stories herein are period pieces, the cars, dress, set décor je ne sais quoi element to the whole project. Ryan’s own company Trapdoor Pictures served as the production company and ran a successful Kickstarter campaign, received distribution from Shudder, and since then gained popularity and licensed in Germany, Spain, Russia, and many other places.
It all begins with a little boy named Bill (Tristan Byon), who’s riding his bicycle in Raven’s End, a small town with a population 1804, in search for his story as aspiring writer who upon arriving at The Mortuary notices old newspapers one which states about a riot at Kirksdale asylum and another headline about the Tooth Fairy Killer, which is seen as a tad too farfetched especially by the end of the film. It’s right here one understands there’s several buried secrets and perhaps some ‘easter eggs’; okay definitely there are plenty of treats in all forms. We are introduced to mortician Montgomery Dark (Clancy Brown (Pet Sematary II )), who resides in a Victorian building (a real place, more on that later), after a funeral for death of a young boy, Mr. Dark catches Sam (Caitlin Custer), in his home. She states she’s there for a ‘help wanted’ position and a curious dialogue starts between them both, with her signing a letter of intent. Although this banter is similar to The Spider and the Fly poem by Mary Howitt from 1829, if you’re familiar with the moral of the tale you’ll understand these two dynamics. Sam encourages knowing the why and how people who have passed through the doors of the Mortuary died, hence the stories.
An interesting aspect, the stories don’t have titles, I can’t recall an anthology movie that omitted that aspect, not even the credits told of the names, or on IMDb. Therefore, I’ll attempt my best to separate the tales, it is Mr. Dark, who speaks about them; some viewers claim it’s similar to The Tall Man (Angus Scrimm, R.I.P.) meets the Cryptkeeper, however I disagree liken him to Uncle Creepy. The first tale is supposedly called “Medicine Cabinet” a very seductive woman, Emma (Christine Kilmer) enters a bathroom, during a party the light switch is slimy, but she continues inward, and looks at all the items she pickpocketed, however the images of the ocean on the wall don’t seem to alarm her; rather she curiously pries open the medicine cabinet only to discover Lovecraftian horror. This opening story is primarily all visual horror except for a few lines of utterance from Emma, the rest is her selling the performance along with the special effects team. The second story might be entitled “Unprotected”, as it involves fraternity member Jake (Jacob Elordi, who is similar to Christopher Reeves) who devilishly seduces freshmen women with fake women empowerment statements about sexual freedom experiences by handing out condoms. He and his brothers disagree with the safe sex rules, as the story seems set in 1950s/60s he ideally seeks to conquer the women to earn his pennant on the great mighty wall; his pleasure is to mask the bullying he suffered as child, now seeks to inflict pain to others. His most recent conquest is Sandra (Ema Horvath (What Lies Below )) who has her own sexual freakish behavior. It all unravels disastrous for him as his life explodes, how you might wonder – simple the same manner in which a man impregnates a woman well his own hole is widened. It is a curious storyline, and includes a comical scene involving her parents Ralph (James Bachman) and Margaret who yells her full name including the middle that’s when you know someone really in trouble. A couple of key aspects first chapter president Todd (Michael Bow) plays it very reserved, almost of a hunter on the prowl, who celebrates when Jake “nails” his 67th girl, also the visuals for it are very creative, not only from the big reveal but from how all the pennants in the scene point downward as representing teeth and the stars up the rooms, like a tongue, it is all very Freudian the lighting also assist in uses sexuality as a lure. Oh, must not forget the wild overhyped energy of Conner, (Brennan Murray (Sound of Violence )), his comical moments really shine through breaking the tension filled moments.
As for the third tale a man Wendell (Barak Hardley (Show Yourself )) marries the true love of his life, Carol (Sarah Hay) however years later certain portions of his vows become an unwanted nuance, such as ‘worse’ and ‘sickness, showing his true self, a failed caregiver. He receives some misguided advice, and his crime of passion goes completely sidesways, and makes him commit a gruesome act of corpse mutilation to fit her in a truck. Nevertheless, things don’t go according to plan and ultimately sinks in the tight confines of an elevator, fret not for Wendall, his nosy neighbor Mrs. Avery (Phyllis Applegate (Mother )) appears to inform him the police is on their way to help. The final story is a of a previous short film Ryan did call “The Babysitter Murders” which also was the original title of John Carpenter’s Halloween , that delivers the most celebrated telling and well-crafted story, a wickedly delicious twist with plenty of trimmings. It includes the character of Sam and actor Mike C. Nelson (Minutes Past Midnight ) who actually stars throughout the various stories. As one knows these tales always return to the characters from the beginning, no difference herein, but rapidly becomes something which lead into a sequel or even a series.
Some might think the stories a tad cheesy, but the essence of the entire production is the quality of filmmaking and especially the set design and construction, the time and effort in place rival that of multi-million-dollar productions. The sets, thanks to both Lauren Fitzsimmons and Harrison Chambers for example have a macabre and creepy feeling to them and covered with such little items to pique your attention, such as the butterfly wings that appear in the windows behind Mr. Dark in various scenes showing a deeper metamorphosis of his character, which hints to fuller tale about his origins, and how Sam is stitched together. The city of Astoria, Oregon, got involved with business and of other individuals supplying embalming tools, instruments, and other items needed for a complete mortuary; the crew noted how a small town is more open to possibilities and then a major city. That the chamber of commerce became more involved than previously thought even participating in the scenes as extras. They used locations from Heritage Square Museum located in Montecito Heights, Los Angeles, California, a place some horror fans will recognize, for such productions A Night of Horror: Nightmare Radio  and The Return of Dracula , even Jack Osbourne’s Portal of Hell show used the Octagon House. Also, the Victorian building used for the mortuary is actually the Flavel House museum, in Astoria, Oregon, used only before in cinematic history for The Goonies (1985). Ryan also brought Tammie Merheb who he knew since film school for the customers and making sure of the period piece clothing because if it’s out of place then it all works to ruin the overlook look of everything.
I would highly recommend getting the Blu-ray release as it’s wonderfully designed, very slick look and the extras are thoroughly incredible, especially for an indie flick. Aside from the normal Director’s Commentary, there are 16 other bonus material videos, which some include Actors, Camera, Costume, Art Department, Locations, Props, Hair & Make-Up, Special Effects, Sound, Stunts, and Deleted Scenes, so often many of these departments are taken granted for, the individuals in them are often overlooked cogs, rather Ryan included as part of one big family without their work the film grinds to halt.
Needless to say, not everyone will find sheer enjoyment with the anthology collection, but Ryan makes sure to have Raven’s End as his little own Tromaville, complete with the prop name of Finkelman, use on everything product related from whiskey to condoms. Then another easter egg to enjoy the license plate numbers each add-up to “13” as does the town’s population and even Jake’s winning number, it’s this nuance that makes for a fun watch, that brings a striking solid collection of gooey, gory effects and enjoyable entertainment.
- Every corpse has a story…
IMDb Rating: 6.4/10
Baron’s Rating: 6.5/10