The Mortuary Collection (2020) is a new horror anthology that tells the tale of mortician Montgomery “Monty” Dark (Clancy Brown), as he interviews new hire Sam (Caitlin Custer). Sam is immediately interested in the strange and morbid artefacts that litter the building. As Monty shows her around, he tells her the stories of how some of the people who ended up there actually died. However, the catch is that he has little interest in the ‘how,’ and a fascination with the ‘why,’ so all the stories are strong morality tales which he hopes she can learn from.
In the first, shortest, and most disappointing segment, we head to the 50s for the story of thief Emma (Christine Kilmer), who, while at a party, decides to open a medicine cabinet which should have remained closed. The segment has a very strong visual aesthetic that immediately grabs you and makes you realise that the film is not going to be what you expect. However, this feels like a weak story to kick off with because it fails to establish the meta and referential tone of the film.
However, in the second story, the film really finds its feet and makes you realise this is going to be a fun watch. We find ourselves in the 60s with typical frat boy Jake (Jacob Elordi), who targets seemingly shy Sandra (Ema Horvath) and seduces her at a party. What ensues then is a very impressively shot sex montage, tracking the pair through hours of sex in different positions and scenarios, some of which are comedic. But there is a dark secret, as we see Jake remove a condom without Sandra’s knowledge. It should go without saying that this is a disgusting method of sexual assault, one which appears way too normalised for people like Jake, and needs to be eradicated from society. However, things do not go to plan for him. When he wakes up, he discovers to his shock that he is heavily pregnant and, in a panic, has to search to find Sandra for answers. Much gore and body comedy/horror ensue, leading to an incredibly gruesome and satisfying end of the story where Jake gets his comeuppance in the most violent of ways.
The third story, set in the 70s and focused on a man who makes the ill-fated decision to kill his terminally ill wife, is solid but unspectacular. However, the fourth and final segment, which by this point cleverly links into the main framing narrative, is a killer ending to the film. It comes about because Sam challenges Monty’s storytelling and doesn’t buy into his moralistic view of the bad guy always losing out in the end, so she tells her own story, an 80s-set horror called “The Babysitter Murders.” It tells the story of a young female babysitter, a child, and the escaped mental patient (Ben Hethcoat) who appears during a storm, and a battle to the death.
This sequence is not only innovatively shot, but is packed full of references to classic horrors in the slasher genre like Halloween (1978) and Scream (1996) with genuinely surprising twists. Just like the films it is inspired by, it plays with your expectations cleverly, and due to the meta quality the film has maintained throughout (with Sam and Monty sparring about how each story matches certain cliches), we are able to buy into the path the film goes down and be very satisfied with it. Those who are interested in the ‘final girl’ trope will be especially interested in how the film deals with that, tackling expectations head-on.
The casting throughout the film is strong, with no one seeming out of their depth and all adding to the stories in unique ways, which is exactly what you hope for from the cast of an anthology like this as it allows for each vignette to have its own feel without seeming like it doesn’t belong in the film. However, the two cast members that stand out the most are actually the two actors who feature throughout in the ‘frame story’.
Clancy Brown, who has had a long and acclaimed career to date, is perfect as the creepy mortician. His unique physical stature and deep voice making him seem incredibly imposing, and he commits to the role to deliver a chilling performance. The other standout in the film is much more of a newcomer, Caitlin Custer in the role of Sam. She immediately brings an energy and bounce to the film, which works well opposite the dark and sombre performance from Brown. Without giving away too many spoilers, as the film goes on, Custer has to really take Sam on a journey and show a wide range of her acting ability, and she knocks it out of the park. Hopefully, casting directors watch this film because she will feature on their lists heavily if they do.
Many of the most memorable film scores of all time have come from the horror genre, mostly because it is such an effective way to build tension and atmosphere without having to spend much money at all, and this film is no different. The score dominates the film, maintaining a consistent quality and yet taking on a unique tone for each of the stories in order to suit that specific segment. It results in one of the best scores of the year.
It seems in 2020, potentially more than ever due to the terrifying global situation, that people are embracing ‘spooky season’ and especially the films that fall into that category. Horror films have long been dismissed or sneered at, but in the exact same way that comedies operate, horror films provide that chance for pure escapism. To find yourself engrossed in a film that brings immediate emotional reactions (laughter, terror, etc.) is an activity that should not be underrated, and The Mortuary Collection is a perfect candidate for exactly that experience.
It will not be for everyone, but it manages to provide important social messages about consent and morality, genuine thrills and gore, as well as a meta narrative which calls back to the greats of the genre and also manages to feel fresh. For those looking for a spooky season thrill, they are in for a treat here.