As far as anthology films are concerned, it’s easy enough to skate by on the quality of the shorts compiled in them than trying to craft a good enough story to wrap around them. It can be as simple as finding some VHS tapes lying around, or as intricate as weaving characters from the frame narrative into the stories themselves. The Mortuary Collection finds a decent enough middle-point as it regales tales of the dead that are both entertaining and appropriately morbid. Neatly packaged, director Ryan Spindell’s anthology film delivers on its promise of being terrifying and unbelievable, even if it struggles to justify the shorts it picks within the overarching story.
Probably closer in tone to a darker version of this year’s Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, The Mortuary Collection has several things going for it that prove beneficial. For starters, the movie’s framing device involves a mortician (played by the consistently enjoyable Clancy Brown) telling stories to a young applicant, Sam (Caitlin Custer), about the deceased. The setting itself lends nicely to the concept of an anthology film, with dead bodies passing through the mortuary at the end of their stories. Even the overarching narrative becomes fittingly more ambitious than the shorts themselves by the end. Yet, why those specific short stories are told is barely given more justification than “evil is always out there”. There’s a little more flavor text than that, but The Mortuary Collection isn’t concerned with explaining why the stories were chosen, but instead how entertaining the stories are – which Sam herself acts as an audience surrogate, criticizing them while also begging for more tales of increasing terror levels.
Where audiences will get their kicks is from the stories within the film. Each one increasingly more disturbing than the last, they are all entertaining at the bare minimum. Even the ones that don’t wholly work still offer visuals that could serve as someone’s nightmare fuel. Each short dabbles in comedy, with some more so than others, but they all offer a horrifying story to tell. Each one also offers a unique hook to it whether its a twist or a set up that pays off by the end. It’s easy to get completely invested in the world of each short, and it’s impressive how well they all work when most anthology films usually carry at least one or two duds. This is likely due to not being subservient to any specific theme or intent, other than that someone dies.
It’s the acting that keeps things even-keeled, with Clancy Brown being the unsurprising standout. He tells the stories with gravitas and brings a presence to his mortician character that makes it easy to see him loving his job in the final resting place for the dead. When Custer’s character gets to be a little more free from being the audience surrogate, she’s a lot of fun, but regretfully spends a lot of time listening to and demanding more stories from Brown’s character. Within the shorts, there are characters that feed into the other stories, including a doctor that just seems to be everywhere. The performances from everyone involved are befitting a movie so devilishly dark with a nice helping of comical undertones.
Certainly, a movie made from the heart, The Mortuary Collection is consistently endearing. A delightfully macabre anthology film that can easily string audiences along as they’re enveloped by the movie’s sick sense of humor and wonderful storytelling. As each tale doubles down on the levels of dread, it also becomes apparent that the movie hasn’t really justified how many shorts it has, why it picked the ones it did, and how they all link up on a thematic level. They’re just entertaining stories of people dying in horrible ways, which is enough to recommend The Mortuary Collection to anyone craving a solid, terrifying anthology film.
Toronto After Dark 2019 runs October 17-25th.