The Mortuary Collection Returns to the Roots of Anthology Genre

Honestly, I am astounded that fright fans are so often forced to defend the anthology genre of horror, because, quite frankly, it is the perfect union of form and function. Vaulted first into America’s mainstream by the equal parts infamous and iconic E.C. Comics, then galvanized through the poignant irony of Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone, and ultimately enshrined into our collective consciousness by HBO’s Tales From the Crypt, the horror anthology is every bit the survivor of cinema’s most heralded final girl.

What began as a Kickstarter back in 2014 by independent filmmaker Ryan Spindell has shambled onto Shudder as a snarky, tightly-written throwback that will delight us 80’s babies who long ago fostered a nocturnal magnetism with the likes of Creepshow, Tales from the Darkside, and Deadtime Stories.

The Mortuary Collection is based in the fictional, New England town of Raven’s End, a place that the viewer will learn, is home to a curious funeral parlor and its peculiar mortician, one Montgomery Dark, a man who knows the story of every soul that has passed through his funeral home. The imposing undertaker is played by the underappreciated Clancy Brown, most memorable to yours truly for his unsettling portrayal of Sheriff Gus Gilbert in 1992’s Pet Sematary Two.

With a grandfatherly disposition, albeit one contrasted against a cutting wit and knowing menace, Brown breathes life into moldy Montgomery through his understated genius as a character actor and serves as the grounding force throughout the film. Joined shortly by Sam, a young woman in search of employment who possesses her own flair for storytelling, the duo’s travels throughout the mortuary comprise the classic wrap-around portion of this horror anthology.

The individual stories are enjoyable in their own right, each a fresh spin on some of the genre’s most tried-and-true yarns, the grave fun comes to a fitting climax with The Babysitter Murders, the original, foundational piece that spurred The Mortuary Collection into existence, it’s a tale concerned with a child murderer who has a taste for tender flesh and is known only as the Tooth Fairy Killer.

Throughout the narrative, the unlikely pair of Sam and Montgomery wax philosophic about the nature of storytelling, playfully nodding to the conventions of the horror genre while ever so respectfully winking at the audience from behind the proverbial fourth wall. Not unlike the carefully sutured wounds of a recent cadaver, the cinematography is sharply stitched and complimented by visual effects that elicit both shrieks of fear and bales of laughter. Indeed, the whole production is delivered with the patience and poise of a well-practiced eulogy, dusted, of course, with the signature twists that remain an indelible hallmark of the genre.

Inspired by the beloved beasts that populate the genre from yesteryear, The Mortuary Collection, like Trick r’ Treat more than a decade ago, will prove to be the latest triumph of the anthology genre over Hollywood naysayers. In doing so, it not only delivers a welcome dose of nostalgia to legions of horror fanatics, but also fills the hearts of those fans and aspiring filmmakers alike with a much needed injection of hope.

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