‘The Mortuary Collection’ is a hidden gem of horror

October 30, 2020

Anthology films are a massively important part of horror cinema, but the genre is often ignored or written off as a silly trend of the ’70s that went on too long. Much of this aversion stems from the legitimate observation that most anthology films are trashy and gross or low brow and overly silly. Even if the film is cinematically well done, often the stories will be dumb or uninteresting. “The Mortuary Collection” is a film to be held next to “Black Sabbath” and “Creepshow” as ideal examples of the anthology subgenre. Despite its extremely limited release and low budget, “The Mortuary Collection” is a thrilling, clever collection of short films that manages to feel like a classic ’80s movie made in 2019.

For any readers unaware of the basic horror anthology formula, a host, often a person with some connection to death, like a coroner or in this case a mortician, leads either the audience or an average human character through stories of death and morality. This film follows the same path but with hints of self-awareness. For example, after each of our mortician’s stories, the woman he’s speaking to, Sam, will give a few quips about how a story was too short or had a confusing moral. 

Something that stuck out to me while watching this movie was how timeless it feels. The further into the age of technology we go, the easier it is to distinguish between decades. “The Mortuary Collection” manages to separate itself from modern-day through a lack of cell phones and certain costume aesthetics while refraining from feeling like some “Stranger Things” type period piece. Still, it keeps the expected pacing of modern cinema all while maintaining a charm of ’80s horror, an extremely difficult charm to capture.

There are four stories within this film. The first one is very short, a simple albeit slightly supernatural death story. The next two are classic horror shorts, a frat bro has sex with a girl and lies about using protection, so he gets sick in a weird way and a man lives with his wife who is in a catatonic state. He decides that maybe his life would be better if he no longer had to take care of her, so he poisons her, but it does not work as planned. The last story, Sam tells the mortician to give a little context behind why she decided to apply for a job with him. This story connects a lot of smaller details we were introduced to throughout the film and leads to the concluding moral that works to summarize most movies within the genre: No bad deed goes unpunished.

The setting of “The Mortuary Collection” is an eerie coastal town that has a strong connection to the supernatural realm. The constant fog, Victorian-style architecture, dingy interiors and dated costumes surround our stories of death with a wonderful consistent spookiness. While the film is not outright frightening, it feels like a proper horror film. One of the few gripes I had with this movie relates to its cinematography. Every couple of scenes, a certain sequence or shot composition would feel amateur-ish. Shots are framed weird or the depth of field is poorly established, but so much of the beauty of this film stems from its indie budget, so it’s easier to look past some minor cinematographic shortcomings. What this movie does with the budget it has is truly exceptional. I cannot emphasize how incredibly the beloved silly but scary 1980s style seen in movies like “They Live” and “Parents” is captured within this film. 

This brings me to a topic that never fails to excite me when present in a modern-day horror, a heavy usage of practical effects. All too often we are swept up in a world created by 200 visual effects artists. In this day and age, unless you’re watching an actual amateur film, puppets, stop motion and prosthetics are a rare find in the sci-fi, fantasy or horror genres. While “The Mortuary Collection” has its share of VFX, the appearance of tentacles, a demon baby and a male pregnancy were beautifully designed and created by hand to be put in front of the camera, which is so inspiring. A field that used to be central to most movie sets has all but died out. Technological advancements should never be looked down upon because they make a process easier, but practical effects add personality and make a movie feel more authentic.

I cannot recommend this movie enough. Horror fan or not, everyone can enjoy this movie. It’s funny and clever while taking itself seriously and keeping up the spooky ambiance. The stories are original with interesting and relevant messages. In summation, “The Mortuary Collection” gets my highest seal of approval with the only caveat being it is currently extremely hard to find. Unless you subscribe to the horror streaming service Shudder, I’m afraid it’s woefully unavailable. Despite this, if you ever find yourself at any point capable of watching this film, I suggest you try it out.

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