What makes a great anthology isn’t just the consistency of each individual tale, but the way in which each segment works as a whole, and few anthologies find that synergy.
In his feature film debut, "The Mortuary Collection," a new horror anthology dropped this October, writer and director Ryan Spindell doesn’t just accomplish this, but does so while giving his predecessors a friendly wave, creating a horror treat that wears its inspirations on its sleeve without ever losing sight of its own infectious identity.
After the funeral of a young boy, mortician of Raven’s End, Montgomery Dark (Clancy Brown), is approached by Sam (Caitlin Custer, whose character’s name is a subtle wink towards anthology masterpiece “Trick ‘r Treat”) who saw a “Help Wanted” sign out front and hopes to fill the vacant position.
When Dark mentions that he has collected an archive of how and why the corpses he received have died, Sam’s curiosity demands him to tell increasingly gruesome stories before ending on a tale of her own. Each segment makes an attempt to one-up the last.
A gorgeous thief who finds a locked medicine cabinet in the bathroom where she fiddles with her treasures. A self-conscious frat boy who gets an unwelcome surprise after disobeying a freshman woman’s rules of safe sex practices. An unhappy husband who in the face of his catatonic wife contemplates the thought of breaking his wedding vows. And finally, Sam’s twisted tale of a babysitter’s fight against an escaped asylum patient.
Dark feels like a character out of “The Addams Family,” strutting the line between chilling and charming that’s sure to produce lots of uncomfortable laughter.
Raven’s End also carries this whimsical passion as we explore a new corner of the mortuary between each tale, from the steel slabs where cadavers rest, to the secluded incinerator beneath the funeral floors, throughlining the scary stories with a progressive descent into both the workings of a mortician and the unspooling motivations of Dark and Sam.
Unlike most horror films, we already know the outcome of the protagonists; the stories are about their untimely deaths and Spindell uses this knowledge as an anchor for his bigger ideas. These stories aren’t about survivors, but those who fell victim to an inevitable death as a result of their moral wrongdoings.
This compelling narrative focus feels fresh, and when combined with the “Goosebumps”-esque aesthetic of the wraparound, it leads to a finale that makes each previous narrative feel justified and necessary.
At times, the structure itself can feel stiff as if you were riding Disney’s “A Haunted Mansion” and can see the track. Once you pick up on the formula, it’s hard by the last two stories to not crave something more unexpected, or at the very least, more complexly intertwined.
Still, “The Mortuary Collection” is an impressive debut, utilizing the history of horror to pay homage to the masters who paved the way, shifting the tension away from survival and onto the moral punishments far grislier than death itself.
Now available exclusively on Shudder.