'The Mortuary Collection' Review: A Gory, Stylish Midnight Anthology Movie More Interested In Humor Than Horror [Fantastic Fest 2019]

Loaded with gore sloshed upon gore, blessed with creeptacular practical special effects, and boasting lush, stylish, chill-inducing cinematography, The Mortuary Collection is a feast for the eyes. This horror anthology from writer-director Ryan Spindell started off as one short film – "The Babysitter Murders" – before being expanded upon, and given a neat little wraparound story to tie things together. The end result is a film tailor-made to elicit hoots and groans from midnight movie audiences – a big, bloody, and loud movie that just wants you to have fun. So why then does it seem so tedious at times?

There's something endearing about horror anthology films. Not only are you getting multiple movies packaged into one, the more stories there are, the better chance you have of at least something being good. Don't care for a particular segment? That's okay – it'll be over in 20 minutes, and we'll move onto the next one. George Romero and Stephen King's Creepshow is arguably the best horror anthology movie ever made – but has Romero and King's masterwork done more harm than good? Creepshow drew upon the work of EC comics, and as a result, went for a heightened, even farcical reality, deftly blending horror with macabre humor. But more often than not, it feels as if modern horror anthology filmmakers draw on the humor for inspiration rather than the horror, often with eye-rolling results.

The Mortuary Collection suffers from this malady. With the exception of "The Babysitter Murders" – the best of the bunch and the story that pre-dates all the others – every segment in Spindell's film leans into humor. We're talking big, dumb, groan-inducing humor that almost never lands. It makes for a frustrating experience – a rollercoaster of tones, jumping from ghastliness to gross-out comedy in mere seconds.

That's not to say there's nothing to admire here. Horror fans will delight in most of what Spindell has in store, and his talents as a filmmaker cannot be denied. The director has a knack for crafting eye-popping tableaus and mise-en-scène – corpses embracing the living like lovers, a brutal fight scene staged entirely during flashes of lightning, Lovecraftian tentacles bursting their way from medicine cabinets. Working with cinematographers Caleb Heymann and Elie Smolkin and production designer Lauren Fitzsimmons, Spindell has created a triumph of aesthetics – a movie that looks like Disney's The Haunted Mansion collided with the most expensive and elaborate Halloween haunt on the planet.

Our guide through the tales of terror within The Mortuary Collection is mortician Montgomery Dark, played to absolute perfection by Clancy Brown as a towering, ghoulish weirdo who looks like the second coming of the Tall Man from the Phantasm franchise. Adding a dramatic flourish to his already naturally deep voice, Brown's performance here is the true highlight – more fun, and more impressive, than any special effect. The more time he's on the screen, the better off The Mortuary Collection is.

Dark presides over a spooky old funeral home, and he has plenty of stories to tell about the corpses that have been in his care over the years. His audience is Sam (Caitlin Custer), an odd young woman inquiring about a Help Wanted sign outside of Dark's funeral home. Rather than be put-off or disturbed by death, Sam is fascinated and wants Dark to tell her his most gruesome, most disturbing stories. Dark obliges, offering Sam (and us) a wide variety of stories, all of which share a central theme: horrible comeuppance for wrongdoers.

A thief gets more than she bargained for at a party. A college lothario comes to greatly regret a one-night stand. A man caring for his sickly, dying wife is thrust into a graphically violent comedy of errors. And a careless babysitter is endangered one dark and stormy night. Beyond the final babysitter story, the tale of the man and his dying spouse packs the most punch, loaded with one twisted scenario after another and culminating in a moment both horrifying and beautiful. On the complete opposite end of the spectrum, the story about the philandering college student is the bottom of the barrel – a painfully stupid segment that goes so far over-the-top with its grossness that it grows boring.

Each of these segments is staged meticulously with gothic aplomb. The most fascinating element is the blend of time periods – each story seems to exist in some sort of mishmash world where it's the 1950s and 1970s at the same exact time. This touch lends an extra level of charm to the proceedings, drawing us into the unique world of the film.

Yet all the visual splendor in the world can't make up for Spindell's clunky, ungainly script. There's definitely a way to blend humor and horror successfully, but Spindell hasn't figured that out yet. Instead, the filmmaker goes for broke, loading up with hacky comedy and instructing many of his actors to go big or go home, resulting in a cavalcade of over-the-top performances that would seem more at home on vaudeville than in a movie of this nature.

But will any of that matter to The Mortuary Collection's intended audience – midnight moviegoers who just want to have a good time with some great gore? Probably not. It's more than likely that fans of the genre will come away from Spindell's film with a big goofy grin on their face, happy to recount their favorite gross-out moments to their friends. Perhaps that's enough. As haphazard and messy as The Mortuary Collection is, its bloody, ripped-out heart is in the right place.

/Film Rating: 7 out of 10