Fantasia International Film Festival’s The Mortuary Collection is all about lessons learned—what happens to you is a direct result of the energy you put out into the universe. Sure, the theme is a bit cliché, but the film acknowledges that so it’s okay, right? With compelling characters, disturbing plots, and enough 80s nostalgia to make you swoon, The Mortuary Collection is a fun ride throughout.
This film has nods to Tales from the Crypt, Creepshow, and various other nostalgic horror entities. At first, it had a very R.L. Stine Goosebumps vibe, but as soon as the first segment ended, it was clear that the film was a little more intense than that. Although it’s an indie film, it has the makings of a horror film with a much higher budget. The whole thing screams blockbuster horror (that’s actually good), in the most impressive way possible. Dare I say, it has Spielbergian quality—like if Spielberg directed Creepshow. I could’ve easily rented this film at Blockbuster as a child and had my parents shut it off because it’s too violent for a child to see, but I’d sneak downstairs at night and pop it in the VCR anyways.
In this anthology series The Mortuary Collection, we see five cautionary tales, including the tableau the anthology pieces are set upon. Yes, the storytellers themselves have a rather interesting and fulfilling plot. We immediately love the mortician Montgomery Dark (Clancy Brown) and his soon-to-be assistant Sam (Caitlin Fisher), so it’s a bit disappointing when we have to leave them, though that disappointment doesn’t last long. Their story is significantly less predictable than the others in the anthology (and even they lose predictability as we progress through the film), with twists that even I didn’t see coming. I suppose the lesson learned here is that not everything is what it seems.
The first segment of The Mortuary Collection is a rather short one, coming in at just a few minutes long. A girl is at a party and she goes to the bathroom to avoid a suitor. While in the bathroom, Emma (Christine Kilmer) decides to go through all these wallets in this bin and steal the cash, as well as a pocket watch. When she goes to ransack the medicine cabinet for any pills she can swipe, she’s met with an unseemly horror, and has to figure out how to safely escape the bathroom. It just goes to show you that greed can easily be your downfall. Small potatoes, but still a valid lesson. It should be obvious that performing any of the seven deadly sins can end up deadly, but for some people, they choose to ignore that.
This next segment is longer and ramps up the stakes a bit more. The first one was short and simple and sweet. This one was a bit longer and a bit more twisted—you kind of know what’s going to happen but not in the exact manner that it happens. Jake (Jacob Elordi) meets Sandra (Ema Horvath) at a freshman orientation, and Jake invites her to a frat party that night. But, there’s a killer on the loose on campus. When they finally get alone that night, Sandra posits the question, what if she’s the killer. Our instincts tell us that she definitely is, but what’s to come is just so unexpected that it takes the whole “don’t trust strangers” bit to a whole new level. The body horror in this is so explicit though, that it almost distracts you from the message with how funny it is. In terms of lessons learned, this segment is particularly important because it contains a social message, especially nowadays with online dating. You never know who a person really is, so be careful when you meet up with strangers.
In the next segment, the lesson is to be careful what you promise. Husband Wendell Owens (Barak Hardley) promises wife Carol (Sarah Hay) that he will be with her “til death do us part”. Normal for any married couple, and a staple vow. Of course, as you can guess, he ends up regretting that when his wife becomes a vegetable. Through some deal he’s made with his malicious doctor (Mike C. Nelson), he agrees to peacefully end her suffering, a sort of DIY euthanasia. Obviously this doesn’t go as planned, and through some wild twists, he ends up suffering just like every protagonist we’ve seen so far. Tonally distinctly different from the other segments, this one throws you for a bit of a curve. There’s still that element of dark humor prevalent in the previous segment, but this one is a bit more heady. Life lessons can be hard to see coming, but they’re so important to character development, if they don’t kill you first that is.
The final segment tells the story of the little boy whose funeral is being held when Sam first comes to the mortuary. This is by far the most convoluted story of them all, and of course also the longest. We increase in unbelievability and story length as we go. As I mentioned before, the lesson for the overarching storyline is that not everything is what it seems, and the same goes for this tale, as the two are intrinsically intertwined. This is probably the most tongue-in-cheek story of the series, but that’s what makes it so fun. It takes everything that a “life lesson” horror movie is, and exaggerates it tenfold. Both the plot of this segment and its tone show us that taking things at face value won’t get you very far in life.
The moral of the story film is always a fun subgenre of horror. It’s almost always done in a tongue-in-cheek manner, which I find to be one of the best aspects of a horror movie. Sometimes horror doesn’t have to be completely serious for it to be good. The Mortuary Collection is aware that its premise is cheesy and overdone, and it makes fun of itself at times. You will not like this movie if you take it 100% seriously, but I think that’s true of all things in life. Kick back, get a drink, and learn to take things less seriously.
The Mortuary Collection releases on Shudder October 15th.