Fantasia Fest Review: 'The Mortuary Collection' is a wonderous blast from the past

Ryan Spindell's horror anthology is everything we miss about 70s and 80s genre content, drenched in gallons and gallons of blood (plus other juices).

'The Mortuary Collection' has its halls inspected.
(Image: © Trapdoor Pictures)

What to Watch Verdict

The Mortuary Collection drips blood from its bindings as insidiously imaginative tales of terror are read aloud like an after-dark book club you never want to end.


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    👻 Coherent anthology ties.

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    👻 Wild effects.

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    👻 Old-school vibes.


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    👻 Highs and lows.

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    👻 Visual take precedent.

The Mortuary Collection is a love-letter to 80s horror anthologies that’s slathered in guts and signed with a cloven hoof. Ryan Spindell shares his genre influences without shame, from Peter Jackson to Tales From The Crypt to Amicus classics and seventy-billion other references you'll easily connect. It’s the proper kind of homage that doesn’t cheaply bank on nostalgia but oozes passion and obsession like digging up a time capsule full of ghoulish period-past treats. A film that puts fresh meat on old bones and transports viewers back to a time when the fantastic and flamboyant gave life to graveyard haunts of the macabre, mystical, and practical-effects messy.

Spindell’s “wraparound” introduces us to Montgomery Dark (Clancy Brown), premiere mortician in Raven’s End. After a child’s service concludes, in walks Sam (Caitlin Custer), a talkative teenager who responds to the “Help Wanted” sign outside. Montgomery tests his possible protégé by telling tales of the cadavers atop his steel slab tables, each with their own gruesome story that ended their lives. A greedy pickpocket, a womanizer, a babysitter, and more “characters” showcase Montgomery’s narrative imagination. All examples of how our sins become one’s undoing, and how that might impact Sam’s motivations behind strolling into Montgomery Dark’s museum dedicated to the memories of those lost only in the flesh.

Despite the anthology structure and Montgomery’s wraparound backdrop of this gothically inclined architecture like out of The Adams Family, The Mortuary Collection retains a sustainable flow while jumping to-and-from “chapters.” The very first story, a tale about a gussied-up dame who counts her stolen loot from party guests in a locked bathroom, runs what seems only a few short minutes. It’s Montgomery’s leadoff pitch, which means to be his most “restrained” offering. With it still comes a Lovecraftian portal behind a medicine cabinet that becomes a problem for Emma (Christine Kilmer) when she pries the mirror-door open. A small taste, so to speak, of what Montgomery presents as an orator of the damned who adores the sound of his own nightmare retellings.

Clancy Brown’s bellowing funeral master is a peculiar and precise narrator, with heavy prosthetics and makeup additions to enhance his aged weariness. We can sense there might be supernatural powers lording over Montgomery’s domain since the old-timer resembles one of his deceased subjects. There’s this lyrical storybook element to the wicked whimsy of Montgomery’s dominion, the parlor’s incinerator underbelly, even plucky musical scores that make us feel like we’re watching something between a Nickelodeon Halloween special and another Creepshow reinvention. Brown’s suspicious gazes and Caitlin Custer’s spunky retorts blend as unfortunate souls see their secrets become entertainment for mortals. A vibe that I quite relish.

What awaits is a twisted-topical plethora of horror sights and sounds that cycle through themes with morbid intrigue. Jake (Jacob Elordi), the macho conqueror of one-night stands, learns a valuable lesson about safe sex practices and objectifying women that climaxes with an explosive revenge (yikes moment of the year). Wendell Owens (Barak Hardley) contemplates a reality where he no longer plays caretaker to his catatonic wife, in a way that crosshatches gore and crushing guilt that smacks of Sam Raimi. Then Sam turns from listener to storyteller, to let Montgomery assess the girl’s talents as an usher for the damned. Montgomery and Sam trade bard-like wits, like a competition that gets out of hand with dreadful exuberance. 

There seems to be importance stressed on the era each short story takes place, but I’m not sure that shines through. You’ll see actors appear in multiple segments, but again, never with much more thought than, “oh, I recognize that face!” You’re here for skeletal demonoids summoned from opened books that've fallen off library shelves. You’re here to watch Jake experience things no man has, with gooey, slimy, gross-out results. You’re here for every throwback to 70s and 80s horror practicality, right down to Wendell’s spouse rising as this deformed Deadite who could be in Beetlejuice, or an apparition in Disney’s The Haunted Mansion ride. Spindell crafts a specific type of “horror event” film that we often don’t see anymore, which is a shame.

The Mortuary Collection is bursting with goodies for good little horror lovin’ boys and girls (of the appropriately mature ages). There are moments you’ll feel its budget, with do-it-yourself resilience, yet other glimpses make you wonder why mainstream studios can’t produce something this entertainingly accomplished. A “grab bag,” like any horror anthology, but with far more rewards. A collection crammed “cover to cover” with doom, gloom, and chipper enthusiasm that finds the right balance between “credibly creepy” and “funhouse freaky” that’ll unite horror fans of many, differing taste profiles.

Matt Donato

Matt Donato is a Rotten Tomatoes approved film critic who stays up too late typing words for What To Watch, IGN, Paste, Bloody Disgusting, Fangoria and countless other publications. He is a member of Critics Choice and co-hosts a weekly livestream with Perri Nemiroff called the Merri Hour. You probably shouldn't feed him after midnight, just to be safe.