Using four morbid short stories THE MORTUARY – EVERY DEATH HAS A STORY takes its audience on a gruesome horror trip that is also a lot of fun. We reveal more about the extraordinary genre project in our review.
OT: The Mortuary Collection (USA 2019)
Anyone who dies in Raven’s End ends up on the table of undertaker Montgomery Dark (Clancy Brown). Nobody knows the dead and their secrets better than him. From the eulogy to the final anointing to the cremation in the in-house crematorium: the deceased are in the best of hands with him. When the fearless Sam (Caitlin Fisher) applies for a job with him, he is impressed by her fascination with the morbid. But the deeper he leads the young woman into the dark catacombs of his estate, the clearer it becomes to her that the dead are better left to rest.
Director and screenwriter Ryan Spindell has been working as a director of horror short films since 2007. One of his most famous is certainly the 22-minute film “The Babysitter Murders”, which now also plays a central role in Spindell’s first feature film “The Mortuary – Every Death Has a Story”. For reasons of spoilers, we don’t want to reveal which ones exactly. The only important thing to know is that the filmmaker remains true to himself despite the newly discovered feature film structure. “The Mortuary” is originally titled “The Mortuary Collection” and thus sets the direction: Ryan Spindell presents a perfect anthology. His four short stories – one of them is entitled “The Babysitter Murders” – are framed by a conversation between the undertaker Montgomery Dark and his visitor Sam, who first lets him tell her some eerie horror stories before she tells him one herself. The interaction between the two dissimilar characters is the heart of the otherwise extremely entertaining film. Although this is the case with “The Mortuary” as with pretty much all other films of a similar structure: the quality varies massively from episode to episode. However, none of them are really bad.
The Raven’s End – this is where death comes and goes.
If you had to compare “The Mortuary – Every Death Has a Story” with a genre representative from the recent past, the first thing that would come to mind would be Andy Nyman and Jeremy Dyson’s “Ghost Stories”. The two films are not only similar in their episodic structure. On top of that, the creators know how to combine brutal horror with biting humor without entering the realm of hackneyed parodies. The basic tone in “The Mortuary” is also rather dark, although eerie in a nostalgic sense and still morbid enough in its comic moments so that the basic tension is maintained throughout. This happens not least thanks to the excellent equipment. The Raven’s End Crematorium is reminiscent of one of these popular haunted mansions in the best possible sense. Particularly in the USA, such haunted houses, whose best-known representatives can be found in the Disney theme parks, are considered a widespread tourist attraction and conjure up a real horror house atmosphere with their quaint, Victorian interior, antique decoration, ominous artifacts and various other curiosities. The Raven’s End Crematorium could easily pass for one of these haunted house attractions – the grim-looking landlord Montgomery Dark gives the establishment an additional morbid charm.
“In “The Mortuary” the basic tone is rather dark, although eerie in a nostalgic sense and still morbid enough in its comic moments so that the basic tension is maintained throughout.”
The stories he presents all have a beginning and an end, so they can also be viewed separately from the rest of the film. But Ryan Spindell insists on incorporating individual details from the short stories into the framework. What exactly that means is also one of those things that it’s better not to know before watching the film, but this much: “The Mortuary” not only appeals because of its tonal proximity to “Ghost Stories”, but is also reminiscent of it in many ways the Spanish genre insider tip “The Obscure Stories of a Train Traveler” – only not quite as fucked up and surreal. The individual stories increase in terms of shock value, body horror and gore content from episode to episode. It begins with a story about a young woman in the cramped setting of a toilet, which lasts just a few minutes. Shortly after she makes a horrifying discovery behind the mirror above the sink, the whole spook is over – in the truest sense of the word. Without any emotional punch or double narrative, “The Mortuary” opens on a rather weak, although – like all other episodes – highly illustrated level. And paves the way for three more, much more intense stories.
Sam (Caitlin Fisher) looks around Raven’s End.
While the first episode takes place in the 1950s, Ryan Spindell moves through different decades for the three subsequent stories. And not just in the literal sense, but also stylistically and thematically. “The Mortuary” is a foray into well-known horror film themes, all of which have already had their heyday. For his detour to the 1960s, he stops at a college and gives his audience a latently striking, although no less shocking, lesson in “safer sex”. And just before you want to criticize “The Mortuary” for its very morally sour message, Spindell smugly leads the viewer by the nose – especially since the young Sam, on behalf of the audience, has long since seen through the rules of Montgomery Dark’s spooky stories and so with the morals and the can deliberately flirt with the associated structure of the individual narratives. For example, by criticizing the predictability and tameness of the stories before finally trying her hand at being a storyteller herself. After a dramatic (one might almost say melancholic) love story set in the 1970s, which couldn’t be more accurately described with the term “toxic”, Spindell goes into the long-standing splatter subgenre for his finale and opens the hunt for a young babysitter. It goes without saying that this episode has to take place in the 1980s.
“Shortly before you want to criticize “The Mortuary” for its very morally sour message, Spindell smugly leads the viewer by the nose – especially since the young Sam, on behalf of the audience, has long since seen through the rules of Montgomery Dark’s spooky stories.”
Next to Caitlin Fisher (“Extraction”)who was already in front of the camera for the short film “The Babysitter Murders,” particularly attracts Netflix hottie Jacob Elordi (“The Kissing Booth”) the full attention to yourself. As the smarmy seducer Jake, the newcomer knows how to play with the audience’s sympathies excellently. Clancy Brown shines next to him (“Thor: Day of Decision”) as a frightening crematorium owner who has just the right physiognomy to cause fear and terror as an ominous storyteller. His performance is particularly fun when paired with Caitlin Fisher.
Conclusion: “The Mortuary – Every Death Has a Story” is a charmingly old-fashioned collection of horror stories. In terms of content, not every episode is convincing without exception. But the concept and the opulent features compensate for small weaknesses in the content.
“The Mortuary – Every Death Has a Story” can be seen in USA cinemas from October 22nd.