The Mortuary Collection
by Hope Madden
“Have you any experience in the mortuary arts?”
So begins a conversation between Raven’s End’s mysterious mortician and a young woman who’s come to answer the help wanted sign out front in writer/director Ryan Spindell’s fun and stylish horror anthology, The Mortuary Collection.
Mortician Montgomery Dark (Clancy Brown) has tales to tell of the lives and deaths in Raven’s End. His new assistant Sam (Caitlin Custer) is an eager listener, but also tough to please.
Such is the framing device for the anthology of short horrors, much like the one from Rusty Cundieff’s 1995 collection, Tales from the Hood (and just a bit like Jeff Burr’s 1987 anthology with Vincent Price, From a Whisper to a Scream).
The framing device is so often the best part.
Brown conjures a bit of Angus Scrimm (Phantasm’s Tall Man), channeling a little Tom Noonan as well, to create a spooky but somehow vulnerable master of ceremonies. Custer’s is an intriguing character, challenging her host, never squeamish or spooked. It makes for an interesting dynamic that turns more into a conversation on storytelling than you might expect.
The tales themselves are all set in and around a town where newspaper headlines speak of beasts, asylums, and missing persons. Raven’s End and its stories possess an unidentifiably vintage quality, something fictional and fanciful, modern and yet of an indeterminate past.
Characters sometimes pop up in multiple tales, each story boasting that patented twist ending you’d expect from a Tales from the Crypt episode. Some of the shorts are stronger than others (as Sam likes to point out to Mr. Dark), but the performances are all very solid, and Spindell peppers every story with fun bits of dialog.
“They won’t let me near a scalpel, and for good reason.”
There isn’t a weak short in the bunch, and though certainly some of the twists are not surprising, the execution is slick, the shorts are gorgeous and moody, and Clancy Brown is an absolute treat.