Anthologies are apparently hot right now, and if you’re a fan of cinematic short stories, you’ll want to check out some of these creep-filled titles
Written and directed by Ryan Spindell, The Mortuary Collection is set in the wind-swept, seaside town of Raven’s End and stars Clancy Brown (who’s make-up makes him look like Monty Burns from The Simpsons) as a retiring funeral home director who tells his prospective successor (Caitlin Fisher) about the weirdest cases that have come through his doors.
Not counting a super short introductory story, the first case involves a fraternity brother (Jacob Elordi) whose sexually inappropriate treatment of women gives him a taste of his own medicine; the second story revolves around a married man (Barak Hardley) whose decision to end his comatose wife’s life backfires with destructive consequences; the final tale pits a babysitter (Fisher) against a mysterious man who shows up inside her house.
The telling-how-the-corpse-died angle isn’t a new one – it was done in the 1993 made-for-cable chiller Body Bags, which I recommend watching (more below). But with its retro period settings and widescreen framing, the film looks and feels like a companion piece to last year’s Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. Its dark, David Fincher-esque photography is at times a bit too dark to tell what’s going on.
I would have preferred four or five shorter segments than three long ones; several of the stories (including the middle one) felt long and overstayed their welcome. That aside, the film mostly looks great and uses the wide aspect ratio to good measure.
Is it scary? Well, not really. It’s almost too polished (and bloated) and handsome to be truly effective.
Let’s go back a few decades… Amicus Production’s Tales from the Crypt from 1972 is easily my favorite anthology movie of them all. Spinning five juicy tales from several EC Comics of the 1950s, the film features five strangers who are told their fates by the sinister Crypt Keeper (Sir Ralph Richardson). The best and most famous of the stories is “And All Through the House,” featuring Joan Collins as a murderess who, while trying to cover up the murder of her husband, must also protect her child from an escaped maniac roaming the grounds in a Santa costume. This story was later remade by Robert Zemickis as the first episode in the HBO Tales from the Crypt series.
Released the same year is Amicus’ similar anthology, Asylum. Written by Robert (Psycho) Bloch, the film follows a psychiatrist who interviews five patients at an institution for the “incurably insane” to find out which one used to actually be the former head of the hospital. The stories range from a dismembered body coming back to life, to tiny robots that can harbor the soul of a human being, and all are genuinely fun and gruesome. And look out for a young Charlette Rampling!
If you’re into more modern stuff, check out the ‘90s gem Body Bags, from directors John Carpenter and Tobe Hooper. Carpenter stars as a creepy morgue attendant who spins three tales of horror: the first is a homage to Halloween about a young woman (Alex Datcher) at an all-night gas station who is terrorized by an escaped maniac; a wonderfully hammy Stacy Keach stars in the second story about a man obsessed with getting a hair transplant; and the third segment features Mark Hamill as an ex-baseball player whose eye transplant turns him into a different person.
And of course you can’t watch anthology films and not see Creepshow, the 1982 American classic from George Romero and Stephen King. Creepshow is a perfectly constructed live-action comic book with five fast-paced stories, including the infamous cockroach sequence. And, of course, you can always check out Shudder’s reboot/original series of Creepshow; the entire first season has been up and running since last fall and features episodes directed by Tom Savini and Greg Nicotero.
The Mortuary Collection is streaming on Shudder. Tales from the Crypt, Asylum, and Body Bags are currently available on Amazon Prime.