The Mortuary Collection, and Some More Anthology Flicks

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.

The Halloween Movies Ranked

Since October 31st is right around the corner I decided I would go through the entire Halloween franchise one film at a time and discuss what I love (and dislike) about each film. Since I’m not a fan of “best of” lists (isn’t it all just a matter of opinion?) I will be ranking the movies in order from my least to most personal favorite. *This post contains spoilers so if you haven’t seen all of these films please read no further!*

9. Halloween: Resurrection – 2002

What can I say about Resurrection besides that it’s a massive misstep in the entire series? It took what Halloween: H20 created and dashed it to pieces in an opening that actually sees Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) getting killed by Michael Myers, who was beheaded at the end of H20! The movie concocts an unbelievable excuse for Michael’s survival and from there only digs itself deeper into retcon purgatory.

8. Rob Zombie’s Halloween and Halloween II – 2007-09

There are plenty of fans of Zombie’s Halloween twosome out there, and while I do enjoy some of what he created with his “revisioning” of John Carpenter’s material, I think his biggest mistake was in writing a needless backstory involving a young Michael Myers and his cartoonish hillbilly family. This is something that would eventually become a trademark of Zombie’s. This information on Michael’s childhood turns the character into more of an Ed Gein-type of simpleton than the killing mastermind we’ve come to love.

Scout Taylor-Compton is also no Jamie Lee, and while I’m not trying to compare the actresses, Taylor-Compton doesn’t seem to have the chops to handle a character as beloved as Laurie. But, to be honest, who does? That question is answered by Curtis’s return to the role. She IS the only Laurie.

7. Halloween – 2018

Curtis’s return to her star-making role was one of the biggest deals in recent cinema history, which equalled massive box-office when this reboot opened two years ago. The result? Fans seems to love it. I felt, and still feel, indifferent towards it. I love the idea of Laurie Strode returning to kick some Myers ass, yet I felt the character had turned into too much of a hardened Linda Hamilton/Sarah Conner type. After a few repeat viewings I got over my initial dislike of Laurie’s personality changes and somewhat enjoyed the film for what it was – but the subplot involving Michael’s new doctor (Haluk Bilginer) is completely useless.

But every time I watch this Halloween For A New Generation I feel like something is missing. I find the fact the filmmakers decided to ignore Halloween II a bit annoying and pretentious – Laurie and Michael will always be siblings to me – but I think what really bothers me is the lack of respect for the subject matter. This doesn’t feel like a genuine Halloween movie but a hallow replica. Albeit a good-looking and entertaining one.

6. Halloween: 20 Years Later – 1998

Just like with 2018’s Halloween reboot, there was buzz about Jamie Lee returning to the role of Laurie Strode for H20. But unlike the reboot, H20 feels like it’s having more fun with the character. While it does ignore the events of Halloween 4 and 5 this does give credence to Laurie’s secret life as Keri Tate after her encounter with brother, Michael Myers, in 1978. There’s also a nicely-written relationship with her son (Josh Harnett) that seems genuine.

Although H20 often feels like it was inspired more by the then-popularity of the Scream movies than Halloween – John Ottman’s original score was rejected and Marco Beltrami’s music from both Scream and Scream 2 were added to the soundtrack – H20 is a harmless and fun series entry that never overstays its welcome.

5. Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers – 1995

Let’s be honest: Curse of Michael Myers is not a popular title in the franchise. It’s dreary, inconsistent, and a little too ambitious for its own good. Yet, the flick attains a certain, bizarre charm throughout. It also brings back a character from the original film, Tommy Doyle (played by then unknown Paul Rudd), and pays respect to the first film as well as the continuing mythology of Halloweens 4 and 5.

This storyline might not be the most popular – it’s even borderline X-Files inspired! – but I have more respect for filmmakers who appreciate and work with pre-existing plots and characters than those who disregard previous films by ignoring important story structure and retcon the situation to their desire.

4. Halloween II – 1981

A worthy sequel to Carpenter’s classic, this is finally getting the recognition it deserves as a mini-classic of its own. The hospital environment works wonderfully and gives the film its own personality and creepy atmosphere.

Donald Pleasance’s Dr. Loomis is given more to do and the backstory we come learn of Michael’s and Laurie’s sibling relationship works well and even gives the movie a mythological feel. Check out the 2008 Norwegian slasher sequel, Cold Prey 2, which is a spirited homage to Halloween II.

3. Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers and Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers – 1988-89

I’ve always been a fan of the Jamie Lloyd saga. Maybe because I’m a child of the VHS boom of the late ’80s and watched Halloween 4 a lot and have grown an attachment to it. I also think Halloween 4 is a terrific return to form for Michael Myers and smartly avoids sensationalism in favor of suspense and good characterization. Both Jamie (played by Danielle Harris) and her stepsister, Rachel (Ellie Cornell), are rich, complex characters but most importantly they are likable and you want to see them survive.

Halloween 5, a brash, exciting, and off-the-wall extension of 4, deserves credit for not being a carbon copy of 4 but also by being daring and going places you wouldn’t think it would go. Harris as Jamie also gives one of the strongest performances by a child in any horror film.

2. Halloween III: Season of the Witch – 1982

I’m probably going out on a limb here (and sawing it off) by saying Halloween III is my favorite of the sequels. I know in some circles that’s considered blasphemy, but I’ve always found Season of the Witch to be a terrifically fun and energetic piece of genre filmmaking that reminds me of the cheerfully cheesy anthology films of the ’60s and ’70s.

Fans were PO’d when III was released in ’82 and did not feature their favorite mask-wearing slasher. But I think the decision to take a break from the Myers universe and tell a separate supernatural Halloween tale was smart. Though they should have left the Halloween title off, Season of the Witch is clever, creepy, and at most times feels like a live-action comic book.

1. Halloween – 1978

I guess it’s predictable that my favorite of the series is the original, trendsetting masterpiece from John Carpenter. There isn’t much to say about this film that hasn’t already been said. I’ll just say that the film is pretty much perfect thanks to Carpenter’s eye for sustained suspense and the way the film builds to incredible moments of tension.

Why the film really works is the wonderful structure of the screenplay and the characters. Laurie and gang feel like real people we’d want to hang out with, which adds to the horror of placing them in danger.

The biggest mistake a lot of Halloween imitators made (and still do) is the lack of any sympathetic central figures, which has become one of my biggest issues with most horror films in general. Why bother watching a bunch of people you just want to see killed off in the first five minutes? There’s no investment/involvement in their lives, which doesn’t equal any suspense, and as Hitchcock said, it’s not in the moment BUT in the build-up that’s the point!

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