Has anyone even heard of Shudder? Until a few weeks ago, I hadn’t. The Horror focussed streaming service launched in 2015 and, until now, has enjoyed a rather low profile. Amongst a sea of streaming competitors, the decision to pitch themselves as a one genre pony appears, on the surface, to be a bit of a tactical misfire, but there’s just something about horror that sets it apart from other genres isn’t there?
Where other genres are watched by almost anyone and everyone, horror seems to have its own unique fanbase. I, myself, sit in the intersection of that particular Venn diagram; I consider myself both a general film fan as well as a horror fanatic. So, I guess you could say, I’m the perfect target audience for Shudder.
From what I can tell so far, what sets Shudder apart from its contemporaries (aside from the one genre focus) is the quality of its original productions. Sure, the service has its fair share of doozies – Sadako vs. Kayako, a film where the ghosts of The Ring and The Grudge face off against each other in unintentionally hilarious fashion is the perfect example of this – but there are, it has to be said, some real gems hidden within Shudder’s macabre archives.
Now, let’s make one thing clear, we are by no means talking ground-breaking masterpieces. What I can say though is that they are largely well-written and have a certain amount of charm about them, which is something that I haven’t really seen in other services’ original films. This brings us nicely to The Mortuary Collection, a wonderfully made portmanteau horror with a surprisingly great lead performance from Clancy Brown.
Watching The Mortuary Collection, its influences are clear; it’s a billet-doux to the screamers of the late 20th Century. It invokes the gore of a 90s slasher, the campiness of a 50s Hammer and the glossy stylisation of an 80s Steven King adaptation.
Plot-wise, it’s fairly standard horror anthology fare, we get a central setting – in this case, a decrepit old mortuary owned by a prosthetic laden Mr. Brown – and from here, a trio of terrifying tales are relayed to our female lead, Sam, as she begins work as the new mortuary assistant. Each tale provides varying degrees of humour and horror; however, each enjoys a decent sprinkling of gore, with body horror and mutilation being a key theme throughout.
Tale one, the smallest in scope, is confined to one room (sort of) and shows us the fate of a femme fetale pickpocket as she meets a back-breakingly nasty end. Tale two explores an inversion on the perils of protection-free one-night stands – think the finale of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Junior with no C-section required. And tale three, which is possibly the weakest, gives us a rather grim story about the botched euthanasia of a loved one.
Going slightly against the grain where portmanteaus are concerned, we are treated to a 4th tale from the point of view of lead character Sam. I won’t spoil the surprise here, but this final extra tail is probably the strongest.
Overall, The Mortuary Collection just sort of works. Each tale feeds well into the next generating their own intrigue and satisfying payoffs along the way. The central setting of the mortuary keeps the creepy momentum going between lighter moments, and the city surrounding the eponymous building provides a great backdrop, invoking a real Steven King-esque Derry, Maine vibe.
Despite the high production values, the strong performances, and the phenomenal pacing throughout, the film sadly suffers from not being quite scary enough. It’s full of witty one-liners, genre references and visual jokes to the extent that it’s almost detrimental to the horror. Aside from Sam’s fourth tale where there is a real sense of tension, everything falls a little flat on the scare-o-meter.
It’s also one of those cases where you need to switch your brain off and enjoy the ride, given too much scrutiny, a lot of what we see doesn’t really add up. Having said that, with the very nature of the storytelling in the film being anecdotal, The Mortuary Collection perhaps gets away with these inconsistencies.
Overall, despite a few shortcomings, the film is both well-written and original. Most importantly, unlike many Netflix originals I have seen over the past year or so, it also has real character. Next on the Shudder original hitlist for me is the Damien LeVeck’s The Cleansing Hour. If it’s anywhere near as creative and enjoyable as The Mortuary Collection, I can certainly see myself keeping my Shudder subscription for the foreseeable future.
Stay tuned for more Shudder reviews, for Netflix reviews, be sure to check out our Netflix archive.