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Mortuary (2005)

Blu-ray Disc Released: 5/14/2019

All Ratings out of
Movie: ½
Video: ½
Audio: ½

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 5/23/2019

I’ve long-since held the opinion that artist do some of their best work when they are young and full of raw, uninhibited talent.  This is especially true of filmmakers, whose first films (or few films) often represent their greatest output.  (This is also very true of musicians.  Don’t get me started on how many bands set the world alight with their debut album and then went downhill after that.)  One of the best examples of this is Tobe Hooper.  His first narrative film, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, is a horror masterpiece, which contains nuances and a sense of emotional manipulation which belie the director’s level of experience.  Following this introduction to the world in 1974, Hooper spent the rest of his career, most of which was confined to the horror realm, trying to make another truly good movie.  I guess the important thing here is that he kept trying, as evidenced by one of his latter entries, Mortuary.


Leslie (Denise Crosby) moves to a small town with her two children, Jonathan (Dan Byrd) and Jamie (Stephanie Patton), in tow.  This trio moves into a dilapidated funeral home, which Leslie hopes she can grow into a thriving business.  As the family settles in, Jonathan heads into town to find a job, where he meets Liz (Alexandra Adi).  The two become fast friends, and Liz tells Jonathan some of the spooky legends which surround his new home.  Leslie is also learning about some oddities, as she finds a key which unlocks a hidden room under one of the crypts in the neighboring cemetery.  Soon, strange things begin to occur in the funeral home and Jonathan realizes that his whole family may be in danger.


Mortuary is one of those movies which probably looked really good on paper.  The script by Jace Anderson & Adam Gierasch (who would later be tapped to help Dario Argento with his long-awaited sequel Mother of Tears (which isn’t a good movie, but working with Argento should carry some clout)) features a creepy old mortuary, a sinister graveyard, and Lovecraftian overtones.  Denise Crosby (who apparently came on-board late) was a well-known genre name through her work on Star Trek: The Next Generation and Dan Byrd, who would go on to be in 2006’s The Hills Have Eyes, had been in 2004’s Salem’s Lot remake.  And, of course, behind the camera, sat Tobe Hooper, whose name still drew attention.


So, what went wrong?  Why is Mortuary such a mess?  There are certainly two main reasons.  First of all, even for a low-budget movie, this looks particularly cheap.  The house/mortuary is supposed to look old, but this house looks full-on condemned.  We can buy the premise that Leslie is down on her luck, but so much so that she’s willing to move her family into a ramshackle building and start a business there.  Similarly, the cemetery appears to be a bunch of tombstones which were set up in a vacant lot next to an industrial park – not exactly the epitome of gothic.  You don’t got into a movie like this expecting to be blown away by the production design, but for something with known names attached, it looks decidedly low-rent.


However, the larger problem here is that the story makes absolutely no sense and Mortuary often feels as if it is two movies stitched together.  The plot concerning Leslie and her family, and Jonathan and his new acquaintances remains fairly consistent throughout the movie.  The issues come form the threat which is menacing the family.  On the one hand, we have an evil which is rooted in Lovecraft lore (complete with a Lovecraft quote) in which root-like tendrils infiltrate the house and feed off of blood.  On the other hand, we have a local legend involving a deformed boy who supposedly lived in the house and now haunts the graveyard.  These two storylines are apparently supposed to intertwine, but they don’t and the second half of the movie is a meandering quagmire in which quagmire in which things simply happen with no explanation.  Oh, did I mention that there are zombies as well?


I’m a sucker for gothic horror which involves old houses and cemeteries and, when done right, these movies can be very creepy.  But, Mortuary is a textbook example of how to botch this formula.  It would be very easy to blame Hooper here, but if the finished film reflects the quality of the script, he didn’t have much to work with in the first place.  And the obvious lack of sufficient funding doesn’t help.  The cast gives an admirable effort, but they can’t save this movie.  Mortuary is dead on arrival.


Mortuary gave the impression that the dead bodies could get sick from the poor conditions courtesy of MVD.  The film has been letterboxed at 1.78:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 25 Mbps.  The image sharp and clear, showing  a mild amount of grain and some scant defects from the source materials.  The colors look good and the image is never overly dark or bright.  The depth is OK, but sometimes the image can look a bit flat and the level of detail is somewhat lacking at times.  The Disc contains a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which runs at a constant 448 kbps.  The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects.  Obviously, this is disappointing right off the bat, as we want some sort of lossless track from a Blu-ray Disc.  Having said that, the audio here is adequate, as we get some noticeable stereo and surround effects.  Subwoofer effects are present at times, but lacking in some key scenes.


The Mortuary Blu-ray Disc contains just a few extras.  We begin with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from Director Tobe Hooper.  “Inside the Graveyard” (54 minutes) is a making-of featurette which offers an odd assortment of on-set shots.  At times, this feels like a “fly-on-the-wall” behind-the-scenes video which is simply meant to depict the film being shot, but, at other times, there are comments from the cast and creative team, which gives more of the impression of a standard making-of.  There are some comments about Hooper and some insights into the story, but otherwise, we don’t get much structure about how the film was made. The final extra is a TRAILER for the movie.

Review Copyright 2019 by Mike Long