Filmmaker Ryan Spindell, who has built his horror bona fides over a number of shorts—including some contributions to Sam Raimi’s “50 States of Fright” series for Quibi—applies that same format to “The Mortuary Collection,” which gets a little meta with its insistence that stories are the most important thing. “What is life but a story? A single narrative thread in the tapestry that binds us all,” says mortician Montgomery Dark (Brown), a feared figure in the small town of Raven’s End. With its desolate forests, seaside cliffs, rickety wooden bridges, and perpetual fog, Raven’s End looks like a menagerie of every classic horror-film location, and Montgomery Dark, a self-described “indentured servant to the great beyond,” is the wrinkly, skeletal, foreboding figure straight out of all your childhood nightmares.
The funeral home he runs, an old Victorian with blood-red accents, sits lonely atop a hill overlooking the town. Whatever ends up on the front porch—baseballs, scarves, a camera—is abandoned by its original owner and collected by Montgomery for a trunk of accoutrement in the funeral home’s foyer. Inside, the place is a shadowy morass of green, blue, and grey, unsettling shades that bring out the ghastly pallor of Montgomery’s skin. At the pulpit where Montgomery leads services, though, the man seems to come to life, invigorated with fervor. “We cannot die!” he roars, which is a weird proclamation to make while overseeing a funeral for a young boy. And that’s not the only strange component of the evening: Montgomery also receives a job application from a young woman, Sam (Caitlin Custer), who is responding to the Help Wanted sign out front.
Sam is curious about the responsibilities of Montgomery’s position, and even more so when he explains that he not only keeps an archive of how people died, but why. When Sam learns about Montgomery’s collection of death tales, she demands he tell one—“something dark and twisted; something awesome”—and then “The Mortuary Collection” shifts into anthology mode. With each story Montgomery tells, he attempts to one-up himself into scaring the blandly unfazed Sam. An attractive woman making her way through a party, flirting with male attendees and picking their pockets, until a brush with something strange in a bathroom. A fraternity member who seduces freshmen women with faux-affirmative statements about sexual freedom experiences his own bizarre one-night stand. A husband unhappy in his marriage wonders what would happen if he broke the vow “until death do us part.” And in the final segment, which references Spindell’s previous short “The Babysitter Murders,” a breakout at a local asylum puts its neighbors in danger.