Tobe, Tobe, Tobe. Wherefore art thou Tobe? I have seen some doozies by the man behind the classic Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but this one really takes the cake. I had figured maybe redemption was forthcoming after his previous effort, 2004’s Toolbox Murders, but while Mortuary has the same gritty look and feel as that great film, it hardly lived up to this reviewer’s expectations.
Come to think of it, the similarities don’t stop there. They share the same screenwriters – Adam Gierasch and Jace Anderson (who also cameo as zombies in the film), and a couple of the actors from Toolbox make appearances as well. None can save this picture, though – a slow-moving mess of a film with nary a scare and hardly a drop of blood to be found anywhere. Don’t get me wrong, I have seen worse, but its frustrating thinking of what could have happened with all the creative talent invested here.
The plot involves a family who moves to California to start a new life at a run-down mortuary. The mother, Leslie Doyle (Crosby), is desperate enough that she takes the job as the mortician and owner of the near-condemned wreck of a funeral home. The mortuary, situated next to a creepy cemetery, has a dark and terrible history and the town’s residents rumor it to be haunted. Something lurks beneath the earth of the house and soon the family find themselves caught up in the building’s terrible secret and struggling to survive the wrath of the living dead!
Mortuary is one of those films in which the plotlines seem to struggle to fit the screenplay, rather than happen as a natural extension of it. It really tests your patience for the genre, in that outrageous things have to happen in order for simple events to make sense. Take, for instance, the initial sequences of the family touring the house (and yes, I’m being nit-picky!). It is obvious from the get-go that this building is a health hazard, plain and simple. The taps leak brown water and there is a black fungus over all the walls! Let’s just say it’s more than a simple fixer-upper. Anyway, what mother in their right mind would risk the health of their kids for a job (and a shitty job at that)? She and her children could die from exposure to the place! It’s this sort of thing that has to be ignored for the story to work, obviously. And of course, being a big fan of horror, I routinely expect to have to stretch my imagination or check my brain at the door, but in this case it’s far beyond any stretching my mind could muster. It’s exhausting just recounting it all.
The location is one of the redeeming features, however, and the house is suitably disgusting and dilapidated. Much like the Lusman Arms in the aforementioned Toolbox Murders, Hooper has found himself a gem – but location doesn’t make a good film in itself, of course. The look of the sets is adequate – steeped in dark tones and grimy yellows, and on the whole the film is definitely a step above the typical made-for-TV movie. This one premiered on the Sci-Fi channel, and certainly rises above their average fare.
But the CGI…oh the horror! The black gunky mold which grows (unconvincingly) everywhere is a colossal annoyance. But when it is spewed from the mouths of person-to-person it borders on comical. It’s kind of like a really bad version of the black oil from the X-Files. The make-up effects are equally unconvincing, and even the zombies, which I am usually sympathetic towards, are sub-par. Of course, having said that, I must admit there is some credibility in even having zombies involved. Hey – I’m a sucker for the living dead, what can I say?
Finally, and the most obvious fault is that the writers seem to have intended it to be spooky, but these gripes I have been listing seem to push the film into the campy/cheese zone instead. In another film in another lifetime this would have been fun, but here it’s just absurd. It is all too often a forced feeling, and rarely does it seem to unfold naturally. And I can’t help but think how another director would have handled the material.
OK, well. I feel bad that I wasted about two hours of my time watching this film, and feel even worse to be wasting your time, dear reader – who have actually gotten this far in my review. With that said I am stopping here and forgetting all about it. I’d say stick to catching a re-run on the Sci-Fi channel, in which case you can see for yourself why I feel cheated. Otherwise, it’s for die-hard Hooper fans only.