Because of a nostalgia for my 80s movies that will never die, I have been waiting for over a decade for the “1983” film Mortuary to be released on DVD so I could see it again. I’ve put the year of release in quotes because when you watch the movie, it’s pretty clear that it was made in 1981 and only released 2 years later. There is a huge, pointless roller disco scene, for slashers’ sake! It almost rivals the horrible disco number from Prom Night, but it’s not quite that good.
Mortuary is more like a pseudo-slasher combined with a really weak whodunit. You can pretty much guess whodunit from the beginning. The film stars horror power couple Linda Day and Christopher George…who plays her new boyfriend after the death of her husband George (confusing). The main girl is Mary Beth McDonough, some chick who was originally on the Waltons (the only person I actually remember from that show is John Boy).
The plot is kind of whacked. Waltons girl sees her dad get beaten with a baseball bat by their pool. He falls into the water and drowns. She’s the only one who believes he was murdered. Even Mommy Lynda Day insists she just imagines it when she dreams and sleepwalks. Lynda Day also appears to be in some sort of black robed coven at the local mortuary (and separate warehouse location to confuse matters more), which is run by her real-life husband/movie boyfriend Christopher George.
So Waltons girl has a cute blond boyfriend who’s friend worked at the mortuary but got fired for catching the group in the coven. So he and the friend sneak into the warehouse to steal shit—and we soon get a glimpse of the freaky killer: black robe, eerie white-painted face, and an embalming tool as a weapon. Definitely one of the creepier and sicker killers of the decade. The problem is—the killer doesn’t really deliver much of a body count!
The majority of the film is about Waltons girl sleepwalking around the grounds of her home (fricking mansion) while being stalked by the killer (a very creepy concept). She and her boyfriend start to think Mommy Lynda Day and boyfriend Christopher George are trying to make her crazy and kill her. Oh, and by the way, Christopher George has a creepy son, played by a young Bill Paxton, who resents his father for forcing him to work embalming at the mortuary, lost his mother in a recent suicide, is a geeky outsider at college, has a huge crush on Waltons girl, and is turned down by her repeatedly because she has that cute blond boyfriend.
You’ll NEVER guess who the killer is.
Mortuary has some great 80s slasher darkness, and although there are few murders, the embalming tool makes them fairly grisly. The robed Paxton—I mean, killer—with the white face sneaking through bushes at night comes 15 years before Scream. And we get some good male and female nudity, with some of the worst booty and booby doubles ever! The male body double doesn’t even have the same color hair as the boyfriend! Oh yeah. You also get dead boob shots if you’re into that sort of thing (personally, I don’t even like them alive)….
Adding to the slasher cred is what could be a great chase scene if it wasn’t SO bizzaro. In the 20 something years since I first saw this film, it was the ONE thing I remembered with great confusion, and I was hoping that rewatching it as an adult would clarify it for me. But it didn’t. So if someone can explain it to me, it would be great. See, Waltons girl runs out one door of her mansion as the killer enters another. She runs all the way around the grounds of the estate and back through another door that I believe takes her back into the mansion, unless it’s supposed to be a guest home, cabana, servants quarters, or some other rich person’s building I don’t understand. I really can’t figure it out. She sits in waiting, the killer walks by outside, and then she runs BACK around the mansion and into another door. Then she runs through the mansion to another door, runs out of the mansion, runs around the estate again, and re-enters the first door she escaped from! It is one of the most bizarre techniques I’ve ever seen to drag out a chase scene in an attempt to create tension. However, I must say that the payoff for this chase scene scares the SHIT out of you. Flawlessly executed jump scene in its unexpectedness.
Other slasher clichés abound. Waltons girl gets followed by a station wagon, then gets home and peers around nervously while clutching her school books to her chest. Sound familiar? There’s a pretty pointless cemetery scene. There are bodies in coffins. Bad boogeyman references turn into a “let’s boogie” suggestion, which leads to some awful dancing by our male and female lead. There is flickering light overkill (seriously, it’s so excessive it becomes humorous, complete with the boogie music blasting each time the lights come back on), dead phones, awesome red and blue Argento lighting, a séance, killer POV complete with heavy breathing, a backstory involving psychiatric problems, the final reveal of the (small) pile of bodies, and the traditional RIDICULOUS, nonsensical shock ending. Ah…the 80s.