With the re-release of Mortuary on Blu-ray, we break down the film to see if Bill Paxton is enough to keep it interesting!
WARNING: Spoilers abound. It was almost impossible to steer clear of spoilers due to Mortuary attempting, and failing, to be a whodunnit slasher film when watching almost 20 years later.
Movie: Mortuary (1983)
Plot: A hooded figure stalks a group of college kids. Is it part of a group of seances that the owner of the local mortuary participates in with a group of women? Why does one of the girls have dreams of a shadow hitting her father with a baseball bat in slow-motion, causing his death? Is it all connected? Will we find out? Will even the director find out? Who knows?!
Killer: A hooded figure carrying a trucar with its draining tube still attached. It’s like the Scream series took this killer and said, “Let’s cover up the face with a mask so, even if the killer is a no-name actor or actress now, an audience still won’t know who it is if they stumble on our films in 20 years.” That would have been the logical approach for a whodunnit slasher.
Critique: Interesting or not, slasher films in the late 70s and early 80s had a basic formula: people are gruesomely(we hope, for horror’s sake) murdered, we learn about a tragedy that links the murders together, a few red herrings are thrown in to make us mistakenly suspect characters, and there’s a big reveal at the end as to who the killer is.
Mortuary attempts the formula, but the movie seems to know where it wants to end. It just doesn’t know how to get there.
One thing that will constantly haunt this film is showing the killer in the first five minutes of the movie. (You were warned about this spoiler.) I’ll agree that, at the time, Bill Paxton was totally unknown, so showing him in face-paint was a semi-valid idea, even if Bill Paxton shows up a few scenes later as a normal character. But couldn’t they have just cut the close-up, even if they couldn’t see into the future that anyone over the age of thirty could pick out Bill Paxton in a “Where’s Waldo?” puzzle page? This changes the “whodunnit” theme into a “why’d they do it” story. Unfortunately, the film drags so incredibly slowly, with a few gratuitous roller rink scenes to wake us up with comic relief, that we hardly care about the “Why” at the end. Even the seance red herring seems so dull that you expect Bill Paxton to poke his head out from underneath a table that has been seemingly shaking on its own. Maybe it was Christopher George shaking the table with his knee. What I do know is that, besides this scene, the movie doesn’t attempt to test the believability of the supernatural. Well, maybe if you want to count tires constantly falling from the rafters of a warehouse.
But it’s not all bad. Once Bill Paxton has a chance to show off all the crazy that the killer, Paul Andrews, has to offer, Mortuary really shines. In one scene, he stabs Christie’s mother in her bed repeatedly while he pants, to the point that it feels like a sex scene. Later on, we have Paul pretending to be the conductor of a symphony playing Mozart while surrounded by corpses dressed and seated for his make-believe wedding ceremony with Christie.
All in all, the film has about 10 minutes of worthy watching at the beginning, and twenty minutes of can’t blink activity at the end, complete with a plot twist. The problem is, the other hour of the film is mostly uninteresting.
Scene of Awesomeness: This entire film was actually building to something, and that something was having a psychotic Bill Paxton assemble a wedding ceremony with dead bodies. He even had a wedding cake! Was it edible? Who’s to judge? End scene, throw in a last-minute plot twist, and roll credits. This scene is worth fast-forwarding to after watching the first twenty minutes.
Scene of Ridiculousness: The killer reveal is pretty ridiculous in hindsight. From the first five minutes of the movie, you know the hooded killer is Bill Paxton in white face-paint and mascara. But when the killer catches Christie towards the end, she pulls off a rubber prosthetic face that doesn’t look quite like Bill Paxton. At least, it looked less like Bill Paxton than Bill Paxton in makeup. Maybe the budget ran out for that mask, and they couldn’t afford it in any other scenes.
Body Count: 4, plus 1 in a dream sequence (which still ends up being a dead body, we just don’t know how exactly)
1 baseball bat beating in slo-mo, resulting in drowning. But it was all a dream, so who knows if that’s how it really went down? ( Awesomely Overkill Award, only because of the use of slow-motion and the other kills being so generic )
3 stomach stabbings by trocar
1 axe to the back
1 pair of breasts, along with a few close calls
Actors/Actresses of Note: The big name here is Bill Paxton playing the part of Paul Andrews, with Mortuary being his first featured role before going on to his bit role in The Terminator, and roles in Weird Science, Aliens, Near Dark, the beginning of his name confusion with Bill Pullman in Brain Dead, Predator 2, True Lies… the list goes on. We also have Christopher George playing the part of mortuary owner Hank Andrews, known in horror circles for The Exterminator, Lucio Fulci’s City of the Living Dead, Graduation Day and Pieces.
Quote: “I could run things smoother if people died between 9 to 5.” – Hank Andrews
Watchability: 2 out of 5, worth a watch if there’s nothing else. It would have been an easy pass, but it’s hard to steer clear of under-the-radar Bill Paxton sightings.
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