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Mortuary (2005)
Director: Tobe Hooper

review by Tom Johnstone

As the godfather of the stalk 'n' slash subgenre, with a masterpiece like The Texas Chain Saw Massacre under his belt, Tope Hooper has a lot to live up to - or live down, depending on your point of view. I watched this more recent offering, and then TCM happened to be on Film4 the following night and, although the latter was made in the 1974, and the former in 2005, it was Mortuary that seemed the more dated and trashy. It was Mortuary that came off worse from the comparison. Having said that, Mortuary has got a lot going for it, sharing TCM's graveyard humour and satire of inbred, backwoods types.

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre opens with a news report about body parts being robbed from graves, and Mortuary also inhabits similar territory, featuring teenagers who hang around in cemeteries and spray paint tombstones for kicks. The local sheriff is obsessed with stamping out 'graveyard babies', teenage pregnancies arising from cemetery dalliances. Mortuary's even got its own Leatherface figure, Bobby Fowler, the hare-lipped lone survivor of a line of morticians, with a subterranean lair full of dangling mementos.

But Mortuary lacks the visceral power and impact of TCM. Basically, the story is that single mother Leslie Doyle (Denise Crosby) takes her two children Jamie (Stephanie Patton) and teenage Jonathan (Dan Byrd) to start a new life, with a new career in a new home. The trouble is, the new home is a dilapidated, damp-infested mortuary, and her new job is as a mortician fresh out of training college. There is an amusingly ghoulish scene, in which Leslie gets her tubes mixed up, as she tries to inject a corpse with embalming fluid.

However her inexperience in her chosen profession is the least of her problems. In the catacombs under the mortuary, someone has scratched a couplet from H.P. Lovecraft's 'Cthulhu Mythos', and before too long the stiffs are getting lively and spewing black gunge over everything and everybody.

Mortuary is at its best in the opening scenes. The tinkling theme music that opens the film is nicely eerie, and there is a palpable sense of unease and dread in the early sequences of the family exploring the deserted, coffin-strewn house. Rather like TCM, but far less effectively, Mortuary ends as a grotesque farce. Where TCM's final scenes are both hysterically funny and chillingly disturbing, Mortuary's leave the viewer with an impression of grungy teenagers tearing about screaming aimlessly, so much so that you don't care what happens to them in the end.

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