Review: Tobe Hooper’s Mortuary (2005)
Tobe “Texas Chainsaw Massacre" Hooper has had some problems making a name for himself since creating that cult film.
Mortuary is not going to fix that. In an interview, Tobe has said the movie was absolutely intended as straight horror. If this is true, and not leg-pulling, this man lives in a parallel universe of some sort, because the chief value of this movie is comedic.
The movie centers around a small family, led by the recently-widowed mother, played by Denise “Tasha Yar" Crosby, who has "gone back to school" to study mortuary sciences. This school is unnamed, but by her performance, sounds about on par with night-school taxidermy courses.
Based on this scant knowledge, she lands herself a job in some unnamed, distant town, and drives her two kids on a 26-hour, cross-country drive to move into their new home: a rundown house cum funeral parlor with a graveyard as the front lawn.
The Horror of the town is two-pronged: On the one prong is the folk tale of Bobby Fowler, a long-abused, misshapen child who ran away after killing his parents and lives in the crypts of the graveyard to this day. On the other prong is the presence of a sort of mobile mold in the house that eventually enters the dead bodies and reanimates them, and then infects the living by the unusual contagion vector of vomiting a black sludge into their mouths.
Unsurprisingly, the two turn out to be related, as Bobby has somehow become the caretaker of the slime, which exists as a central entity in a sort of Sarlacc pit in that catacombs beneath the cemetery, feeding primarily on corpses that Bobby fetches from above.
Our forgettable main characters variously fight and succumb to the infection of the slime, and Bobby takes pity on the innocent (brain damaged?) little girl and tries to save her, but, you know, ugly, so she screams and runs and seems to shatter the last shred of his humanity with her rejection. The final showdown happens in fairly predictable ways reminiscent of The Lair of the White Worm.
It’s a cautionary tale about checking new real estate for mold before you move in.
The interesting thing about this film, to me, is the slime.
Slime-mold zombies are not actually a terrible idea. Fungus and protists are ubiquitous in our environment. There are motile members of the family, slime molds, colony organisms that self-organize, and while individuals are stupid, emergent behavior can be quite smart, even solving mazes.
Some slime molds can be quite large, and some fungi infect humans and aid decomposition of corpses. Now suppose a very well-organized colony not only took over a corpse, but animated it, controlling it just enough to find more food for itself. The concept is not entirely foreign — there is a parase that infects an ant’s brain and causes it to climb tall grass stalks so they’ll be eaten by cows, a necessary part of the parasite’s life cycle.
Some slime molds are more-or-less big bags of cytoplasm with unattached nuclei floating around in them. Others are more colony-like, with individual cells clustering together and becoming one organism. Kinda like a Rat King (shudder). So the slime in Mortuary isn’t one large blob, but pieces break off and flow, but eventually seem to act to reconnect to the main body, the central nucleus.
The Mortuary zombies, however, are not quite so cleverly explained. They are, however, amusing, as they retain some aspects of their pre-infection selves, and seem to compulsively repeat catch phrases from their life.
"No more Graveyard babies" is one of my favorite lines from any movie, ever.
Still, if you take it as a clever idea combined with a parody of horror cliches, you can see the movie as pretty good, if you ignore the acting. In my recent re-viewing, I came to the conclusion that the semi-incoherent mumbling of the actors must be because they improvised almost all the scenes, and Hooper had the best takes edited together, even if they didn’t match up. Continuity is not a strong point in this film, and the characters often seem to be responding to bits of conversation that never happened.
It’s a turkey, plain and simple. But with the right mindset, it can be an entertaining turkey. watch it with a biologist. And a drink. Or two.
Written for Film Pipe.
This is Scix in the Back Row, stopping graveyard babies.
Mortuary (2005) Directed by Tobe Hooper, starring Dan Byrd, Alexandra Adi, and Denise Crosby.