By Glenn Erickson
If it had a tiny bit more wit, Mortuary Academy would be right in step with today's raunchy comedies that milk big laughs from every known biological function, and then invent a few more. Made as a dark-horse attempt at the audience that went for Eating Raoul, Mortuary Academy does a title riff on the inexplicably successful Police Academy movies but only intermittently hits its comedic mark with its parade of tasteless jokes.
Stopping just short of dead baby humor, William Kelman's screenplay is a morbid farce about the Grimm Funeral home and mortuary services school run by the abominably unscrupulous Paul Truscott (Paul Bartel, who also is said to have helped with the writing). Paul has been skimming the profits with scams like selling the same casket dozens of times, and charging astronomical prices for atrocious embalming jobs. He's also a world-class necrophile (big laugh) given to arranging late-night champagne rendezvous with female corpses that catch his attention. Paul's girlfriend and academy instructor Mary Purcell (Mary Woronov) is a chronic nymphomaniac, and looks upon Paul's transgressions as a big problem only because she's jealous.
The thin plot poses two nerdy heirs to the Grimm estate (Perry Lang and Christopher Atkins) who must pass the mortician's course to inherit the business. Paul and Mary unite to keep this from happening by arranging for the brothers to fail.
While the two managers continue cheating customers and defiling bodies during and after hours, the boys meet their fellow students. Familiar faces Anthony James and Tracey Walter play a psycho and a robotics nerd respectively; one loves to impale dead bodies with irrigation tools (off-screen, mercifully) and the other brings a dead puppy 'back to life' by outfitting it with robotic insides.
Various set pieces fill out the running time. A scramble to claim dead bodies from a car wreck ends up in a street fight for hearse rights against competitors from all-black and all-kung fu funeral homes. A beach party is part of Paul's running gag (the other kind of gag) as his unilateral romancing of his favored femme corpse ends up in a parody of the surfside scene from From Here to Eternity. The finale is a big "save the school" gala dance. Robot whiz Walter re-animates an entire deceased rock band for a final performance.
As can be guessed, Mortuary Academy is basically a one-joke idea drawn out to infinity. It lacks a satiric edge and only Bartel and Woronov are intermittently amusing. In-jokes include the use of the Ince Studios' administration building as the Academy, framed as seen in the logo openings for David O. Selznick movies. Bartel is caught reading The Loved One in one scene and the show ends with a steal from Some Like it Hot that falls entirely flat. All of this self-conscious mock outrage may have been too extreme for 1988; it's rather tame now.
Sony presents Mortuary Academy in 1:33 full screen. The bright and colorful image has been recomposed from 1:85 by taking more from the top and bottom and less from the sides. Compositions look tight while head & foot room are loose. There are no extras.
October 23, 2005
Text © Copyright 2005 Glenn Erickson