Directed by Howard Avedis in 1983, Mortuary begins when a man is killed by an unseen assailant, his body left lifeless floating in the swimming pool in his backyard. From here, two teenage boys - Greg (David Wallace) and Jim (Curt Ayers) - sneak into a warehouse in the middle of the day where they see Jim's former boss, Hank Andrews (Christopher George), involved in some sort of séance surrounded by women dressed in strange cloaks. Jim notes that he's seen this before at the mortuary Andrews runs, the place where he used to work. They head out but Jim gets killed out of view of Greg, who wanders around town with his girlfriend, Christie (Mary Beth McDonagh), who just so happens to be the daughter of the man killed in the opening scene. Despite protestations from her mother (Lynda Day George), Christie is certain that her father's death was not the accident that the cops said it was but that he was the victim of foul play.
As Greg tries to figure out what happened to his pal and where his van has gotten off to, Christie is being plagued with visits from a strange man with white face paint dressed in a black cloak and wielding a strange sharp instrument. Her mother says it's just her overactive imagination but when Greg sees the fiend as well, he realizes that Christy is on to something. Greg takes it upon himself to protect Christie and figure out just what exactly is going on here. Soon he gets some help from Andrews' strange son, Paul Andrews (Bill Paxton), who also happens to be madly in love with Christie. It only gets more complicated from there...
A fairly loopy movie, at least as far as logic is concerned, Mortuary is nevertheless a pretty entertaining slasher film, even if it is often times for all the wrong reasons. The film tends to go off in strange directions, be it a scene in a sheriff's office that goes nowhere or a prolonged sequence involving copious amounts of roller disco, it isn't a movie that seems to be particularly concerned with making sense. It is, however, completely watchable, thanks in no small part to the interesting cast that signed up for this one. Mary Beth McDonagh, best known at that point for appearing in The Waltons, makes for a likeable enough lead. She's maybe a little off kilter at times but she even manages to ooze out some sex appeal in a love scene with Wallace. Charismatic enough in the male lead, Wallace kind of bumbles his way through the film from one strange plot device to the next, but he too seems like a nice enough guy and we get the impression he does have Christie's best interests at heart. Christopher George is all smug and ridiculously self confident here, but we wouldn't have it any other way while Lynda Day George plays the stern mother well enough, even if she doesn't look quite old enough for the part here. The real star, however, is Bill Paxton, who completely owns the last half hour of the film. His character seems trivial at first, but it's pretty obvious where the movie is going to go with him once it picks up steam and he gets a chance to really take things dangerously close to over the top as the film winds to its strange conclusion.
Avedis keeps the moving going at a reasonable pace and the dated but enjoyable score from John Cacavas helps ramp up a few decent moments of tension thanks to a few well timed jump scares. This isn't a movie that will keep you up at night, but it's a fun one that fans of eighties horror and slasher films will definitely get a kick out of.
Mortuary looks pretty good presented here in 1.78.1 anamorphic widescreen and transferred from some elements that were obviously in pretty good shape. There's the expected amount of grain, of course, but no serious print damage, just the odd speck here and there. Colors look nice and bold without seeming to have been artificially boosted at all while skin tones look lifelike and natural. There are no issues with compression artifacts and detail is pretty solid as well.
The English language Dolby Digital Mono track is crisp, clear and well balanced. There are no problems with hiss or distortion and the dialogue is plenty easy to follow. The score sounds good, there are no issues with hiss or distortion and while the track is understandably limited in range, all in all it sounds just fine.
Aside from a trailer for the feature and trailers for a few other Scorpion releasing titles, the main extra on the disc is a fifteen minute interview with the film's composer, John Cacavas. Here he speaks about his work not just on this feature but on a few other interesting titles of note, including Horror Express, and he makes for a fairly interesting subject. As this is part of the Katarina's Nightmare Theater line from Scorpion, there's an optional intro/outra segment with hostess Katarina Leigh Waters that offers up some facts about the film in a humorous way. The cover art is also reversible, giving you the option to display the disc with or without the Nightmare Theater banner up top - a nice touch.
Mortuary is good, goofy fun. A few good jump scares, a truly bizarre performance from a young Bill Paxton and a couple of screwy twists make this an entertaining slasher that, despite its many and obvious flaws, makes for a fun time at the movies if you're in the right frame of mind for it. Scorpion's DVD release, the first in the world, is a welcome one as it offers the film up in very nice shape and with a decent bonus interview too. Recommended for fans of eighties slasher films.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.