Somehow Mortuary fell through the cracks. Released in 1983, which we all know was right smack in the middle of the heyday of the slasher; this lost classic disappeared and is hardly mentioned anymore.
Mortuary centers on Christie (Mary Beth McDonough from The Waltons), who saw her father murdered but has blocked out the actual event. This has led her to sleepwalking and seeing things which might not be there. All of this craziness occurs much to the frustration of her mother Eve (Lynda Day George) who has been seeking her own form of closure with the local mortician Hank Andrews (Christopher George) who holds fancy séances for some of the local gals. One day Christie’s gorgeous boyfriend Greg (David Wallace from Humongous) stumbles across one of these meetings while helping his friend Josh (Denis Mandel) steal some tires from Hank’s warehouse. Josh doesn’t make it out alive, and Greg tries to get someone to look into his disappearance, but being a thief doesn’t really get you any cred with the police, so you can see how far that goes. Christie’s dangerous sleepwalking habit and Josh’s disappearance are connected to the local crazy who wears black & white face makeup (making him look oddly like the Scream mask) and stabs folks with an embalming tool. Totally creepy.
A lush film, Mortuary gets the most from the Pacific Ocean locale and slasher’s greatest couple, Christopher & Lynda Day George, as well as featuring an early and incredible performance from a young Bill Paxton. There are some genuinely creepy moments to be had, especially involving the death of one blonde bombshell. No matter how many times I see this movie, that scene always elicits goose bumps!
I was surprised to see that the director Howard Avedis started his short lived career with the odd 1972 sexploitation flick The Stepmother (featuring the beautiful Claudia Jennings in a small role) and ended it with the David Naughton thriller Kidnapped in 1986. During that small period of time Avedis made eleven films, writing, directing and producing almost all of them. I don’t know why he dropped out, but he left an interesting resume filled with enjoyable B films. This was Avedis’ first pairing with the late and prolific cinematographer Gary Graver, who was a protégé of Orson Wells and who dabbled in everything from art to porn. Avedis and Graver also collaborated on the awesome They’re Playing with Fire starring Sybil Danning.
McDonough was fresh off of the Waltons, which ended in 1981, and seemed determined to branch out into more adult roles. She’s good here (a definite step up from her wooden performance in the 1981 made for TV horror movie Midnight Offerings) and has that kind of girl next door appeal that any good final girl should possess. It would be almost impossible to not figure out who the killer is, but the guessing game isn’t the important part of Mortuary. It’s good, gooey fun that throws in everything from embalming nude chicks to a scene in a roller skating rink to the infamous and oft-used strategic placement of dead bodies (ala Happy Birthday to Me). It’s got it all, is great fun and deserves a little more praise than it seems to get.