VHS Vault: Mortuary (aka Embalmed)

Here we have Mortuary (Embalmed is its UK name), which though released in the mid eighties was most certainly a film from the ’70s. The wardrobe is full of bright blues and the hair stylist was clearly quite taken with The Dukes of Hazard, because a lot of the cast look like they stepped right out of that show. Also when a roller disco is included, you know you are looking at the ’70s. Nothing dates a film more than a roller disco.

There are many things I don’t like about this movie, but the worst thing is the UK release cover. This almost made it into The Truth About VHS articles, but it would have been a short article as nothing on this cover happens at all! No zombies, no gravestones, nothing like that. The US cover is not much better, either, with a freaky tombstone on it and a hand rising up. No tombstones are seen in this film just so you know; a cemetery is visited but only for a short scene. The trailer for Mortuary actually has Michael Berryman in it, who is not even in the film.

So let’s talk about the plot. It’s not overly complex so we won’t dwell on it too long. Basically it’s about two teens that break into a mortuary warehouse and see some kind of black mass ceremony going on. As they are leaving, one of the teens is killed off with an embalming fluid pipe through his chest. Greg (who managed to leave the warehouse untouched) is looking with his girlfriend Christie for his now deceased pal, but is also worried because one of the women at the mass was Christie’s mom. Christie is having a tough time recently; her dad has died in their pool (possible murder) and her mom is being a bit weird about it. She now thinks that some hooded figure is chasing her. As it turns out Hank Andrews is running the black mass ceremonies, while his son Paul Andrews tries to keep Christie and Greg out of trouble. We soon learn that Hank is actually doing a séance to try to contact Christie’s dad and Paul is the guy who is stalking Christie. He is a class A psycho who kills the dad and then stalks Christie after his doctor (Christie’s dad) refuses to let him marry his daughter. After killing her mom and embalming her he gets ready to marry Christie, surrounded by the corpses of the people he has murdered, which now includes her dad. Christie wakes up from her drugged state and she and Greg stab Paul to death. Then, to much shock and horror, Paul’s mom who was thought to be dead leaps up to avenge her son.

I’d bet you are thinking this sounds pretty good, right? Wrong. Dead wrong. This film is dull until the last 15 minutes which are a lot of fun. But it’s too little too late for that after an hour plus of utter boredom. There are too many elements of nonsense involved in this movie. For a start, the dialogue is dire. Absolutely dire. Some of the classic lines include “I was awake when he tried to stab me” and “low beam”. Someone actually comments that there is a low beam, that’s how far this film sinks. The actors really try their best, but with dialogue like this they all come off as flat, aside from Paul who I will cover later. The plot is not much better either. The ending is really funny but it takes so long to get there that you don’t really care either way. The story just drags on like a bad soap opera, with characters just talking utter dribble to each other while we just sit there and watch it (or use the fast forward button if you cannot take any more of this). The only way they could figure out how to get boobs in the film is to show a dead woman’s breasts! A massive highlight in this movie is when the lights go on and off again.

It’s one of those films where too many stupid things happen for you to enjoy it. Greg and Christie keep trying to shag in front of her moms fire-place even though her mom always comes in a few minutes after they decide to do it! Go to the bedroom! Dirty. Christie is not told that Paul the killer was obsessed with her and was the last person to see her dad alive, even though she hangs around with him quite a lot. A machine gun is left in a casket at the start for no reason other than to use it in the end scene. There is an incredibly poor baseball bat death that should have been hilarious but is shot and delivered so awfully that it is more embarrassing. This kind of thing normally makes me howl with laughter, but it’s delivered so poorly that it’s not fun. It’s stuck in the middle ground of serious and a trashy classic, but it never has enough bloody deaths or real tension to be either, leaving  it stuck in some kind of awful film limbo.

Now let’s go to the best part about this film: Paul Andrews. Played by a very young Bill Paxton (Aliens), he is the life and soul of this film. He is the only one who actually makes this watchable. He is hilarious, especially when he dances off with some flowers in a cemetery. He looks very quirky but when he turns evil he looks shocking. You can believe he has just snapped, talking about how if he kills Christie they can be together forever. It is actually creepy. There is an incredible scene where he conducts an invisible orchestra while dead bodies he has murdered surrounded him, perfectly mummified due to being embalmed. It is quite a disturbing scene, but it takes too damn long to reach this point for the film to be a true winner. Also, why did he have to be dressed up like a character from The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari? In that film the character designs are stunning, here they look like a guy dressed up like a panda in a cape. Not good. Still, Paxton tries his best. He gets killed pretty poorly with his own axe been used on him, all done bloodless. He at least deserved a nice, bloody death. The shock ending with his mother jumping up and attacking them in freeze frame, is  contrived and very poorly executed. If it was not for Paxton this flick would be complete crap. The only reason I have given it marks is because of Paxton.

In conclusion, to truly love this film, skip until about 20 minutes left and watch him in all his glory. Otherwise there is no real point in watching this. Maybe this is a better movie with a beverage and some pals; I can imagine it would have more appeal then. As I watched it at 2.00pm in the afternoon, something may have been lost in translation.

For more VHS reviews check out the VHS Vault here

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