Tobe Hooper's filmic output has been on a rather sharp decline since he debuted with THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE in 1974 (though after achieving the heights of that film, a little anticlimax is understandable). Sure, there was POLTERGEIST and THE FUNHOUSE, but for me his career was exemplified by such mediocrities like SPONTANEOUS COMBUSTION and the godawful THE MANGLER. So it was with cautious optimism that I approached Hooper's 2005 release MORTUARY, hearing that it was unlike anything the man had previously done. Well, I'll give you that it's different, but that doesn't neccesarily make it good.
Really, the film isn't that far removed from horror flicks from the '70s and '80s or their paperback-original brethren (oftentimes it feels like something Rick Hautala might've penned twenty-odd years ago). In time-honored fashioned, a broken family moves into a new home to start their lives over, only to run afoul of the evil that's inhabited the place for years (I'm surprised Hooper didn't throw us a prologue from 1975, and then begin the story in PRESENT DAY). Here we have a single mom (Denise Crosby, sporting a heinous hairdo far scarier than anything in the picture), a sullen teenage son (Dan Byrd, thankfully not as grating as most horror-cinema teens), and a precocious prepubescent daughter (Stephanie Patton) who settle into a decrepit house/mortuary combo to begin their new start--though I gotta wonder, with the house's dilapidated condition and septic tank-saturated yard, how fucking brutal were their lives before if this is considered a step up?
MORTUARY is fairly slow going as it establishes its backstory and characters, and while I'm glad Hooper takes the time to flesh out his cast the clues to the story are few and far between, glossed over with pre-fab "spooky" cinematography and stock ominous score. Once things finally get rolling the pace picks up considerably, though the screenplay throws out so many elements that I was hard-pressed to figure out exactly what the movie was about. At first it seems to concern a strange black fungus that infects people and turns them into zombies (or uses them as vessels, it isn't clear), but then what is one to make of the deformed man-child that lives in the adjacent cemetery and preys on fornicating teenagers? Or the quasi-Lovecraftian aspects of the Call of Cthulhu inscription on one of the tombs, or the sacrificial well (a shoddy CGI effect that resembles a grungier version of the Sarlaac Pit) that Patton is to be offered to? Nothing forms into a cohesive whole, and the deadpan humor Hooper uses doesn't help; a typical example is when an infected Crosby serves a dinner of sludge and milk to her family, a tonally out-of-place moment that gets worse the longer it runs.
For all its flaws, I still enjoyed MORTUARY in the sense that it's the kind of movie they don't make anymore, though after the recent spate of uninspired J-horror remakes, torture porn extravaganzas, and tepid PG-13 "thrillers," it's hard not to feel a bit of relief from it.