14 December 2014

MORTUARY/2005/TOBE HOOPER

I will say from the beginning that I was disappointed in this film but there was an upside  to the experience actually. It rekindled my interest in Tobe Hooper and I am rounding up a few of his films I have not seen before such as Toolbox Murders (reviewed here as well) and Eaten Alive. Just never got around to seeing them. And I like a lot of his stuff that other people tend to pan regularly such as Lifeforce and Invaders from Mars. Nice looking and stylized films with some small story issues but good movies as far as I am concerned. So I was recently in the mood for a horror film and saw The Mortuary listed on an Internet thing of movies here in China. It is called PPTV and is basically mostly pirated -but not all I found out- movies with Chinese subtitles (and sometimes dubbed Chinese language) but I can get a bunch of movies off of it and what them on the iPad in bed with my earphones. What lives of quiet desperation some of us lead, right? I did not expect this movie to be great and I was right. But this was made by Tobe Hooper, whose career has been spotty at best but usually turns out something worth sitting through even when it is sub-standard. But he, along with the writers of 2004’s Toolbox Murders, really missed the mark with this film that seems more on the level of a first time horror filmmaker’s efforts than a man who has worked with Steven Spielberg and with one movie about inbred cannibal  hicks in Texas helped to redefine the road modern horror would travel down.

There seems to be mixed feelings about this one online and some people defend it as a fun movie not to be taken seriously. They seem to using Hooper’s penchant for well timed dark humor as a basis for their arguments but they are simply gilding the lily here. The film is not clever or comical and any laughs are unintentional and are at the expense of the filmmakers and actors themselves. And while I feel CGI effects for horror is the way of the future whether we like it or not I also feel those effects need to be done well if not perfectly to please the masses. Now I wonder just how much Spielberg actually had over the excellent special effects in Poltergeist since the effects in this one rank among some of the worst I have ever seen in a horror film. Okay, I have seen much worse, but again I expect more from Hooper than this mess. The special effects were worse than stuff I have seen on TV shows. Add these problems to a script that had some potential but ultimately sells out scene after scene and you have a really disappointing film by a guy who was reported have gotten back on top of his game with Toolbox Murders. One blogger tries to defend the ending and gave a long argument for his reasons, but the ending is a sell not and not a clever twist like he argues it to be. Just because something is “unexpected” does not make it clever or original. Sometimes unexpected means the filmmakers had no idea what the hell they were doing and took the obvious easy way out to just end a troubled film.

And what is this troubled film about? The story itself seems to offer possibilities. Nothing fantastic but at least a middle of the road Hooper film could have been achieved, and a mediocre Hooper film can still be better than the competition. Recently widowed Leslie Doyle (Denise Crosby of Star Trek: The Next Generation and Pet Semetary) packs up and moves her kids Jonathan and little sister Jamie (Dan Byrd –who delivers a solid performance- and Stephanie Patton) across the country to some desolate town in the California desert to work as the town’s mortician. She has been studying mortician science and what a lucky break for here. The Fowler Mortuary is ridiculously dilapidated to the point of being absurd. Sure, run down and atmospheric is the only way to go, but the house is simply too decrepit to believe. To make things worse sewage is being pushed up into the surrounding yard (which is simply dirt), caused by the recent torrential rains, the heaviest rains in some fifty we are informed. Even more annoying than the house and gooey shit over the yard is the laughing gimp of a real estate agent Mr. Barstow (Adam Gierasch) who cackles and snickers his way through every scene. What was up with this guy? At what point did Hooper think that this actor’s performance was something to not criticize? It is simply annoying and in the end bad acting, but not the type of bad acting you can ignore. Other obligatory strange characters include the stuttering sheriff who wants to make sure there are “no more graveyard babies” made in the cemetery and some angry punk kids who sit in the diner and make Jonathan’s life miserable. To make his life more bearable though he also meets the attractive but stereotypically angst ridden Liz (Alexndra Adi) and her gay pal Grady (Rocky Marquette) and the trio hit off.


The house comes with a history of local lore. Stories of murder and of entire families vanishing who are possible maybe victims of local boogeyman Bobby Fowler, the abused and deformed child of the Fowler family who used to run the mortuary. The house also comes with a strange fungus that covers everything and that is attracted to blood. I know fungus and molds can be sort of scary in a Lovecraftian way (and the film makes some references to Lovecraft with a quote on a crypt door) but to be honest fungus and stuff aren’t really that scary. I am not a fan of plant/mold movies in general anyway. But soon Jonathan and his new friends from the local diner realize that there are strange things going on in the house and surrounding graveyard and that the creepy mold may have something to do it, or maybe even Bobby Fowler himself. And by strange things I am referring to the usually considered strange event of the dead returning to life and attacking the living. The corpses in the mortuary are reanimated by the black fungus which slithers out of the drain pipes and enters the bodies through any orifice I guess, and then said reanimated corpse is able to infect the living by vomiting in their face. Leslie Doyle herself is soon infected as is the stuttering sheriff and bitter punks. And of course Bobby Fowler is not just a legend and soon the cleft lipped psycho is terrorizing the gang and little Jamie along with the fungus, zombies and recently infected humans. I draw some distinction between the reanimated corpses and the humans infected with moldy zombie barf but I am not sure that is really necessary other than the fact that the recently infected humans can still talk and stutter. I am not a zombie expert and yet we seem to be dealing with some sort of zombie hierarchy here.

The film seems to be deliberately (I would hope) referring back to some of Hooper’s earlier films. A dining table sequence is reminiscent of the iconic scene in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Bobby Fowler’s underground world looks like the strange tunnels in Texas Chainsaw Massacre II. The simple minded, cleft lipped creature who yearns for love harkens back to Funhouse. Nothing wrong with making references to older horror films but it is bit more clever when someone else is paying homage to another filmmaker’s work and not the original filmmaker creating references to his own. I don’t now. That seems a little corny or desperate to me. Oh and the ending. That “controversial” ending that seems to have the horror masses divided. It is a bad ending. Makes no sense whatsoever. It is a cheap shot and copout and nothing more. Hooper should have known better but maybe he simply did not care any more. Of course movies are not shot in some sort of chronological sense and the ending may have been the first scene shot, but you still get the feeling that this ending was tacked on with not much thought or consideration to the rest of the story –or the thing that resembles and has some basic attributes of a story- that preceded it.

I am still a Tobe Hooper fan and look forward to the three new films I am downloading right now from The Pirate Bay. But of all the films of his I have seen this has to the worst. I have not seen all of them. Never saw Crocodile and that looks pretty lame. But it is hard to believe this is actually even a Tobe Hooper film. I am thinking Mr. Hooper would have done better to let “Alan Smithee” take credit for this one.
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