Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Tobe or not Tobe: MORTUARY (2005)

The new century did not start off well for Mr. Hooper in terms of horror as he delivered the by-the-numbers SciFi Channel level CROCODILE (2000). He returned to TV for the well done TAKEN before shocking nearly everyone with the TOOLBOX MURDERS (2004). While not the “masterpiece” and “return to form” the hip horror web sites claimed it to be (had they seen his work from 1974-86?), TOOLBOX was Hooper’s strongest horror work in decades and proved the man could still deliver an above average fright-fest. Unfortunately, all that cred that Hooper gained was quickly squandered when he re-teamed with TOOLBOX producers and screenwriters for MORTUARY.

Single mother Leslie Doyle (Denise Crosby) moves with her kids, Jonathan (Dan Byrd) and Jaime (Stephanie Patton), into a mold infested house/mortuary so she can live out her dream of being a mortician (thanks mom). The house, naturally, has a past as Jonathan learns the tale of local boogeyman Bobby Fowler from romantic interest Liz (Alexandra Adi). Legend has it that deformed mute Fowler was tortured by his parents before he killed them and he still lurks the grounds of the cemetery that sits right outside Jonathan’s house. Me thinks something bad is going to happen!

MORTUARY is a mess. Had this been made by some fledgling filmmaker, I could understand. But this is Tobe Hooper and, after proving himself again with TOOLBOX, he shouldn’t be resorting to flicks that end on a scare and immediately cut to credits with a lousy Nine Inch Nails rip off song blasting. I expect that from the young sad sack directors, but not my beloved Tobe. It doesn’t help that the screenplay by TOOLBOX scripters Jace Anderson and Adam Gierasch is an unfocused mess. Okay, I’m going to lay out the film’s big villain to you so stop reading if you don’t want to know. The cause of all this craziness is – wait for it – killer fungus! It creeps, it crawls, it climbs up the walls…THE FUNGUS! Oh, sorry, that was The Blob’s theme. Apparently Bobby lives in a cave below the mausoleum (which is locked by a door with a Lovecraft inscribing that is never explained) and has been feeding this mold monster that lives in a well. Now Anderson and Gierasch can’t be bothered to explain where this thing came from (my guess? Lovecraft books!). And how do you kill the infected? By throwing salt on them, of course! “Just like a snail,” says the film’s token gay kid. C’mon, ya bastards. I know you looked up “how to get rid of mold” on Google. Even sadder are their set ups like when the sheriff shows up as Jonathan and friends smoke pot and mom comically botches her first embalming. Who will answer the door? Or how about the scene where mom decides to show off her first customer (i.e. corpse; played by Gierasch) to the kids and Liz screams, “That’s Mr. Barston! He’s my piano teacher. *friend takes her away* But I had a lesson tomorrow.” And there is some bitter irony in dialog like one infected teen whose only line is to scream, “Shut up, punk!”

The acting is pretty weak as well. I’ll give Byrd praise as he is a solid lead and, to the screenwriters’ credit, they didn’t fall back on the cliché “angry at my parent” routine. But the rest of the cast is in pretty sad shape. You can almost see Denise Crosby thinking, “Why did I leave STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION?” And get a load of Greg Travis as Eliot Cook, the smarmy local businessman who shows the family the house. He laughs and cackles from start to finish of each scene. I’m all for eccentric characters in films, but I’m scratching my head as to why Tobe didn’t stop the scene and say, “What the hell are you doing?” Extra notice should go to Alexandra Adi as the brunette teen love interest. She is terrrrrrible and has the raspy voice of someone in their thirties. Oh, shit, she WAS in her early thirties when she filmed this. That has to be some kind of record in terms of horror teen portrayals. Well, good one on Byrd for getting some of that action!

The worst thing about MORTUARY is that, like most his work the last 20 years, it is very solid on a technical level, but tries to echo previous successes. Hooper seems to be doing an all-out “greatest hits” retrospective here. You have a little girl offering licorice to the dead (POLTERGEIST); a creepy family dinner (TCM 1 & 2); a deformed monster with a cleft lip (THE FUNHOUSE); a small town populated with eccentric characters (SALEM’S LOT); and a climactic chase in underground tunnels strewn with skeletons (TCM 2). Damn, why couldn’t he have copied some LIFEFORCE and gotten someone to pull a Mathilda May? In fact, it is criminal that busty Courtney Peldon (see pic below) only barely shows off her assets while dissolving and covered in CGI smoke. The funniest thing is that he basically remade this as THE DAMNED THING, his entry for the second season of Showtime’s MASTERS OF HORROR series, replacing black fungus that drives one mad with black oil that drives one mad. It is sad because Hooper’s TOOLBOX MURDERS redux gave us a tiny tease of his abilities, showing the man still had it in him. And then he turns around and kicks us in the nuts again, as if to say, “You do remember I made SPONTANEOUS COMBUSTION, right?”

2 Reactions:

  1. I'd like to contact William S. Wilson. It's about Tobe Hooper. How can I get in touch with him ?

  2. Greetings! I'm here. Send me an email at udar552003 at to get in touch. ;-)


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