Mortuary (1983)

Where nobody rests in peace.

Year of Release: 1983
Genre: Horror
Rated: R
Running Time: 93 minutes (1:33)
Director: Howard Avedis


Mary Beth McDonough ... Christie Parson
David Wallace ... Greg Stevens
Bill Paxton ... Paul Andrews
Lynda Day George ... Eve Parson
Christopher George ... Hank Andrews

Mortuary is the third in a series of reviews I've chosen to write as a tribute to Joe Bob Briggs for his lifetime of dedication to B, Drive-In and Exploitation movies. It was his Joe Bob Goes to the Drive-In column and host segments on Joe Bob's Drive-In Theater and Monstervision that inspired me to write with what limited ability I have. Thanks for everything Joe Bob, we all 'preciate what you do.

Regarding the ordering of these 12 tribute reviews, I'll be counting down the first 12 horror movies that Joe Bob reviewed back in '82 and '83. Less the titles I've already done up to this point. By the time I decided to do this, I'd already done some of those first 12 titles, so call that a blunder on my part. Mortuary, technically speaking, was the 18th horror movie Joe Bob reviewed in his Joe Bob Goes to the Drive-In column, and the 51st overall.

For anyone that might be curious, the non horror titles (or titles that I may have done previously) between Mortuary and my next review were: Hells Angels Forever (#50), Deathstalker (#49), Hercules (#48), Getting It On (#47), Yor, the Hunter from the Future (#46), Private School (#45), Krull (#44), Stroker (#43) and Eagle's Shadow (#42).


Christie Parson has been having terrifying nightmares ever since her father drowned in the family swimming pool. She knows his death was not an accident, but no one believes her. That is, until her boyfriend Greg sees a hooded figure, identical to the one that Christie has described as being in her nightmares, in the town's mortuary. Greg and Christie's curiosity plummets them into a series of bizarre and terror-filled circumstances at the mortuary, a dark and ghastly place run by a Mr. Andrews and his son Paul. Christie will soon discover the ghastly truth behind her father's death, but in doing so, she may not live to see the morning.


Mortuary, the movie that reminds us that sleepwalkin' in the pool isn't any real cause for alarm, at least not until you start doin' belly busters off the divin' board anyway. You suppose there might be any large, looming, deathly serious figures that spend a lot of their spare time out in the cemetery that might find this Paxton kid here a little bit on the obnoxious side? Of course you do, an you prolly don't need me to explain why The Tall Man hates this movie, but I'll do it anyway or else I might be so wracked with guilt that I'll end up doin' belly busters in the pool all night. Course all I got is a two foot deep kiddie pool an a lawn chair to jump off of but I'd rather not to take any chances. Anyway, The Tall Man's a serious business man, an not only is this Paxton kid wastin' perfectly good corpses, but he's lettin' emotions get involved in his business practices. Death is serious business, and a serious business. This kid doesn't even have to dig his corpses outta the ground, talk about havin' a silver spoon in his mouth. He's got no idea how easy he's got it, an how easy this job can be. Ya crush the corpses down, ya reanimate 'em, ya ship 'em out. Not complicated. Ain't nobody that's serious about the business of death got time for corpse parties an for damn sure, no self respectin' man in the death game is gonna try makin' 'imself a corpse bride outta his product. Ya gotta PUSH, ya gotta DRIVE, ya gotta GET AHEAD an this young punk just doesn't get it. He doesn't have what it takes. Five years from now, The Tall Man's gonna own this kid's mortuary an the punk'll be mowin' the lawn out front for minimum wage. This is the problem with America these days, nobody's got what it takes to succeed anymore. If you're not livin' your job, you may as well pack it in. Get busy workin' or get busy dyin', or get busy workin' so hard you're practically dyin', that's the ticket. Sorry if I rambled a little bit, I just felt like that had to be said. Anyway, as what may very well be the greatest movie to ever feature Bill Paxton fondlin' a sedated woman on an autopsy slab... do I even need to say it? Yeah, it's that important.

First thing you'll wanna etch into your memories is that if you spend alotta time communin' with the dead for purely benevolent reasons, you may wanna consider the way black and red costumes may be perceived by the average person when they spot your group standin' in a circle tryin' to get Cthulhu to return your calls. Second, if you wanna communicate with the dead, just use a Ouija board like everybody else. Yeah, it's tacky, it's got "Milton Bradley" printed down in the bottom right hand corner, an it prolly doesn't do much to improve the ambiance of your seance but you needa quit thinkin' about you all the time an realize that it's not easy for a disembodied spirit with no hands to rock a table back an forth to answer your questions. Besides, it's bad for the table legs. One of those suckers snaps off an the table's edge's goin' right into the nearest guy's scrotum an he'll end up communin' with the emergency room for the next couple days. An third, never, ever try to score in a room where the girl's family portraits're setup. She'll end up gettin' weirded out when she notices they're all lookin' at 'er nekkid an pretty quick she'll have your hot rod towed from the parkin' garage. But the thing this movie really got me thinkin' about is how women're always talkin' about how there're no good men left. Which got me to thinkin', it's prolly not that there're no good men left, more likely it's just that the good men who are left don't want nothin' to do with harpies like them. The thing that specifically made me start thinkin' about this is that Bill Paxton's character just can't seem to attract a woman, even an inflatable one, an it's all because he's an undertaker. Why can't an undertaker be a "good one?" The guy's got a great career with indefinite job security, he's prolly not gonna cheat since he gets to look at all the nekkid women he wants, an he's got experience handlin' cold, dead flesh. You'd think he'd be the perfect man, but no. Now granted, he's gotta work late hours sometimes, an all these guys seem to have a habit of layin' down the lunch you pack for 'em on the corpses from time to time when they need both hands for somethin', an they may not be the best conversationalists since they spend all their time with unresponsive people, but these're really minor problems when it comes right down to it. An since when do women care about whether a guy's a good conversationalist anyway? All they wanna do is talk, an a mortician has unparalleled listenin' skills as they're constantly on the listen for "I'm... not... dead...", so what's the deal? Ya know, I think these women don't want a man at all. An the ironic thing is they'll all end up on a date with one of these guys eventually anyway, so why not get to know 'im a little bit first? Might be a little less awkward when you're layin' on his slab wearin' nothin' but a toe tag. There's just no pleasin' some people.

The movie begins with a guy sittin' by his pool not noticin' the baseball bat wieldin' Yeti sized shadow loomin' over 'im before its owner develops the irrefusable urge to play tee ball an pretty quick there's a drive to deep left field which ultimately leads to a rather horrified daughter walkin' out onto the balcony watchin' her Dad practicin' his dead man float. In the not too distant future, two chunkheads (Greg and Josh) in a van stop off at a storage building owned by the local mortician so they can have a sissy slap fight an steal some radials. Of course, there's coffins layin' all over the place, so they just tiptoe around 'em real careful-like in case Christopher Lee, Al Lewis or Bela Lugosi're takin' a nap an by the time they find the tires they've also stumbled across a buncha weirdos on the floor below 'em that've been raidin' Max Shreck's wardrobe. They're not really hurtin' anybody, mostly they just huddle around unchristian geometry while hummin' the chorus of Enya's Boadicea. So while Greg watches 'em try to commune with Cthulhu, Josh goes to grab the tires but in the process ends up gettin' shish-kabobed with an embalming needle by a guy in a cloak that's got his face painted up like Papa Shango. By now, Greg's gotten bored of the cultists since it doesn't look like they're gonna sacrifice anything or have an orgy, so he starts lookin' for Josh til his van squeals outta the parkin' lot an he gets this look on his face like just realized he forgot to mail in his last payment. Next thing we see, he's in a car with his girlfriend (Christie) tellin' her all about not bein' able to find Josh, the weirdos wearin' the judicial robes, an how awkward it was askin' the cultists if he could borrow their phone to get a ride. But anyway, they go look for Josh at the Skating Plus center, which as the name indicates is a roller rink that's been reinforced for the all the hefty skaters in town. Their friends haven't seen Josh, even though Greg's van was parked out front when they pulled in, but when they head back outside it's gone an Greg starts gettin' real depressed at the realization that his hair band mix tapes may be lost forever. So then they go park out in front of Greg's house an start rubbin' each other's fun parts til Greg's parents come out an start askin' 'im if he thinks Jesus would approve of what he's doin' an he ends up spendin' a good 20 seconds tryin' to get his gear shifter back in his corduroys before he can peel outta there. The next day at school, Bill Paxton's out front tryin' to get the girls to come over to his place an check out his new Mozart record that he just picked up at Cal Stereo, but Bill's so lame that even Mozart isn't enough to help 'im score any lady bits. From there, Christie heads home, but en route she's pursued by a car weavin' so erratically on her rear bumper she figures it's prolly just Charlie Sheen again an pulls into her driveway.

Then her Mom (Lynda Day George) sneaks up on her an scares the bejezus outta her an she tells 'er about the other car until Lynda's belligerent denial of everything degrades into an argument about whether Christie's Dad's death was murder or whether the guy swingin' for the fence was just tryin' to squish a mosquito on the back of his head. Elsewhere, Greg's gone to see the sheriff about his missing van, only the smarmy owner of the mortuary's there too an he tells the sheriff about how Josh was tellin' everybody that he's a Muslim vampire an that he's worried about the Mormons findin' out cause they might send Donny an Marie Osmond over to sing Ain't Nothin' Like the Real Thing til he cracks. The sheriff ends up givin' Greg his van back since he found it abandoned an already took all the coins outta the ashtray, but he warns Greg that he'd better not go spreadin' any rumors about smarmy guy (Christopher George) an his Wiccan book club meetins. That night, Christie starts dreamin' about her Dad failin' his swimmin' lessons an ends up sleepwalkin' around in her nightie til she ends up deep enough in the pool that the buoyancy of her silicone implants threaten to capsize 'er, which can't be good for anybody else usin' the pool since people tend to piss themselves just by gettin' a hand wet while sleeping. Eventually she ends up wakin' up about the time the chlorine burns her eyes til they're redder'n Tommy Chong's, but once she gets out she bumps into a guy who's got his face painted up like the Misfits logo that ends up chasin' 'er back into the house where Lynda again tells 'er she's just imaginin' the guy with the axe to grind. Lynda don't seem too concerned about the fact that her daughter's doin' cannonballs in her sleep an goes back to bed. The next day, Greg an Christie're hangin' out by her Dad's cemetery plot an Greg decides to tell 'er about recognizin' Lynda as one of the Pagans involved with the cult pot luck luncheon an then Bill comes by an gives Christie one of the roses from the bouquet he brought for his Mom's grave. She's dead, it's not like she's gonna notice. Then Greg goes to his Mom's flower shop an she an his father (who's an indescribable mishmash of Clu Gulager an Jim Siedow) makes 'im take some arrangements over to Chris's mortuary an tell 'im he'd better not wreck their business arrangement with 'im just cause he's a heretic. So when Greg gets over to the mortuary Chris tells 'im to put the flowers down in the corner an to quit tryin' to sabotage the radial tire business he's tryin' to set up on the side. On the way out, Bill pulls Greg into the embalmin' room an tells 'im the sheriff was askin' about 'im an then complains about how the ladies got no love for 'im just cause he fondles dead titties in his spare time an then Chris walks in an tells Greg to get his hiney outta there before he shoves the embalmin' needle right up his lily white ass. That evening, Greg heads over to Christie's house so they can work on their human anatomy homework, only before he can even get up to the plate the lights start flickerin' an disco music starts blarin' outta the stereo.

With the disco firmly slamming the door on any possibility for sex, Christie tries the phone, which turns out to be every bit as dead as Greg's chances for graduation. But about that time they spot a shadow creepin' across the room an when Lynda tries to come through the front door Greg just about brains 'er right in the fivehead. Lynda again insists it's Christie's imagination, and Greg's imagination, an that they're havin' identical hallucinations an... look she's just readin' her lines as they were written can you kids give 'er a break? The next day, Greg an Christie tail Lynda's foxy tail til they see 'er drive off with Chris in the car that the drunk was chasin' Christie in the other day. So they head over to the warehouse to see if Lynda an Chris're there, but all they find is the Michelin Man hurlin' tires at 'em an decide go check the mortuary where they find the place lit up like the inside of a strip club. Which is just as well since Christie's Mom has got it goin' on. So they sneak in close enough to eavesdrop an find out that Chris's tryin' to get Christie's Dad's spirit on the horn to see if he's the one causin' all the hullabaloo over at Lynda's place. The spirit answers by rockin' the table back an forth cause Chris's too cheap to pick up a Ouija board over at Toys 'R Us an Christie's suddenly completely relieved, even though there's still a loose screw dressed like the Ghostface killer tryin' to carve 'er up into B-B-Q an Lynda's been treatin' 'er like she's whacked out on wowie sauce. So she an Greg go home an start polishin' the floor of the livin' room with their secretions til Christie notices all the pictures of her Dad judgein' her an pretty quick she starts feelin' like a cheap slut an has to slam the door on Greg's good time. So while Greg takes off to find the nearest drug store where he can pick up some hand lotion and an inflatible girlfriend, Christie goes to bed. But it's not long before she goes out sleepwalkin' after midnight, out in the moonlight again an this time the creep wearin' the Grim Reaper's shirt comes to the window an tells her he don't wanna hurt 'er, he just wants to grope 'er a little. About that time she gets real resentful of the idea that she's worth gropin' but not worth killin' an busts out the window an tries carvin' up the weirdo's face til he looks like Charo. Then Lynda comes downstairs an finally starts listenin' to 'er an asks if the guy tryin' to kill 'er was Bill, cause now that she's actually sat down an thought about it she seems to recall Bill askin' Christie's Dad if he could marry 'er an after he was able to dry up the laughter tears an regain his composure he calmly explained to Bill how his daughter would never marry a prole like him. Suffice it to say, Bill was a little P.O.'d, an now that Lynda's jostled her helium filled head a little she starts to realize there might actually be something to this. Yikes, Lynda needs a drink. You want a drink too Christie? Of course you do, you're underage. Way to parent there Lynda.

So once they decrease their awareness a little bit they both go back to bed, but pretty quick Lynda starts seein' shadow people movin' around in her room an her overreliance on always havin' a man around who'll get up an check out the scary stuff leaves her vulnerable to attack from Bill Corbett who stabs 'er about 147 times an fills his jockey shorts with manchowder in the process. Christie hears the noise an comes to check on Lynda but Mike Myers's biggest fan's waitin' for her an she has to run off an spend two or three minutes figurin' out how to work a door knob before she can find a spot to hide while the hooded menace skulks around trippin' on his robe lookin' everywhere but where she's hidin'. Once he's out of sight, she hikes up her gown an goes for the phone, only the creepola's one of them teleportin' slashers an he pops up from behind the desk beside 'er an squashes 'er with the Vader Bomb. Before she passes out she's able to get the Mike Myers mask off an reveals what everybody else's known since 15 minutes into the movie. Meanwhile, Greg's tryin' to call an see if there's any chance for make up sex. He's too young to know that the make up sex rules don't extend to fights that occurred DURING sex, so he's wastin' his time, but when he can't get through on the phone he decides to go shake his blonde locks in person to see if that'll spread 'er butter. Back at the house, Bill's loaded Christie an Lynda into the... wow he's drivin' around in the hearse. For cryin' out loud Bill, Stevie Wonder can see what's goin' on here. Anyway, Bill takes off about the time Greg shows up, so Greg follows 'em back to Cheateau Morningside an Bill hauls Christie an Lynda inside an lays Christie out on a table so he can slobber all over 'er jumblies. She's still passed out from the lack of oxygen, which is kinda weird considerin' the chamber between her ears is just rife with the stuff, an even though she can't hear nothin' Bill tells her he's gonna embalm 'er cause he can't afford a RealDoll. About that time Greg decides to head inside, only Chris shows up an he's gotta hide in the shrubs cause he dunno if Chris's in on it an on top of that he said some real hurtful things the last time they spoke. Then, as Bill's just about to poke a hole in Christie so he can drain her fluids an flush 'er radiator, Chris walks in an he's P.O.'d. He starts in on Bill about how he was THIS CLOSE nailin' Lynda but no, he had to go all Vlad the Impaler on everybody an wreck his sex life worse than Chris Christie wrecks a truck stop bathroom an as if that wasn't bad enough, some blonde punk just grabbed the last bottle of hand lotion over at the CVS Pharmacy. But just when it looks like Bill's about to get grounded for the next decade he tries explainin' to Chris that they all started it by teasin' 'im about bein' in a Pat Benetar video an refusin' to listen to Mozart with 'im an pretty quick Chris ends up gettin' shanked with the embalmin' needle. Bill has sad face, and stabber's remorse, an as if that wasn't bad enough the good lookin' blonde guy that can have any girl he wants an won't even let Bill have ONE, just snuck in the window. Wonder what he wants.

Alrighty, well, the scale on this one tips in favor of "fun" rather than "good," but that's okay. It's also one where you figure out who the killer is really early on, but it's not all that important unless you're into the mystery genre. Although if that's the case I'd imagine anyone that fits that description probably hates Mortuary with a passion. The cult angle is alright as a red herring, but once you figure out they're not actually in on the murders, it's really very strange that they're in the movie at all. They serve no other purpose but to be the red herring. And if Chris George's character is more or less innocent, why'd they add in the plotline about him lockin' Bill Paxton up in the morgue as a kid when he wouldn't behave? I mean, that's pretty sinister for a guy that later turns out to, essentially, just be a nice guy that wants to bone Lynda George's character. Seems like they were just trying a little too hard to raise doubt in your mind, even though they're simultaneously setting up Bill Paxton's character to look pathetic, and having the murderer use a weapon that could only be one of two people. And that's of course discounting the fact that early on you find out that Chris George's character's in one of those Cthulhu seances while the chunkhead teenager's gettin' run through. Again, doesn't bother me personally, but I can see how some people may really hate this movie. I definitively prefer when they remove the who dunnit angle from these sorts of movies, but it's not really a terrible detriment if they try to incorporate a bit of mystery. In all fairness, when you consider that Mortuary really doesn't fit in all that well with the slasher genre, focuses a lot of time on the characters (even though they manage to do so without much character development), maintains a relatively low body count and is structured more like a thriller, it's pretty decent. Generally when a movie tries to simultaneously be slashy enough to appeal to the gore hounds but clever enough to entice the who dunnit crowd, it pleases no one. Mortuary will almost certainly disappoint the mystery crowd, but has just enough blood to keep the horror fan watching. Though it really is lacking in gore for any movie that'd like to consider itself a slasher film. There's really only three murders, and they're rather repetitive, if decent in execution.

Okay, so lets drain all the blood outta this thing an see if there's enough to justify the cost of the DVD. The plot's thinner than the hair on a chemo patient, but it does have just barely enough that you wouldn't say it's completely missing. Angry kid gets forced into an undesirable career path by his Dad an becomes sexually frustrated by the lack of available girl parts attached to living women. Good enough for me, nothing special though. The acting is okay, some of the not so relevant characters that only appear in a couple scenes stink it up a little, and David Wallace isn't real polished as an actor at this point in his career, but he's not too bad. But you get pretty good performances outta Christopher George (in his final role) as the cranky Pagan mortician, and Lynda George is decent as well given the material she had to work with. IE; they pretty much wrote her character as a complete moron, but she makes the most of it. Bill Paxton steals the show as the looney, sex starved embalmer who, unfortunately, is held in check until about the last 15 minutes where he becomes nuttier than squirrel shit in a really memorable finale. I don't think Paxton is quite important enough to bypass his resume, so here's who matters and why: Mary Beth McDonough (Midnight Offerings), David Wallace (Humungous), Bill Paxton (The Colony, Frailty, Boxing Helena, The Vagrant, Predator 2, Brain Dead, Near Dark, Aliens, The Terminator), Lynda Day George (Pieces, Beyond Evil, Ants, Day of the Animals, Fear No Evil), Christopher George (Pieces, Graduation Day, City of the Living Dead, Day of the Animals, Grizzly), Curt Ayers (Midnight Offerings), Alvy Moore (The Horror Show, Intruder, Scream 1981, A Boy and His Dog, The Brotherhood of Satan, The Witchmaker, The War of the Worlds 1953). Normal people will recognize Alvy Moore as Hank Kimball from Green Acres. I mean, if it's considered normal to watch a show whose star is best known for slappin' people.

The special effects are alright, but the volume just isn't there. The body count is pretty low and the method used by the killer is redundant, though, if nothing else, you'd have to acknowledge that the slasher movies with an over abundance of different killing methods may not be realistic. Course you don't care, but with the same M.O., it's realistic if nothing else. Mostly we're talkin' stabbins with an embalming needle, which is one that you don't see too often, at least. Anyway, what the movie does have is decent, if unimaginative. The shooting locations are alright, the McMansion that Lynda George and Mary Beth McDonough live in is fairly atmospheric for all the scenes where Bill Paxton's creepin' around tryin' to hollow 'em out. The embalming room in the morgue is decent enough, and the weird red room of doom that the cultists hang out in is alright. Not bad, but mostly held together by the McMansion. Looks like the kinda place they're usually shootin' pornos in when there's nothing else to do. The soundtrack is enjoyable, if somewhat redundant. It's got a couple tracks that're essentially just short sections of music that loop, but they seem to realize the point at which they become obnoxious and shut 'em off before that happens. It's kinda mixed, some of it is standard synth stuff from the late 70s and early 80s, while some of it is more conventional. The synth tracks remind me a lot of Halloween III, and the conventional ones made me think of the opening track in Cujo. Both of which are good company to be in. Though the god awful disco music that kept turning on and off in the scene where Bill Paxton's outside screwin' with the fuse box is not only terrible, but made 10x as terrible by being shut off and turned on over and over. Overall, Mortuary is a lot of fun, though not too likely to win any awards for shocking twists or body counts. Check it out if you're lookin' for something you may not have seen before.

Rating: 65%