Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Mortuary (1983)

The same year TV goody-goody Melissa Sue Anderson (LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE) sullied her image by acting in the slasher flick HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME, WALTONS girl Mary McDonough played the heroine in this tame slasher. Less effective than the Anderson film (but blessed with a great trailer), MORTUARY suffers from typically clumsy direction by Howard Avedis (née Hikmet Avedis) and a lack of surprises. For example, the obvious red herring really is the killer (Avedis is so bad at concealing the killer’s identity that one wonders whether he is trying to), and a dopey witchcraft subplot is left unfulfilled.

MORTUARY is notable as the last (to be released) film appearance of Christopher George, an ex-Marine who found stardom on television as the leader of THE RAT PATROL and ended his career in a series of junky exploitation pictures, often co-starring with his wife Lynda Day George (a regular on MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE). Lynda is also in MORTUARY, playing McDonough’s mother, while Christopher slums as a mortician who joins her in Satanic seances. Film Ventures International slowly rolled out MORTUARY to theaters during 1983 (it was filmed in the fall of 1981), and George died not long after the film’s Los Angeles release at the age of 52.

High school student McDonough continues to believe the swimming pool accident that killed her father one year ago was actually a murder. Neither her mother nor her boyfriend David Wallace (HUMONGOUS) believes her, though she has nightmares about the incident and sleepwalks into the pool on occasion. Also, nobody believes her cries after a knife-wielding creep in a black cape tries to slice her to pieces. Also in the cast: a young Bill Paxton (ALIENS), whose Texas accent is out of place here as Christopher George’s weirdo son who listens to Mozart and (literally) skips through the cemetery. Wallace is a drip, but the girls always had the best parts in these things.

The funeral home setting is ripe for a creepy thriller — and John Cacavas (HORROR EXPRESS) contributes a fine score — but Avedis (THE FIFTH FLOOR) and his partner/wife Marlene Schmidt (SCORCHY) were just not capable of writing, producing, and directing a film of great quality. When McDonough gets out of the pool after a midnight dip, the deck is already wet, meaning it was Take Two and Avedis was too lazy to either dry it off or have the actress emerge on the other side.

Not to completely bash Avedis, some of the stalking scenes manage to raise suspense, partially because the killer’s look is patterned after Death in THE SEVENTH SEAL (why the killer dons such an elaborate guise is never addressed). The ludicrous ending was obviously inspired by FRIDAY THE 13TH, but it isn’t scary this time. GREEN ACRES’ Alvy Moore has a quick bit as Wallace’s father. McDonough appears to have been doubled in her nude scenes — don’t want any WALTONS fans to vapor-lock — but she did pop her top on down the road in a direct-to-video quickie called ONE OF THOSE NIGHTS.

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