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Case Number 24253: Small Claims Court

Buy Katarina's Nightmare Theater: Mortuary at Amazon

Katarina's Nightmare Theater: Mortuary

Scorpion Releasing // 1983 // 93 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Tom Becker (Retired) // August 3rd, 2012

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All Rise...

Appellate Judge Tom Becker wants to be buried in an aviary; nothing ever happens there.

The Charge

Before your funeral…Before you are buried…Before you are covered with the last shovelful of dirt…Be sure you are really dead!

The Case

Poor Christie (Mary McDonough, The Waltons). First, her father is killed; she thinks she sees him bludgeoned and fall into the swimming pool, but her mother (Lynda Day George, Pieces) assures her she was just dreaming (though, yes, her father did die in the swimming pool). Then, she learns that her mother has been attending seances presided over by the local mortician (Christopher George, City of the Living Dead). And now, a black robed, white faced maniac is stalking her.

What's a girl to do?

Well, since this is the world of Mortuary, where nothing makes a whole lot of sense, there's little she can do besides roller discoing with her boyfriend Greg (David Wallace, Humongous) and expressing that something just doesn't feel right.

And, of course, when the black-robed loon shows up, she can scream, run, and consistently use the wrong escape route.

Mortuary was one of those '80s fright films that tried to rise above the slasher phenom by using older, established actors (George, Day George), minimizing the amount of random killings, and adding elements that were more macabre than terrifying—but it was middle America macabre, nothing so perverse or disturbing that it would cause the audience to storm from theaters in disgust. It has its moments, but Mortuary seems built from disparate pieces that never really come together. Despite some creepy and unsettling moments, and bits of gore and gratuitous nudity, this is one disjointed film.

Things start promisingly enough. After the killing of Christie's dad, we get a scene in which Greg and his friend Josh (Denis Mandel, Happy Days) swing by the mortuary—which is supposed to be empty—to steal a few things (old tires, mainly, that are "Bald as Kojack," observes Josh, offering up a then-contemporary cultural reference). Once there, the guys surreptitiously observe the mortician conducting some sort of pagan ritual later described as a seance. Then, Josh discovers the body of the mortician's wife in an old casket, and is slaughtered for his trouble.

The slaughterer is tricked out in grim reaper robes and has a whited-out skull face. Since we've just seen the ersatz witchcraft ceremony, our killer could be a cult member (assuming that this is a cult), or a ghost (this is, after all, a mortuary), or…someone else. Later, Black Robe shows up at Christie's place and attacks her, but Christie's mom again insists that Christie is just dreaming.

If you're on the edge your seat about who Black Robe is, well, relax; you'll find out well before the end of the movie.

Director/co-writer Howard Avedis (The Teacher) brings all sorts of potentially intriguing stuff to the plate, but ends up whiffing. Rather than exploring the supernatural elements or making the seance business integral to the plot, all we get is a standard slasher with too few kills, too little flesh, and too much padding.

Lots of time is spent on filler, including a scene at a roller boogie rink (all the kids go there), as well as a scene in which cute couple Christie and Greg, tired of talking about knife wielding fiends, succumb to the disco music blaring from Christie's stereo. "Come on, Mr. Boogeyman, let's boogie!" she admonishes her passive swain, and boogie they do. Characters talk a lot, drive around a lot, and argue a lot, but like the audience, they're just marking time between kills. Unfortunately, the low body count leaves them with lots of dead air.

If the film is notable, it's because of two of its stars. Mortuary was the final film for Christopher George. George was a ruggedly handsome, personable actor who was unable to parlay his starring roles in a pair of ABC series (The Rat Patrol and The Immortal) into big-screen success. Cult enthusiasts likely remember him for his appearances in films like The Exterminator, Enter the Ninja, Graduation Day, City of the Living Dead, and Pieces. George died of a heart attack a few weeks after Mortuary was released.

The other notable actor here is Bill Paxton. This is one of Paxton's first "major" roles, even if it's a pretty minor film. Paxton plays George's weird son, and he is the highlight here, offering an energetically oddball performance while everyone else seems to be pretty much phoning it in. On the DVD case—unlike the original poster—Paxton's name appears prominently above the title.

Katarina's Nightmare Theater: Mortuary from Scorpion offers a pretty good looking image and a decent mono audio track. Besides the usual intros and outros from hostess Katarina Leigh Waters, we get an interview with composer John Cacavas, a trailer for Mortuary that has so little to do with the movie that you'd think it was advertising a different film, and a trailer vault of past and future Nightmare Theater offerings.

The Verdict

Mortuary is a ho-hum horror relic from the '80s that's worth checking out for the young Bill Paxton. While the film isn't all that, it's good to see another entry from Katarina and Scorpion.

Case dismissed.

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Scales of Justice

Judgment: 62

Perp Profile

Studio: Scorpion Releasing
Video Formats:
• 1.78:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
• None
Running Time: 93 Minutes
Release Year: 1983
MPAA Rating: Rated R
• Cult
• Horror

Distinguishing Marks

• Interview
• Trailers


• IMDb

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