Quick Takes: Mortuary Collection, Scare Me, Spiral, 32 Malasana St., Cleansing Hour

Most of movie watching time is spent on SHUDDER, the horror movie streaming channel by AMC that has finally found the right mix of rotating catalog classics, fun original programming, exclusive movies, and adequate corporate support to ensure it doesn't collapse like Fearnet or Chiller (R.I.P.). With the continued growth, they've been able to but better and more interesting horror movies, many of which are international and indie films you'd otherwise never see. The following five films are all Shudder originals. 

The Mortuary Collection is one bad-ass movie and probably the most fun I've had with horror movies all year. It's tone is all over the place, at times wickedly whimsical & humorous and then gory & horribly fiendish – but it all works. The acting and storytelling is exceptional. An almost unrecognizable Clancy Brown, as Mr. Dark, delivers his witty lines with a deeply resonate droll that reminded me of all the best TV horror hosts: "This house was built with all the modern conveniences...(pauses to acknowledge a clunky freight elevator)...for 1825." The production design is exemplary with dusty old gothic sets that establish the macabre tone for the wraparound story. This turns out to be rather twisted tale but is somewhat over stays its welcome. Nonetheless, all segments pay off in one way or another, which is surprising for an anthology. This is a true, dark delight for Halloween 2020.

Scare Me is a horror comedy with a unique blend of elements. It's funny enough and yet maintains an edge for the few moments of suspense. It succeeds mainly because of the incredibly likable and committed cast that pull off the impossible: they tell the story, rather than show it. It's a brilliant move for a low-budget film to have the sound design flesh out the storytelling. It's also a good glimpse at the screenwriting process where motives and character development lead the scenes rather than an implausible plot where characters are put in odd positions to move the film along. When the horror finally arrives, I was a bit sad to leave the fun time behind but this movie has a job to do. This is a very smart and entertaining, if slight film.

Spiral revolves around familiar cult/victim horror territory but centers the story on a mixed race gay couple with a teenage daughter. Representation matters so kudos for this. It's well shot, has great sound design & good performances but so much energy is spent on the journey that the destination is completely overlooked and unsatisfying. It's all portent and no payoff.

32 Malasana Street is a spooky Spanish period piece, well shot, with all the haunted house fixings and a committed cast that sells the anguish. The scares are effectively staged although they are all very familiar. Then comes the problematic clairvoyant and final reveal that are perhaps trying to address social issues and not exploit them but the result is really cringeworthy. Using freaks, as the film puts it, as fodder for horror is extremely passĆ© in 2020 even when the movie is set in 1974. While I enjoyed much of the film, this alone makes me pass on recommending it.

The Cleansing Hour takes on the possession sub-genre and tries to alleviate its predictable confines. The demon is revealed early on and the action plays out over a live, real-time television broadcast. This adds both a new level of urgency as we see the time ticking away, and commentary on the consumption of media and self-absorbed personalities at the center. It's not a very frightening film, but there's some suspense in waiting to see what the demon does next. Even with this unique angle the plot wanes into a repetitive cycle. Then we get to that ending with one wacky reveal and a sinister finish that plays out over the credits. Did it jump the shark or did they bet the house on a risky, mind-blowing ending? I admire the verve.