Column by Andrew Durand
Well, it wouldn’t be preposterous to say that the year 2020 was a year that came straight from hell. It’s quite difficult to think anything good actually came from it. With the riots in cities like Portland and Seattle, with COVID-19 shutting everything down, with 400,000 Americans passing away from the disease, with political divisions greater than ever, the year pretty much sucked. And for all of us who love the cinema and closing of theaters? It sounds so insignificant in the big picture of things. But honestly, that sucked too. People work at those theaters. And with each and every major film title being pushed back and set to different dates (and multiple times too), we didn’t get to see any big blockbuster movies this past year but one. Wonder Woman 1984 made it to HBO Max, after being delayed twice already. But besides that one? I can’t think of any others.
James Bond: No Time to Die, A Quiet Place 2, Black Widow, Halloween Kills, Spiral: From the Book of Saw, just to name a few, all were delayed and pushed right out of 2020 to new but very tentative dates in 2021. But it wasn’t all dire in 2020. The year was a good year for independent horror films, specifically those that all but went straight to VOD. To be more definitive, there were some great titles that were released that kept us horror fans happy. Hidden gems like A Good Woman is Hard to Find, VFW, The Lodge, The Wretched, and 1BR received a lot of great reviews and home audiences seemed to agree. And I would concur.
There is a specific film, however, that really jumped out at me this past year. That movie I wrote an article about right here in my column just a few months ago. Surprisingly it was an anthology movie. With anthology flicks generally having major tonal shifts as one story (by different directors and writers) moves to the next, they are usually a mixed bag. But this year seemed to be the exception. Back in 2007, Michael Doughtery wrote and directed Trick R Treat all by himself showing that those pitfalls of mixing and matching shorter films can actually work.
The film from 2020 that I’m talking about is The Mortuary Collection. Even though there are other flicks worth mentioning, this is the one I wanted to start with. Originally only one short entitled The Babysitter Murders, director/writer Ryan Spindell received a lot of praise for what would become the fourth tale in the larger film. Expanding it by adding three more tales and a wraparound story to boot, he created a feature length anthology film that keeps its tongue firmly in cheek while delivering spooky scares without the pitfalls of the anthology.
I won’t go too much into detail since as stated I already reviewed the film in a prior article. However I wanted to discuss the original piece of the movie, The Babysitter Murders. It was a very unique and original take on the nubile young woman left alone taking care of a young toddler. While making a snack for herself in the kitchen, she sees a bloody man out in the backyard. Bringing him inside to most likely call law enforcement, a news report appears on the television saying a serial murderer named the Tooth Fairy Killer is on the loose. You can imagine what happens next … but you’d be wrong. A fine and worthy entry in the slasher subgenre without being conventional. Definitely take a look at this film. As of the time of this writing, it is available free if you are a subscriber to Shudder.
With The Mortuary Collection being my number one film of 2020, I’ll now move on to another film I want to mention. Go figure, this one is also an anthology movie. And just like The Mortuary Collection, you can find it on Shudder. Charmingly it is called Scare Package. Yet unlike the prior, this one actually was a collection of stories written and directed by different talent. Many of them were unknown to me prior to my viewing.
Now the question you’d probably ask me if I hadn’t already alluded to the fact I like this film would be whether the movie felt tonally awkward. And I can happily say it did not. Again, there is a wraparound story that ties the other tales together. The frame narrative focuses on a young man named Chad Buckley, a horror aficionado who runs a struggling video store. He takes on a new hire, much to the chagrin of an obnoxious regular customer named Sam who has been trying to persuade Chad to instead hire him for years. The short tales are stories that are either narrated by a specific character or viewed as one of the video rentals offered at the store.
One of the shorts is called Girls’ Night Out of Body, directed by Courtney and Hillary Andujar. It is a fine snapshot of what the movie has going for it. The story is about three wild girls that are out and about to have a great time. Stealing from a local shop a lollipop in the shape of a death’s head, the three crash at a motel to party it up as young co-eds do. Unbeknownst to them a stalker has followed them there and may want more than just a bit of fun.
Fun and amusing, Scare Package includes various subgenres of horror in its runtime. But for those looking for a bit of nostalgia, the amazing Joe Bob Briggs has a pretty sweet cameo as well!
Not that 2020 was the year of the anthology movie, but it sure had some good ones. These are the movies that stuck out to me the most in 2020. With the world the way it was, I’m very grateful to at least still have flicks like these that kept me happy throughout the year. Hopefully this new year we have a better twelve months overall. Plus I’m excited to see those big budget Hollywood films that were all postponed. Yet it seems I’m more anxious to see what independent horror film comes out next, because that’s what got us through 2020.