Monday, May 3, 2010

Film Review: MORTUARY ACADEMY (1988, Michael Schroeder)

Stars: 4 of 5.
Running Time: 87 minutes.
Tag-line: "Where the dearly departed meet the clearly retarded."
Notable Cast or Crew: Paul Bartel, Mary Woronov, Christopher Atkins, Perry Lang, Anthony James, Tracey Walter, Wolfman Jack, Cesar Romero, Stoney Jackson (STREETS OF FIRE, ROLLER BOOGIE). Directed by Michael Schroeder (CYBORG 2, CYBORG 3: THE RECYCLER; assistant director on LAMBADA, HIGHLANDER 2!).
Best one-liner: "I haven't seen this much blood since Jimmy Hawks asked me to be his cell-block bride!"

Now, MORTUARY ACADEMY is nowhere near as terrific as EATING RAOUL, but it comes far closer than I ever could have suspected. I had been extremely disappointed by LUST IN THE DUST (which Paul Bartel directed, but didn't write), so I didn't know what to expect from a largely derided film (that he wrote but didn't direct), but as it turns out, my reservations were completely unfounded. This movie is ludicrous, and it works because it serves, straight up, a big dollop of what we really want- which is a shitload of Paul and Mary (Woronov).

Like a bizarro Tracy and Hepburn for 70's and 80's, my only complaints about any of their collaborations center on them not being the absolute center of attention. But worry not- they're front and center here. Using tropes from the likes of POLICE ACADEMY and MOVING VIOLATIONS, this film is far from original, but its brilliance lies in the details- the best jokes are nearly hidden: dubbed in the background or off-handedly tossed aside, only to sink in a moment later. Paul and Mary play 'Paul' and 'Mary,' nefarious administrators of a mortuary academy, scheming to keep sibling heirs Christopher Atkins (THE PIRATE MOVIE) and Perry Lang (ALLIGATOR) from passing their classes and inheriting the mortuary (was SIX FEET UNDER inspired by this?).

Christopher Atkins- still fresh-faced and full of vim and vigor despite the embarrassments of THE PIRATE MOVIE. I really respect that.

Paul nefariously consoles Perry Lang.

Paul wears that smoking jacket he wears in every movie, and Mary wears enough shoulder pads and leopard-print to satisfy her die-hards.

Formaldehyde is used as champagne, Paul romances a corpse:

I can't tell if Paul Bartel makes this more creepy or less creepy than it ought to be.

an ex-con (an awesomely terrifying Anthony James- 'Skinny' in UNFORGIVEN) exclaims "I haven't seen this much blood since Jimmy Hawks asked me to be his cell-block bride!"

and Tracey Walter (REPO MAN, SOMETHING WILD) strides in just to prove beyond reasonable doubt that this is, indeed, a cult movie.

(And he's doing Frankenstein-ian experiments in robotics and dead tissue, no less.) There's cameos by Wolfman Jack and Cesar Romero, an undead, animatronic horror band called "Radio Werewolf," and by now you should be able to tell if this is your cup of tea or not.

For a movie which I expected to be Zany with a capital 'Z' and (fastforward-ably?) unbearable, I was very pleasantly surprised. I suppose I shouldn't have underestimated the sheer animal power of Bartel and Woronov. Four stars.

-Sean Gill


Jason said...

Just rented this, and thought it was pretty good. No Death Race 2000, but still better than Police Academy or Moving Violations. Nice review!

Anonymous said...

Thats me in the coffin ! The scene with my butt put on backwards. MY one and only big role in a movie lol

Sean Gill said...

Thanks for sharing, Anon.- that's awesome. Bravo!