Sunday, October 13, 2013

Mortuary Academy (1988)

Directed by:
Michael Schroeder

Thanks to the mediocre hit comedy Police Academy (1983) and all of its progressively-dumber sequels and off-shoots (there was even an animated TV series), the 80s and 90s were rife with other goofy 'academy' comedies. We got Combat Academy (1986), The Princess Academy (1987), Dance Academy (1988), Ninja Academy (1988), Honeymoon Academy (1989), Vice Academy (1989) and its five (!) sequels, Witch Academy (1993), Bikini Academy (1996), Snowboard Academy (1996), South Beach Academy (1996), Kickboxer Academy (1997) and numerous others. And lest we forget Mortuary Academy, which also utilizes the same low-humor-at-an-institute-of-higher-learning scenario as many of the others. This time, many of the gags are extremely tasteless, so at least that's something to make this one stand out. I must start out this review by admitting a bias and warn that if you do not share an affinity for its stars you may find this a little harder to get through than I did. Dumb and ridiculous as much of this is, I simply cannot completely dislike a film that features both Paul Bartel and Mary Woronov in major roles. If you're not a fan of either, and don't enjoy crude humor, you'll probably want to give this a pass.

After their Uncle Willard dies, nephews Sam (Christopher Atkins) and Max (Perry Lang) Grimm are set to inherit his 2-million-dollar mortuary business. There's only one condition; both must complete a course of study at "Grimm Mortuary and Academy," which their uncle also founded. Since Max has a crappy job as a used car salesman and the suicidal Sam has been rejected by every college he's applied to and is dumped by his social-climber girlfriend as a result, the two decide to go for it. It's in the best interest of inept mortuary proprietor Paul Truscott (Bartel), a perverted necrophile, that the two do not pass their courses because then ownership of the mortuary will revert over to him. Paul has financially run the place into the ground and is a half a million dollars in debt, so he enlists the aid of the sultry Mary Purcell (Woronov), who teaches classes when she isn't pretending to be a corpse to turn her lover Paul on, to flunk both of the Grimm brothers.

Other students at the academy include facially-scarred psycho Abbott Smith (Anthony James), unintelligible, coke-bottle-glasses-sporting Larry Hirsch (Mark  Hammond), eccentric electronics wiz Don Dickson (Tracey Walter) and rapping, Jheri Curl-sporting James Dandridge (Stoney Jackson), who's kind of like a cross between Rick James and Prince. Sam finds a love interest in fellow student Valerie Levitt (Lynn Danielson), a sweet girl whose dog Mouse is squashed when one of her mother's obese friends sits on him. Max finds himself being seduced by Mary after she discovers Paul's been carrying on an affair with one of their 'clients' behind her back. Mary helps the students out in blackmailing Paul, but how are they going to raise the half-a-million dollars to save the mortuary. Well, let's just say it involves utilizing Dickson's skills to resurrect the New Wave band "Radio Werewolf" from the dead to put on one final concert.

There are numerous extremely tasteless gags which many aren't going to find the least bit funny. Creditors come to pick up a coffin and throw the corpse out of the casket mid-ceremony in front of the crying family. After a multiple car crash, rival mortuaries show up at the bloody  accident scene to fight over the corpses ("Load up the meat!"). Most of the lowest gags, however, center around Paul and his romance with Linda Hollyhead (Cheryl Starbuck), a 17-year-old cheerleader who choked to death on her popcorn at a drive-in theater. When Linda's grieving boyfriend shows up, Paul drills him with questions such as: "At the time of her death, was she still a virgin?" He serves his new love champagne, makes out with her and takes her to the beach, where her body drifts away in the tide and a bunch of young drunk guys gang bang her (!) The students eventually get their revenge on Paul by installing an industrial-strength vacuum cleaner inside Linda's vagina (!!) so they can trap him mid-fuck and then blackmail him. Hey, I don't write these things, I only watch them.

Making death, suicide, the nonchalant mangling of the deceased entrusted in the care of a mortuary, underage corpse defiling and other unsavory topics funny is tough to pull off, and the writers of this one don't really succeed at it. Most viewers are just as likely to cringe than laugh watching this, and understandably so. However, the cast is good enough to keep it at least watchable. Bartel and Woronov are both highly skilled at comedy and are able to elicit chuckles from many of their outrageous scenes, though this concoction isn't nearly as successful as the duo's earlier black comedy Eating Raoul (1982). There are also standout contributions from Walter, James and Nedra Volz, who's quite delightful under the circumstances as the mortuary's elderly secretary. Wolfman Jack (playing a band manager) and Cesar Romero (in just one scene as a ship captain who accidentally pulls a hand off) both have small roles, and Playboy Magazine subscribers will want to note brief appearances from five different Playmates: Karen Witter (as a reporter) and Dona Speir, Kymberly Paige, Rebekka Armstrong and Laurie Ann Carr (all in a fantasy sequence as nurses).

Some sources (including IMDb) claim Bartel wrote the screenplay but the film itself credits only William Kelman as writer. Director Schroeder also made the above average killer clown flick OUT OF THE DARK (1988), which also featured Bartel, Danielson, Witter and Walter.

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