I have been vocal about horror anthologies on Adventures in Movies! and in various articles I have done. Long story short, I love them. Earlier this year, I wrote about The Mortuary Collection. The movie is a welcome addition to the genre that will evoke all types of nostalgia. Director Ryan Spindell spoke with AIPT about his movie, inspirations, and intentions.
AIPT: How would you describe The Mortuary Collection?
Ryan Spindell: I would describe it as a horror fantasy. I think it’s a tough film to nail down because the essence of the film is a collection of different types of stories. They exist in different sub genres, but it definitely has a horror vein, or a horror structure that ties it all together. But it lives a little bit more in this more real hyper colorful fun zone. Actually, it’s a tough one. I think I have to take a day at some point and sit down and be like really condensed how I describe it.
AIPT: What, what inspired you to do it? I don’t mean this as an insult, but you can see elements of kids horror stories in it. It’s very much Creepshow, but what inspired you to do it?
Spindell: So Creepshow was one of my favorites growing up. Creepshow was one of the few horror movies I would actually watch as a child. I was really scared of horror growing up. I think I had a bad experience with Nightmare on Elm Street when I was really little that turned me off with horror. But what I would watch was The Twilight Zone. My dad had that entire collection of the original series on VHS. And so we would watch this again. And so like, it’s strange now to look back and imagine at a seven year old watching a black and white series like that.
But I loved it and it weirdly it’s like present in everything I do to this day, whether I want it to be or not. But I think they somehow really locked into short form storytelling. And I wanted to write something that was different, and I was reading a lot of Richard Matheson and Ray Bradbury at that specific time. And I was like, there’s so many cool stories that don’t require a 90 minute runtime, and there’s no way for people to really see these stories visually, because who really watch a short films outside of film festivals, and maybe some select YouTube pages. But I was like, “How can I find a way to take this format that I love and package it for a wider audience or at least trick them into watching short form.”
And so that’s where the concept was born from. And then it just became this exercise of watching all the anthologies I grew up on, Creepshow being the center, but then Tales from the Crypt, once I got a little older and I was able to look at the Crypt Keeper. And then I went back in the back catalog and started watching the old Amicus films from the 60s and 70s which had the single director type of conceit, and tried to pull apart the things that I love and the things that I hate about the format and where they go wrong. And then one area where a lot of them go wrong is that there’s usually like one great segment and then sometimes some mediocre segments, but there’s almost always filler.
So I was like, I want to do one of these films, but where there are no fillers segments, which I realize now how naive that is to try to set that bar for yourself. Because in a traditional narrative movie you have, and this is something I didn’t figure out until post, but in a traditional narrative movie, you have these key beats that you have to hit and if you can hit them all, these like six beats. You have your inciting incident, your character introduction, your climax, your ending, you have to nail your ending. If you can hit those five or six beats, people will like your film, but in an anthology movie you have to do that five times.
AIPT: The Mortuary Collection has some pretty gory moments. Were you ever worried about going too far?
Spindell: No. I don’t. I mean what’s really strange about gore is that you find there’s not a ton of really intense gore in a movie, but if you splice it in just the right places it feels like there is, which is really interesting. You have a couple of like but I don’t think it was too gratuitous. And I think Let the Right One In for me I think it’s almost a perfect film. And the thing I loved about it is it was a quiet drama about young loves. There’s lots of levels to it, but I really love it. But then when the horror, and it was done by like an artist working like an almost highbrow level.
But then when the horror elements came, he just went for them. Like one minute it’s like a beautiful quiet moment on a swing set in the snow, and then a woman is exploding into flames and being attacked by house cats, and it works. And I think it works because he’s attacking both with this laser focus and passion and he’s being true to the genres that he’s like going after. And I think after that I was like I want to go for gore. You have to earn your moments and you’ve got to hold back.
AIPT: Horror anthologies tend to have a wraparound story. The Mortuary Collection has more of a running theme. The whole theme of equality in it. In traditional horror movies that’s normally not how it goes. How important was it for you to have that theme?
Spindell: I actually went into it specifically avoiding trying to be preachy about anything. But I do think that your ethos comes through. One realization that I came away with when the movie was done, which just seems ridiculous, is that each segment is about gender dynamics. It’s about the male-female situation and different ways that it plays out that way.
It wasn’t an equality thing, but I’m proud that’s in there and it is something I believe in. So I think it just came through. The movie is a movie that’s about what you were talking earlier about all these different types of like we’re in like the kid horror, and I think the movie is a bit of an homage to The Thing horror. And those things involve the tropes right? The stoic creepy mortician on the hill and the Victorian house and the flawed characters. And I think the intention for this movie was set up all these things we know and love and then subvert them to knock audiences to pull the rug out of audiences.
And so, just by that fact that we were going that way, I guess that’s maybe where the equality element came from, because we were subverting what’s traditional in genre. And so we accidentally ended up making something.
AIPT: Would you like to revisit Montgomery Dark in more films?
Spindell: I mean, Clancy Brown was intimidating. I mean he’s intimidating because, this is my first film, I’ve never worked with a celebrity before, but beyond that he’s just been working so long, he’s worked with everything. He’s worked with all of my favorite directors.
And, then plus he’s 37 feet tall and he has this voice. But, I got so lucky to have a guy who was so in love with the projects and so much fun and was so down to help us. We were really, hopefully you can’t see it in the film, but we were a very, very scrappy film. Is very small and a different actor could’ve come in and immediately just been turned off. But he latched in more and he’s helped us out. He was there on set, showing up late in the afternoon. It was awesome. So just for pure working with Clancy. But I would do it again in a heartbeat.
But also I just love that character. That Crypt Keeper, for better or worse. And if the Crypt Keeper could actually have a bit of a soul, then I feel like it’s already something that’s interesting enough to be different. And I think Clancy brought that. I think there’s a life in there that I didn’t expect, but I leaned into when I saw him.
AIPT: So I’m going to ask you to pick your favorite child basically. Which one was your favorite story?
Spindell: That’s funny you say favorite child because that’s exactly how it feels. I said that I wasn’t going to answer this question but I want to answer this question, because I don’t want to be one of those people that holds back. Because I think it’s a good question. I think I’m going to towards Till Death. I think it’s mostly because that is the one for me that embraces this EC Amicus tone the closest, but also feels different I think. It has all the things that I loved about horror, creepy old crate and the claustrophobic apartment in the hallways, and the weird neighbors, and the claustrophobia, and the ghosts, and their voices. It just really pings for me and all the things that I love most.
And then The Babysitter Murders is… The last one is always going to be my… It’s neck and neck. That one is always going to be my heart, because that’s the movie that I made that to make the bigger movie, and that movie was made for $0, like was very low budget in the context of feature films. Things really came together really nicely for not having any money. I think we made something that felt maybe a little, not expensive, but just what you want as a director, which is so rare and so tough to pull off.
AIPT: What future projects are you working on?
Spindell: Right now, I’m doing a episode of this new series called 50 States of Terror for Sam Raimi. I got to meet Sam Raimi, which was as nerve wracking as you can imagine. And it’s a horror anthology series for Quibi where each episode is based on a different state and it attacks a different mythology or urban legends in different States. And it’s going to be awesome, I think. I mean I went into it skeptically, I was like, “Is this a digital series?” But it’s not, it’s much more than a digital series. They’re doing cool stuff and Sam Raimi is directing the first episode and it’s really exciting.