In Ryan Spindell’s feature film horror anthology, THE MORTUARY COLLECTION, nothing is as it seems in the phantasmagorical town of Raven’s End. One day, a misguided young woman takes refuge in a decrepit old mortuary. There she meets Montgomery Dark (Clancy Brown), an eccentric undertaker with more than a few skeletons in his closet. Montgomery chronicles the strange history of the town through a series of twisted tales, each more terrifying than the last, but the young woman’s world is unhinged when she discovers that the final story…is her own.
For the release of the Blu-ray/DVD release of THE MORTUARY COLLECTION, Nightmarish Conjurings spoke with writer/director Ryan Spindell about reinvigorating the anthology format, the challenges of juggling 5 shorts, and bringing on the legendary Clancy Brown.
Hey Ryan, thank you so much for speaking with us today! I love this anthology so much and you’ve truly created something special with THE MORTUARY COLLECTION. That said, how did this anthology come to be?
Ryan Spindell: I’d been sort of doing writing jobs for a couple of years, I was just a few years into being in LA. I was forced to do a rewrite on a project that was really soul-sucking and I was just really frustrated. This was in 2012 and I think the state of horror, or at least the stuff that people were looking for in horror, was really sort of limited and bumming me out. It was very much during the SAW days and everybody was kind of looking for that same thing. And while I think that there’s some pretty cool stuff about those movies, those aren’t the kind of films that I’m drawn to as a creator. So I was thinking, what’s the thing that I want to see the most? What’s the kind of movie that I haven’t seen for a long time, but I think would make me the most excited if I saw a trailer for it all of a sudden. At the time, I’d been watching a lot of the old Amicus films and I realized that anthologies were such a cool format, and people really, really loved these at one point in time, but why are they gone? Why don’t they exist anymore? I also just happened to have all of these short horror stories that I’d already written that I really loved just gathering dust on my computer. So I was like, I’m going to do an anthology film in the vein of what I love the most about anthology films in their hay day and I’m going to try my best to avoid the pitfalls that I think so many anthologies fall into.
The first pitfall and I think the most glaring, was always that every anthology, even, I think, the best ones have a few great stories, there’s always one or two filler stories that kind of pat out the runtime. So for me, first and foremost, every story had to be, at least in my mind, great. It had to be a three-act structure. It had to be satisfying with the ending, and they all had to be different types of horror. I wanted this to be all one world, all sort of one vision, but I want them to explore different subgenres that I love. And probably the most difficult [part] was coming up with a wraparound story that was satisfying because I think that some of the best anthology movies ever don’t even have that. I would say Creepshow, which arguably is the best ever, barely has a wraparound. It’s kind of almost a throwaway component. So the work really went into how do we tie these all together in a way that’s something special. That the movie feels like a feature film, even though in essence it’s going to be a celebration of shorts, kind of was a way to trick people into thinking they’re going into a “theater” and sitting down to what they think is going to be a traditional feature. Then giving them a taste of what short-form horror can be when done right and, hopefully, bring an awareness to that format because I think it’s a bit of a lost art form within mainstream media.
Usually, anthologies feature different writers and directors, but in the case of THE MORTUARY COLLECTION, it’s just you. That being said, how was it juggling these short stories while making sure they seamlessly flowed into one another?
Ryan Spindell: It’s kind of the ultimate director’s sandbox, right? I was able to make one film in which I could sort of play with all these different subgenres that I love. Interestingly, because it has all of these different stories that are intertwined you can swing for the fences just aesthetically, too. [I]f it all of a sudden became animated for 10 minutes, that was okay because it was within the world of the story. As an artist, I loved the freedom to play. We would have a tentacle monster in one scene and have stunts in the other and then have interesting set builds. So that part was amazing.
What proved to be incredibly difficult was balancing all of these stories and making them all at once. In the past, I had made shorts and when you make a short you conceive it and you refine it and you make it and you edit it. It can take up to a year just to go from conception to film festivals. You can pack everything you love into the short and make it like a really perfect little thing. And I thought to myself, “Oh, I just [need] to do this five times. That’s not a problem.” But I never anticipated that doing five [stories] all at once would be incredibly tricky, because on the logistical level you have a new cast, new location, new set pieces, new gags, but also, on a creative level, making sure I was keeping track of all these different storylines in my head at once. If suddenly we changed the theme the morning of, I have to somehow make sure that I clocked that and fit that into the overall spectrum to make sure everything was working. There was also this added pressure because we set out to make sure each story was the best it could be, we couldn’t really drop the ball on any one story. If you tell a traditional feature film, if you have a great opening, great characters set up and a great ending, most people will forgive you and just say, it’s great, but we have to do that five times and doing that five times was daunting, to say the least.
Was there one segment that you found to be more difficult to do than the others?
Ryan Spindell: No, because they were all sort of equal and this is my fault, admittedly, but whenever something was simple we would say, well, then we aren’t doing it all the way, how can we take it up a notch? The thing we kept saying is the knob is at 10, we have to turn the knob up to 11. If it was just two people in the house, it was full of stunts. Or if it was just one person in the bathroom, which seems like the simplest type of show to make, it’s like, Oh let’s do it as a silent film with no dialogue and let’s do practical tentacles which, historically, are some of the most difficult things to pull off without a big visual effects budget, and we were like let’s just do it all practical. [E]very story had some ridiculous challenge that we put on ourselves. It just kind of became the running gag of the movie, like how difficult can this be before we all implode? (laughs).
Can you talk a little bit about how Clancy Brown came on as the narrator? Did you know him prior?
Ryan Spindell: No, he was a complete swing, I’d been a fan for a long time. We had one advantage, though, which was we had already made The Babysitter Murders short as the proof of concept. I think had the scripts just gone to his manager and they had seen that it was a project where you get paid scale with a tiny little independent first-time director, I don’t think it ever would have got past the gatekeepers. But Kelly, his manager, saw the short, loved it, passed it on to Clancy with a glowing review. Clancy read the script first, which surprised me, and he really, really loved it, and then he saw the short and that solidified it.
THE MORTUARY COLLECTION is now on VOD and Digital HD, and is also available to own on Blu-ray. For more on the film, check out our review here.