When Ryan Spindell compiled RLJE Films' The Mortuary Collection, his inspiration grew from the likes of the authors like Stephen King, Richard Matheson, and Ray Bradbury. Coincidentally, he also grew in Maine, the bulk of where King's stories take place. I spoke with the director about what fascinated him to short stories, which ones he decided for his latest film, and what made star Clancy Brown such a perfect choice as mortician Montgomery Dark. "I think [short form stories] s a form of storytelling that I feel is underrepresented in cinema, especially of a wide audience," Spindell said. "I was surprised when I sort of started asking around about anthology movies and most people outside of the horror space didn't really know what that was. So I basically started with this sort of idea of like: Can I find a way to take these stories, which are self-contained stories that I really love, and put them into a structure that I can hopefully bring them to a wider audience and kind of bring some awareness to the format. You know, ideally, make it become more part of popular culture so more of these stories can exist. So it kind of started with that sort of grand idea."
How Spindell Chose the Stories that Went into The Mortuary Collection
Naturally in the creative process, Spindell had more than what he needed. "The challenge then became, 'How do you write five stories that all work together as a whole and do it without the sort of dropping the ball in a really big way?'" he continued. "It is a criticism that I feel about many anthologies, which I think that the stories tend to be uneven or the wrap-around isn't there. So when you set out to do it, I was out of a passion of like, 'I'm going to I'm going to make the ultimate anthology, the one I've always wanted to see,' but I never realized how tricky that would be, both on the writing side of things, but also in the execution in that usually when you're making your first film and you choose to make one story and I made five. Had I known what I was getting myself into ahead of time, I probably wouldn't have moved forward with it so aggressively. Now, after the fact, I'm glad I did."
Spindell explained how he determined which stories ended up on the cutting room floor. "There were a bunch actually," he said. "There are a few different stories that kind of came and went, depending on how much money you had left them and how much time we had left to execute them. Interestingly, you can see little Easter eggs that lead to those stories in the newspaper headlines at the beginning of the movie with a little boy story is throwing newspapers out. That was the tricky part about this because I think in the initial conceit of the feature, there was one story that was almost everybody's favorite story." In the interest of time, Spindell mentioned one of the stories if included would have taken the film to nearly two and a half hours long. "So I was pressured into removing that story and replacing it with something much smaller and more concise, which is where the 'Bathroom Story' came from," he recalled. "I'm actually glad that that happens because there is a line at the beginning of the movie where Montgomery says, 'It's not the length of the tale that matters. It's the quality of the content within.' I just think it's important for people to not be so stuck in what they think movies need to be and have a more open mind and what type of stories can be told so creators can sort of flourish there."
How Clancy Brown's Montgomery Dark Fit as Host of The Mortuary Collection
As far as a conduit to tell his stories, Spindell knew he found his ideal host in Brown. "Clancy Brown has been one of my favorite actors forever," he said. "I am a fan of character actors. I feel like they often sort of kind of hang in the shadows to their sort of their leads in movies. I think they also always bring the lights and the color to anything that they do. So when it came to sorting of how do you depict this massive, looming, archetypal figure living in this creepy house on the Hill, I started thinking, 'Who's he's got the chops and who's got the physicality to pull it off?' Clancy was an easy first choice." Luckily, the director was able to sell him for the project from another short he shot already called The Babysitter Murders, which ended up as part of the film.
"To get him basically, I had made a short film [and] one of the shots in the feature I made prior to making the feature to kind of put in context," Spindell continued. "That short ended up being a really incredible asset to send out to some of these people who normally wouldn't do a movie this small and sort of get them to give us a thumbs up and give us the trust that we need to make the film." The director remains hopeful the film spawns interest in a TV series in a similar format. The Mortuary Collection, which also stars Eden Campbell, Caitlin Custer, Christine Kilmer, Mike C. Nelson, Jacob Elordi, Brennan Murray, Michael Bow, and Ema Horvath is available to stream on Shudder and will be available on VOD, Digital HD, DVD, and Blu-ray on April 20.