THE MORTUARY COLLECTION Interview: Director Ryan Spindell and Star Clancy Brown on Their Above-Average Horror Anthology
A funeral home in the town of Raven’s End becomes the ideal setting for the telling of a handful of horror stories in The Mortuary Collection. The mortician, Montgomery Dark (Clancy Brown), receives the visit of “Sam” (Caitlin Fisher), a young woman who, apparently, seeks to fill the assistant vacancy.
While showing her the different areas of the morbid house, Montgomery fulfills another wish of the girl: to hear stories about the dead at the funeral home. "Something dark, twisted and awesome," demands the co-star to the old man. Thus begins the horror anthology, written and directed by Ryan Spindell.
“I grew up on Creepshow and The Twilight Zone”, revealed Spindell in an interview with ScreenAnarchy and added, “when I first sat down, in 2012, to put together an anthology film, I’d been watching a bunch of the old Amicus anthology films. It was the Amicus films that really revived this fire to play with the format.”
While watching The Mortuary Collection, another unavoidable reference is Tales from the Hood, where a funeral home and its manager are also the starting point for macabre stories. In this regard, Spindell commented: “I wanted to make sure that this anthology was going to have a wraparound story that was just as significant as the rest, that embraced the macabre and a gothic horror tone. I started with a creepy house on the hill because that’s something very iconic that I love.
"The creepy guy in this house is connecting these stories, then an excuse to tell them would be he’s the mortician. I realized it accidentally had that structure of Tales from the Hood. I actually put a lot of thought into creating several other wraparound stories but none of them really inspired me in the same way. I was making a documentary at the time about the history of the horror anthology and I ended up interviewing Darin Scott, the creator of Tales from the Hood. After having discussed it with him and him giving his blessing, I could move forward in the same vein.”
The mortician is brought to life by Clancy Brown, a legendary character actor who has appeared in cult films (The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension, Highlander) and has worked with directors of the caliber of Paul Verhoeven (Starship Troopers), the Coen brothers (Hail, Caesar!, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs), Frank Darabont (The Shawshank Redemption) and Don Coscarelli (John Dies at the End). They may not know it but new generations have also encountered Brown: he lent his voice to the demon of Thor: Ragnarok and played the Devaronian in the first season of The Mandalorian.
Brown stated in the interview that The Mortuary Collection is the best horror movie he has ever worked on: “What draws me to any project is the quality of the script. This character wasn’t specifically based on anything but you could tell that the DNA of it was from: Christopher Lee and the Hammer films, some of those British actors that were in the Amicus anthologies, the sense of humor of Vincent Price, the gravitas of John Carradine, the looks of Angus Scrimm.
"But then it’s also a very original character, it’s not a mimic of any of those icons. Ryan did that with the storytelling too, starts down a path that looks very familiar, then what you thought was going to happen did happen but then it goes beyond that and surprises you with the new spins that it takes on what seemed to be familiar”, assured the actor.
The first segment of The Mortuary Collection follows a woman (Christine Kilmer) who enters a bathroom pretending to escape from an uncomfortable suitor, the reality is that she's a pickpocket who has just obtained a good loot. What she doesn’t imagine is that a creature with tentacles hides behind the bathroom mirror. While conceiving this segment, Spindell wondered “can we tell essentially a silent film in five minutes but built like a three-act story? This segment is a bit of an homage to The Twilight Zone, which was my first introduction to horror.”
The second story takes us to a university where a young man (Jacob Elordi) gives speeches about the fall of the patriarchy and offers condoms to his female schoolmates, in reality he’s just a typical womanizer looking for casual sex. When having sex with a girl (Ema Horvath), he ignores her and takes off the condom. He doesn’t intend to contact her again, even though she had left him her number after the night of passion. However, the unexpected will happen: the one who'll experience a pregnancy won’t be the woman. The roots of this segment, Spindell said, “are in horror comedy, there’s body horror and gruesome humor. It comes from my love of Sam Raimi.”
In the third story, a man (Barak Hardley) spends a good part of his days taking care of his vegetative wife (Sarah Hay). Tired and in debt, knowing that she’s stable but without any improvement, the protagonist decides to follow the doctor's advice: give her pills for a discreet assisted death. Everything ends up getting out of control and it's Brown's favorite segment: “It has everything, it’s romantic, sad, horrible, scary, grotesque and beautiful.” To which Spindell added: “Here the morality becomes a lot more gray and you can relate more to the characters and what’s motivating them; it has dark, surreal, Tales from the Crypt horror.”
The roles change in the last segment with "Sam" as the narrator, telling her own story, the events that led her to the funeral home. In appearance it’s about a babysitter, the kid that she's looking after, and a cannibal murderer who escaped from the asylum. Spindell presented this story, in 2015, as an independent short film titled The Babysitter Murders: “I wrote the whole film as a feature first and then I decided to pull out The Babysitter Murders and make it as a proof of concept because it was a more contained story. It’s my version of a slasher movie, which basically uses what we know, and what’s so familiar about the genre, and tries to look at it through a different lens.”
The Mortuary Collection is an above-average horror anthology. “I approached it as each story was embracing one of my favorite horror subgenres. Then I was just really playing, having fun, within that subgenre, trying to subvert expectations as to who the characters are and what they want. I can see thematic elements that connect all of the stories, and very specific ideas that each story explores, but I wouldn’t say that I set out to make a movie that does anything more than entertain”, Spindell concluded.
The Mortuary Collection is available on Blu-ray, DVD and VOD.