Raised in Maine’s haunted coast, educated in film in Florida, and now working in Los Angeles, Ryan Spindell’s life in unusual places have fused with his passion for movie making to create unique cinematic experiences. Spindell has recently released his first feature length film, The Mortuary Collection. Wanting to learn more about his career and The Mortuary Collection, I was able to interview Spindell for ScifiPulse.
Nicholas Yanes: Growing up, what were some stories you loved? Are there any you still enjoy revisiting?
Ryan Spindell: My dad had dozens of episodes of the original Twilight Zone on VHS and that was always my “safe” way into horror, when I was still too young to handle the more risqué stuff. I still revisit that series all the time, and there’s a little bit of Twilight Zone in almost every project I’ve ever done.
Yanes: When did you know you wanted to pursue a career in film? Was there a moment in which this goal crystalized for you?
Spindell: As a kid I was scared shitless of horror movies and would avoid them at all costs. But one day a friend brought a box full of bootleg movies over and we reluctantly decided to watch Evil Dead II. Before that film, I had no idea that horror could be so much fun. The scene where Ash jumps on the trapdoor, squeezing the Henrietta monster’s eyeball out, and the camera tracks with the eyeball as it sails across the room and lands in an open mouth, was the moment I knew that I wanted to be a filmmaker. Weird how clearly I can still remember that moment now. It had such an impact on me that 20 years later I named my company Trapdoor Pictures.
Yanes: You’ve also spent some time in Florida. Do you ever feel that being touched by Florida is a curse you can’t escape? More importantly, how do you think the landscapes you’ve lived in shaped the way you approach story telling?
Spindell: Ha! It’s my gift and my curse. Florida is a wild place, especially north Florida where I lived. It’s where cowboy hats and jet skis collide… with a dash of meth for good measure. I had some great times in Florida, but I was born and raised on the lost coast of Maine, in a tiny haunted town, and that’s where my foundations for horror was really cemented. There’s a reason so many horror authors come from Maine, it’s a state steeped in mystery and lore. It was a scary place to be a kid, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
Yanes: You went to film school. What are some realities of film production that school failed to prepare you for? On this note, what advice would you offer to people interested in going to college to become filmmakers?
Spindell: I attended the Florida State University Graduate Film Conservatory, and it was without a doubt the best decision I ever made. It’s a program driven almost entirely by hands-on production. In the three years I spent there, I worked on over sixty short films, wrote and directed five of them, and met people who I still work closely with today. It was the hardest thing I’d ever done at the time, but it was absolutely fantastic!
Yanes: Your latest project is The Mortuary Collection. What was the inspiration behind this project?
Spindell: The Mortuary Collection is what I like to call a “kitchen sink” film. It was an excuse for me to combine elements from all the films and filmmakers that have inspired me into one Frankenstein monster of a film. There’s my love of the Sam Raimi brand of “horror with a sense of humor”, Guillermo del Toro’s robust visual style, Stephen Spielberg’s character-driven pulp, Peter Jackson’s over-the-top shock value, and so many more. It’s a celebration of stories and the people who tell them.
Yanes: The Mortuary Collection feels like it was echoing EC Comics, especially Tales from the Crypt. So what are some classic horror works that impacted how you developed The Mortuary Collection?
Spindell: That’s a wonderful compliment. I feel like I was an EC writer in another life. Tales from the Crypt was a huge inspiration for this film and quite honestly in all my work. There’s just something about that pulpy “fun” horror that I’m obsessed with. The challenge that we set for ourselves with this film, is to try and pay homage to that classic style of morality tale, while also updating it for a more modern and cinema-savvy audience. Playing with conventions and turning them on their heads, all while making a meta-commentary on horror as a genre.
Yanes: While creating The Mortuary Collection, was there a story that took on a life of its own?
Spindell: All five stories took on lives of their own. That’s the beauty (and immense challenge) about making a film like this. Each story tackles a completely different horror sub-genre, so in many ways, it was like making five movies all at once. Guillermo del Toro said that the problem with making an anthology film in that you are only as good as your worst segment, and I believe he was right. Obviously, people’s tastes vary, and it’s impossible to make a film that pleases everyone, but I’m beyond proud of this film and can’t wait for people to see it.
Yanes: From sound effects to jump cuts, there are a lot of tools one can use to tell a horror story. With that said, what ingredients do you think are essential to telling a horror story?
Spindell: I hate to sound cliché, but the key ingredient is great characters. Always. That’s the key to any good movie and ironically the thing that’s missing from so many horror films these days.
Yanes: When people finish watching The Mortuary Collection, what do you hope they take away from the experience?
Spindell: Anthology film are a blast to watch. The good ones leave you buzzing, arguing with your friends about which segment was the best, and excited about the potential for cinematic horror. The Mortuary Collection is a movie that reveals more with each viewing. In an ideal world, I’d love it to be one of those films people revisit again and again, whenever they are in the mood for a spooky good time.
Yanes: Finally, what else are you working on that people can look forward to?
Spindell: Last year I wrote and directed an episode of a horror anthology series called 50 States of Fright. It was produced by Sam Raimi, which ironically brings us full circle. My episode is called “Scared Stiff” and it was a blast!