Interview with Mystery Spot writer and director Mel House
by Bobby Blakey
Filmmaker Mel House has mad love for horror and has been bringing his own vision to the genre for years with films like Closet Space and Psychic Experiment as well as contributing to the long running Witchcraft series with Witchcraft 13: Blood of the Chosen. His latest film, The Mystery Spot features another great cast including Graham Skipper, Nightmare on Elm Street alumni Lisa Wilcox, and scream queen Debbie Rochon. I had the chance to sit down with him to discuss the film and the ins and outs of bringing his project to mysterious life.
Bobby: Where did the idea Mystery Spot come from?
Mel: I've been sort of fascinated with mystery spots and Roadside Attractions since I was a kid. I mean, living in Texas if you drive one way or the other, you see a lot of these things. I've always been interested in like that weird roadside America vibe, but specifically mystery spots. Not just like the real science behind them, which fascinates me, but the underlying creepiness that people always try to assign to them. Like, this stuff is happening because ghosts haunt this place or we're in a weird dimensional convergence or things like that. I think I saw an episode of 3-2-1 Contact or something as a kid that had a Mystery Spot on it or something. That was that was the bit where it got in my head, but I never really traveled to any of them because I didn't really get to start doing that until I got older and working on movies and driving across the country that way. They've always like had a place in the back of my mind and then I sort of grafted that on to just the feelings I had when we had our daughter Reagan, which is our first and only kid just 10 years ago.
Two months after we found out she was pregnant my full time job at the time, told me they were eliminating my position and I lost my job. So that sort of sent us into this weird tailspin of just having to figure out what we're going do. I had to really up my game as far as taking production gigs and pretty much taking whatever was offered to me, because I had to work. That led to me working on some shading sets and working hours that were not conducive to my health in a lot of ways and ate a bunch of junk food. I never got to see my kid or my wife because I was traveling all the time to work on this stuff. So I tried to funnel all those feelings into Mystery Spot. So it was really just me trying to have catharsis with all that stuff and get it all out.
Bobby: If I'm not mistaken I'm pretty sure I saw a picture of you and your wife in the film.
Mel: Yeah, that's her picture cameo.
Bobby: You play the gay husband in the photo too right?
Mel: Yes. I always forget that I’m in that picture. Because it wasn't ever my intention, but it was one of those things where we were like, Oh! we got to do this today? Okay, I'll just do it. I'm the last guy left that hasn't been on camera. That's my cameo.
Bobby: Is your daughter in the film as well?
Mel: Yeah, she plays the ghost girl. I wrote it with a lot of feelings about being a dad, but when I wrote that script she was like 2 and I wrote that character to be seven years old. By the time we got around to shooting it, Reagan literally turned seven two weeks before. It was like it was meant to be and she once she knew what we were doing, and she knew what it was about, there was there was no way I was casting some other kid. She was not going let that slide.
Bobby: That’s funny. So as an indy filmmaker you have to really figure everything out just right for the films to work with minimal time and budget. How did you find this specific location?
Mel: That's a funny story, because when I mentioned that I wrote the scripts a while before we actually shot it. Well, when I wrote the script, thinking that I'd be doing it with different people in a different way I had found a hotel motel that worked perfectly because I wanted like you know, Bates Motel type where you drive up to the door almost kind of place like old school motel. I found a place near down towards Galveston near the coast. That's why the speech stuff in the movie too.
Because in this original hotel, you kind of walk across the street and down this road, maybe 100 yards and you're on the beach, so that's why all that was set there. By the time it came around to shooting, that hotel changed owners and the new owners were not down with people shooting there. I never told the producers this, but I had to I find to find a new location. So I just started searching within like a maybe 200 mile radius of Houston because I knew we'd be base it there essentially. I found this place called the Hempstead Inn and Suites and it's it Hempstead, Texas, which is like all the way from Houston to Austin.
I was hoping these people were cool, but I had a few other options too. I just drove out there one Saturday unannounced onto the property and introduced myself to the owners, husband and wife who lived there with their two kids. If I'm not mistaken, they are both teachers that work at Texas A&M. They were super cool and into the arts, so as soon as I said I'm interested in shooting a movie here they were all about it. I couldn't believe it went so well because it really bailed me out. The location was actually pretty perfect because we had people come in from Austin to and it made that easy.
I guess the only downside is we were we were planning on housing people there too and they just don't have a lot of rooms there because it’s smaller motel so we really had to figure out the logistics of people are going to sleep at these rooms and what rooms are we going to always use for sets. If we're only going to have one or two, we have to figure out when does this stop being Nathan's room and start being Rachel's room, and how do we flip it and change it from there? Which ended up not being huge issues, but it's just stuff we had to think about.
We really lucked out with the location and those people were awesome. Unfortunately they no longer own the location because they sold it because of the COVID effects hit them pretty hard, so if we ever do Mystery Spot 2 I will have to figure something else out.
Bobby: Is a sequel something you're actually thinking about doing?
Mel: I can't lie and say that I haven't had like broad strokes of thoughts about it like, what would I do? If someone wanted to do it, but not necessarily. I feel like this a good self-contained story. I don't know. If I did I feel like it would be same location, different people kind of thing.
Bobby: When you're dealing with a movie like this that has some nuances where some stuff can kind of be left up to interpretation of the audience, but there are other things that are obvious of what you're trying to say. Is that something you were trying to set up, with a definitive story element there that you're hope they get this or did you want it kind of left to the audience's own interpretation?
Mel: I definitely have my own sort of head canon about it of what is really going on, but there are there are definitely pieces where I left it so people can plug in what they want. It's interesting because as we've done screenings where I've done Q & A's and there are people that have theories as to what's going on, that are totally different from my intention, but they still work. Sometimes I'm like “Oh man, that's pretty good.” It definitely leaves some things open to interpretation. That's the kind of stuff I loved to watch read growing up. I am a big Stephen King fan and those are always my favorite books as the ones that are a little more loosey goosey with telling you all the details because whatever I can think of is probably scarier.
Bobby: Agreed, I think that's a harder movie to make it make it worse than the one has an answer.
Mel: Yeah, for sure. Especially, for modern audiences because most of them now want everything spelled out.
Bobby: Yeah, no one can just be crazy because they are crazy anymore. I know you are a big horror fan especially the Nightmare on Elm Street stuff. Do you reach out to certain people like that from some of those films like Lisa Wilcox in this film or is it just kind of been lucky enough just to happen for you?
Mel: I have been wanting to make a movie with her for I'm not kidding, probably 20 years, because I had I had a script that I wrote for her that was an old school ghost story that we tried and tried to get off the ground. Robert Englund was attached to it too, but it just never worked and we couldn't get funding. What's funny is that two pages from the script that she ends up reading with Nathan in the film, are the lines that her character would have said in that other movie. She's said “this sounds so familiar” and I said yeah because I wrote it for you 20 years ago.
We didn't get to work together on that and I was just having trouble getting another movie of mine off the ground, but I was lucky enough to have been producing a few things where I was able to bring her in. She was in Chris Warren’s called Dark Ritual and that was the first time we worked together. She was also in the movie called Clinger that I produced. I always tried to bring her in and work with her that way, but when it came time to do Mystery Spot and I started writing the script this Rachel character I was writing for Lisa. She can always say no, but I brought it with her in mind like this is her role.
She was she was the first person I let read it and she could have hated it. She loved it and asked “Who's going play Rachel?” I said “I wrote it for you.” We had become friends by that time so it was really easy. I sent her the script and she's said she would do it and to just let her know when I needed her.
Bobby: You and I met for the first time at one of the Texas Frightmare conventions years ago years ago when you were promoting Closet Space. Being in that convention world and being around the celebrities, but also being a filmmaker has it become easier to be able to make these connections and potentially reach out to some of these people to say, you know, hey, I'm making this movie I would like you to consider?
Mel: It definitely helps get your foot more in the door because you do get stonewalled. If people don't know who you are or if you're not coming to the table with a bag full of cash. The relationships that I've made meeting people at conventions or working on someone else's movie where I meet somebody like Tony Todd, we develop a relationship that becomes way easier to then just reach out to them directly “Hey, man, I would love to attach you to this. What do you think?” That's exactly what I've done over the last few projects. It's a real it's way more casual and easy even down to Robert England. When we talked about that ghost script he's said here's my number, I love the way you write. If you have something just call me. So I'm like really? You can't abuse it, but it definitely has helped me out.
Bobby: Being a filmmaker in Texas, how hard is it for you to keep your bases of operations here and to be able to make a lot of the films more local than having to constantly travel everywhere?
Mel: It's actually become way, way easier. Even flying people in and putting them up for two weeks or whatever still ends up being cheaper than if we were to try to shoot this out in Los Angeles. Things are cheaper here and people aren't jaded to the filmmaking thing and trying to gouge you. We still pay people for their work and for everything. We don't try to get stuff for free necessarily, your dollar goes a lot farther because people are still into the romance of making movies. They make it easier for you instead of making it harder.
Bobby: It’s a dialogue, heavy film, using a lot of single shots on people kind of a back and forth. How much harder is it when you're shooting in a limited space like that in those rooms?
Mel: It definitely was a challenge at the beginning or at least it was in my head, but between me and my DP Ken Whiting we sort of talked out what we're looking for. We also had to flip the set to be two different rooms. We had to just plan out how we're going to shoot out everything and then he and his crew of like nine of us total probably including the effects people which is not a huge crew at all, but Ken and his guys were just so amazing. Knowing what we needed and what we needed to get to next. I almost feel like I didn't work on this. It's definitely the first movie where I feel like I could concentrate on directing because they already be ready to move everything because we got done with a shot. Okay, we need to set up to this reverse angle and they're already doing it and saying “we'll let you know already.” They just kind of shooed me out and did it themselves and then were ready to go you know. It was so quick, so simple and so easy. They had a down like a well-oiled machine. It was weird because I am so used to it being me and like one other guy doing everything. It was definitely the best crew I've worked with ever and whatever I do next they'll be on it.
Bobby: Speaking of, do you have anything else coming up you can tell us about and do you have any interest in getting into the bigger budget productions or do you just really love the smaller more intimate aspect of filmmaking?
Mel: I do enjoy playing in the indie world and the kinds of stories you can the kinds of stories and flexibility you have on how much you can get away with as far as hitting certain beats or spelling everything out for a mass audience. However I would love to work on a big bigger film for sure. As I've gotten older, the situation has changed to where I wouldn't necessarily say yes to everything. It would have to be a special situation and the stars aligned to you know, a life changing amount of money, obviously like a step up. If it was something I was passionate about, like you know Nightmare on Elm Street or a Marvel thing, this dream world of course, but you know, those are the kinds of things like oh, I’m jazzed about that. I would love to make one of those.
I'd be crazy to say no to that, but to keep making those slightly larger indie things. I'm in an airport now is because I'm halfway through shooting my six feature called Inbetweening. It's a thinly veiled autobiographical, thing about being a multi-racial filmmaker, and like all the shit that that entails and all the weird conversations I've had about it. We actually got a grants for most of the financing in the city of Houston, so we started shooting in March. We shot most of it, but I'm headed out to LA to shoot a few more things with Angelo from Fishbone who is was one of the characters in it. Their touring schedule is super busy because everybody started touring again so he's trying to get as much as they can. So I'm flying out there to make it a a little bit easier for him to shoot his stuff. I hope to have it done in the spring.
Bobby: Being a martial artist myself, I have to ask you, how's your training going?
Mel: It's going well, I've actually maintained this schedule and continue to go even around all the craziness. You know this, but it just helps things so much with my mental focus, my clarity and my mood. It’s crazy how, how much it changes things, how much difference it makes.
Bobby: You're doing Brazilian jujitsu right?
Mel: Yeah, and I started Thai boxing again, two weeks ago, so yeah.
Bobby: I tell people all the time and a lot of people just don't get it until you get into a martial art thing and you dive headfirst and they don't understand how lethargic it can be to cleanse the soul and mind.
Mel: I feel so much better. Thinking of shoots and how there's no way we are going to get all this done? I'll go to class and train for an hour or two hours and come out with everything totally figured everything out. Just the clarity of focus helps so much.
Bobby: Definitely. Thanks so much for taking the time to speak with me.
Mel: Thanks very much.
Check out Mystery Spot available now on VOD and digital from Terror Films.