Not many people go from academic excellence with an interest in brain surgery to appearing in films where the cast members' brains have a strong possibility of getting fried, but Derek Rydall has never taken the expected path. In fact, just as his film career was taking off in the early 90's, Rydall, the star of such latter 20th century horror opuses as 'Phantom of the Mall: Eric's Revenge' and 'Popcorn', left it all behind to find success as an author, screenwriter and motivational speaker.

Rydall gained early exposure to the film world via his uncle, celebrated director Don Siegel, whose films include the original 'Invasion of the Body Snatchers' and 'Dirty Harry'. Rydall lovingly recalls spending time with the supportive Siegel. He soaked up Siegel's varied stories of the industry and learned fight choreography from the action master (including how to pull a punch). Siegel even gave Rydall a head start in films by casting him as (respected character actress) Sheree North's son in the spy film 'Telefon' starring Charles Bronson and Lee Remick. Rydall recalls that North was "awesome" and "very sweet", but his mother and father had no desire to be "stage parents". So, Rydall returned to school, experiencing great academic success, with an early graduation and scholarships in the offing.

Instead of the medical life, though, Rydall decided it was the time to pursue an acting career full out. Siegel had always encouraged Rydall to "use my name" and, in a circle-of-life way, one of Rydall's very first roles upon re-entering the field was that of a long haired youth in the Bronson starring 'Death Wish 4'. Rydall admits that Bronson was "hard to read", but he approached him on set and mentioned his uncle. Bronson, nodded, smiled and then simply and succinctly uttered, "Yeah, Don was great." With that, Rydall's private audience with the motion picture star was complete.

Rydall soon found himself securing the lead role in the devilishly tainted, 'Rear Window' influenced horror-thriller 'Night Visitor'. Though Rydall was testing against several well known younger actors, he believes that the realism he invoked in one of his audition scenes ultimately won him the role. (In the scene, which is one of the subsequent movie's most intense, Rydall's character is threatened by a murderous high school teacher.) Said teacher was played by the brilliant Allan Garfield who gives a sweat stained, over the top performance in the film. Rydall recalls Garfield spent much of his time on set with his dog, but his fondest memories are perhaps reserved for Elliot Gould who willingly collaborated with the young actor. "He was cordial, always rehearsing scenes and running lines," Rydall remembers. Rydall was also introduced to Buddhism, on set, by Brooke Bundy. Bundy, best known as Kristen's uncaring mother in the 'Nightmare on Elm Street' films played Rydall's overtaxed mother here, also. Rydall found Bundy to be incredibly "cool", though, and very unlike the monstrous characters she so frequently portrayed. The naive Rydell, also, found himself more than face to face with another co-star, the buxom Shannon Tweed. To help get his character's necessary embarrassed reaction in one scene, the off camera Tweed flashed Rydall, getting the maximum amount of reddened flustering for every understandably jealous adolescent's dollar.

The physicality required of Rydall in 'Night Visitor' (including a rambunctious fight scene with Garfield and eccentric actor Michael Pollard in their characters\rquote satanic lair) put him in good steed for his next project. As Eric in 'Phantom of the Mall: Eric's Revenge', Rydall found himself skulking around the Sherman Oaks Galleria at all hours. Originally signed to a 4 movie deal as the badly burned, vengeful teen, Rydall often spent up to 3 hours in make-up being transformed into this junior Lon Chaney replica. In prepping for the role, Rydall found the civilians in the mall reacted to him as if he were a real burn victim. That fact coupled with his 18 hour days in costume allowed "Eric's psychology to seep into me."

All was not emotional hardship on set, though. In fact, the joy one experiences upon watching this often silly, go-for-broke minor horror epic (which features performances from perpetual villainess Morgan Fairchild, genre legend Ken Foree, comedian Pauly Shore and even an un-credited, extended cameo from legendary scream queen Brinke Stevens) also found its way behind the scenes. Rydall's fondest memories including hanging out at the mall with his young cast mates and he even managed to strike up "a really good friendship" with co-star Tom Fridley (whose other genre credits include 'Summer Camp Nightmare' and 'Friday the 13th Pt. 6') whom he describes as a "crazy guy". Sillier still, Rydall was required to film an "Eric dance montage" where his masked bad guy "Jennifer Beal-ed" through his lair and out into the mall. "I was practically pole dancing through the mall," he recalls. Fortunately (or unfortunately depending on your sense of humor), this sequence was excised from the final film. "It was ridiculous!"

While Rydall's career was on fire (although not as Eric - a stuntman handled those dangerous fire-walking duties along with the responsibility of tossing Fairchild's nefarious Mayor to her death), his next film, the well loved 'Popcorn', was his final film to date. While on set for almost three months in Jamaica, Rydall began a spiritual awakening that, at first, had him considering life in a monastery, and eventually led him to a more proactively reflective life as a screenwriter and motivational speaker.

While on location, though, Rydall definitely made of the most of his final shoot. He, once again, bonded with his fellow cast mates (in fact, the on the set camaraderie is what Rydall misses the most about filmmaking) and spent much time in Ocho Rios and Montego Bay eating fresh seafood and getting to know the locals.

Rydall also recalls that violence (of a sort) was not contained to the confines of the film. "I was caught in an intense lightening storm that sounded like cases of dynamite going off. It was the first time I was ever afraid of the weather."

Rydall plays the film's typical hero, Mark, but with a certain twist. Mark can not accomplish any deed within the film without some kind of physical harm being reaped upon him. Rydall's portrayal is exasperatingly good natured and is no doubt influenced by original director, Alan Ormsby and by the legendary Bob Clark, who was forced by the producers to take over the project midway through. (Rydall has especially fond memories of interacting with the deceased Clark. Incidentally, Clark, in a final interview, stated that he thought Ormsby did an exceptional job and regretted being forced to take over. In the piece, which ran in Fangoria's August 2007 issue, Clark, also made sure Ormsby was credited with creating all of the movies within the movie that give 'Popcorn' its notable flair.)

More than being influenced by his final film's uniqueness, though, Rydall found himself intrinsically altered by Jamaica's intense natural beauty. Back home, after eventually finding him self "this-close" to landing several major roles, he realized that acting was no longer the primary fluid chugging through his veins and he began to reform his life around his writing.

Rather than feeling any regret, though, Rydall has found his work as a screenwriter, speaker and spiritual consultant to be just as intriguing as his eccentric films. He is the author of 'I Could Have Written a Movie Better Than That' and recently spent some time on the writing staff of 'Power Rangers: Wild Force' ("My kids loved that!"). He is currently working with major studios on two films - one that, briefly, even had a role that would have been perfect for him. "Things changed," he notes. Still, there's always another project - and even if Rydall never graces the silver screen again, he has left behind a proud legacy with his appearances in some of the most interesting and fun horror films of the late 80's and early 90's.

(For more information on Derek Rydall be sure to check out his websites and

Bio by Brian Kirst