Alan Rowe Kelly: A Far Cry from Home with the East Coast’s Most Significant Talent By Brian Kirst
From his first feature film I’ll Bury You Tomorrow to the recently wrapped Gallery of Fear, director-writer-actor Alan Rowe Kelly has made an enormous impact on the independent horror scene. As an actor (Vindication, Skinned Alive) Kelly always adds presence and flair to a project, but it is with his own films that he truly signifies his greatness. I’ll Bury You Tomorrow was a twisted gothic delight; The Blood Shed – a hilariously violent grindhouse epic and A Far Cry From Home (a Gallery of Fear segment) is a disturbing mixture of hick horror and social activism. Gearing up for future projects (such as a Don’t Look in the Basement re-imagining), the friendly and astute Kelly recently took a few moments to answer some questions in this exclusive Horror Society piece.
Brian: Who were your first performing influences – David Lynch’s incredible flights of fancy – Tina Turner showing the world how to get it on as the Gypsy Acid Queen – A drunken uncle who could spew tobacco and play the trombone at the same time?
Alan: Bug Bunny was my first acting influence…honest! LOL! As a 3-4 year old child watching in awe, what couldn’t Bugs do? He sang, he danced, he ‘acted’, he went to the moon, he was male and he was female! A total raconteur! It’s been downhill for me ever since, thank you Chuck Jones! LOL!
As I got a little older I became addicted to B & W cinema – especially horror movies and film noir. I SO wanted to be like Joan Crawford, Bette Davis, Ruth Roman or Beverly Garland. Their strong screen personas astounded me and I found an inner common ground with their style and expression. I fantasized about being UP there on that B&W television screen someday. But that’s all it was – a fantasy. Mind you, I was raised in the early 60’s in a small Mayberry-esque mining town in Northwest New Jersey so these thoughts had to be kept to myself. Tolerance was not a commonly used word. I had a wonderful, creative childhood despite the fact there was no place for such wild pipe dreams like being in the movies – even though Kirk Alyn, the original Superman from the 1940’s Serial was born and raised down the street from me. Plus my great grandfather did extra work in some silent Alice Joyce train robbery flickers back in 1911 because he happened to be a railroad worker. That only happens once in a small town. So I was looking ahead to a future as either a policeman or a factory worker if I stayed there – spewing tobacco and god knows what else. So guess who up and left for New York City when I was barely legal? LOL!
Brian: How has your former career as a very successful make-up artist assisted you in your film career?
Alan: Best experience I ever had! I spent 20 years as a make up artist and stylist on photo shoots for fashion mags, catalogues, commercials, and TV. I really thought that was what I’d be doing for the rest of my life and live a quiet and cheeky existence with two Siamese cats and a canary! LOL! Friends would always say- “Why don’t you act? You should act!” But after seeing all the work these poor models and aspiring actors had to go through; 5 go-sees a day, non-stop auditions and call-backs, always waiting for the phone to ring – no thanks! I really didn’t want to work that hard, to be honest. But then one day in early 1999 a camera crew I worked with approached me with the idea of making a small low-budget B-horror film and it was like a floodgate opened in my head- BINGO! I was writing at the time because I was bored of powdering noses on set and needed to fill my down time. And that is basically where my film career was born. I wrote I’LL BURY YOU TOMORROW in 2 months, held auditions for cast, got backing and by September 1999 we were filming. I haven’t looked back at the fashion world since! LOL! But those 20 years experience on set finally came together and completely prepared me for running a tight set. I had seen what I liked and didn’t like on many shoots and put all the best attributes together to run my film sets. I was in film school and never even knew it! I was learning what it was like to REALLY work hard, and actually loving it.
Brian: What was the origin story for your incredibly twisted (and delightful) I’ll Bury You Tomorrow?
Alan: There was a very popular ‘horror’ soap opera on television in the late 60’s called DARK SHADOWS. I loved the ensemble cast and how they would take on dual, even triple, roles throughout the series’ long run – plus it had a gothic, “Old Dark House’ quality that loved. I was addicted to this show and my mother did all she could to prevent me from watching it- lol! But she soon relented realizing my brain was already fried with Chiller Theater, Creature Features and all the rest of the horror shows on TV. LOL! The cameraman on IBYT initiated the project with the plot idea about a funeral home and a crazed female necrophiliac in the lead role. I took it from there and wrote for 3 months straight, using favorite anecdotes and homage’s to films like Horror Hotel, Evil Dead, Dead & Buried, and Funeral Home. Since it was my first time out, the film is chock full of familiar horror set pieces. I wanted to put a spin on all of them to possibly recreate an original throwback to the films I loved from the late 70’s and early 80’s.
Brian: One of the most amazing things about I’ll Bury You Tomorrow (and your subsequent features) is the amazingly talented and diverse looking cast you put together. It appears as if they were comprised from auditions and from your eclectic friend base. Are you interested in putting together a roving repertory much like Joe Dante’s and the early features of John Carpenter?
Alan: Absolutely! I always looked at Roger Corman’s amazing film resume and the stable of B-movie stars he has worked with. From the very beginning of his film career you see the same familiar faces; Beverly Garland, Dick Miller, Susan Cabot, Bruno VeSoto, Barboura Morris, Pamela Duncan, Allison Hayes, Richard Denning, Adele Jergens, Peggie Castle, Mike Connors, Cathy Downs…the list is endless. They we’re not necessarily ‘A-listers’ in Hollywood, but they were all extremely talented, unique actors who were always working and never caught up in roles that ‘typed’ them. Since my first film I have been able to surround myself with a family of great talents like Tom Burns, Jerry Murdock, Katherine O’Sullivan, Zoë Daelman Chlanda, Mike Lane, Bart Mastronardi and Dominick Sivilli, who have always believed in me and are always eager to get out there and show another side of themselves on camera or behind the scenes. You can’t buy that loyalty and once you have it, it’s up to you to harness that talent and let it soar. The best part with each new film comes new faces that join the mix. That always brings a freshness and vitality to the set and contributes to a new working environment.
Brian: Oh, to be buried alive!! Did Corey’s fate in I’ll Bury You Tomorrow help you deal with some own personal fears and phobias?
Alan: My debut as Corey was really an experiment to see if I had any acting chops or talent to make this a full-time career. The main reason I signed on to write and direct IBYT was that I would be given a chance at a supporting role. This was my one and only chance to make it happen, so I had to grab for it. If I was really bad, I’d know it and simply fade off into obscurity. I’d still be able to say “Well, at least I made it into one film” and move onto something else like writing or producing. And let’s face it, I’m quite different by most people’s standards. Not mine, of course, I’ve always embraced my uniqueness and androgyny. But I also had to know if I’d be accepted as a serious contender in the independent film community without shoving it down everyone’s throat. Behind these false eyelashes I pride myself with a lot of smarts and chutzpah! LOL! So upon the release of I’LL BURY YOU TOMORROW I was pleasantly surprised -and relieved -when viewers thought I had something to offer, as both director and actor, and wanted to see more. But isn’t that the way with any actor? I’m really no different. I just have my own individual shtick!
Now as for being buried alive? Hell that was the easy part! LOL! I was extremely comfortable in that snug, warm, dark casket! LOL!
Brian: What was the most unique experience that you had on the set of your second feature, The Blood Shed?
Alan: I realized that everything occurring on set of THE BLOOD SHED was a reaffirmation that I made the right decision to become a filmmaker. Never was there a film set so fun, so free of ego and temperament, and yet so very serious and creative a collaborative. THE BLOOD SHED was never ‘MY’ film. It became everyone’s film involved – from the wonderfully talented actors, music composer, editor, and producers, make up artists, art director and cinematographer. We kept saying amongst ourselves – “this shouldn’t be this fun…something is wrong!” LOL! It was one the best film experiences ever and that will last me all my days.
Brian: Do you find that the amazing Beefteena works her way into your daily life on occasion?
Alan: Beefteena…wow…glad that’s over! LOL! But yes, I find if I don’t get my way it is much easier to simply kill someone! LOL! What I loved about playing that insane role was I had to let go of ‘everything’. My vanity suffered at first, until I realized Beefteena was the centerpiece to the film and if I didn’t pull her off the film would sink. All of us who were playing ‘The Bullions’ had to know when to let loose and be over the top, and then pull back and let the horror speak for itself. I walked a very thin line with Beefteena because the film was a horror-comedy. To be able alter my appearance so drastically to play this hideous, addlepated, obese child of want truly set me free as an actor (though some would say it buried my career for good! LOL!). I was no longer afraid of the camera after that. As a matter of fact, I totally enjoy and relish looking awful on film- it disturbs folks. As an actor, that can be very empowering when you realize you have drawn the audience in – be it for the entertainment or just grotesque curiosity.
Brian: Can you tell us a bit about being Mama in the highly touted Eat Your Heart Out (aka Skinned Alive)?
Alan: I just wish there was more of her! Mama was a blast to play and writer /producer Joshua Nelson (Butternut Bullion) just let me run with it. Who doesn’t love the opportunity to beat up hookers and spew your trashy mouth all over the place? And then to be killed on top of that? Priceless…
Brian: From urban to Urbane!! What was the most difficult part of playing that sensuously blind oracle in Bart Mastronardi’s very original Vindication?
Alan: Sensuous huh? Did we see the same film Brian? LOL!
The hardest part was, of course, actually being blind and memorizing 3 pages of intense and exact dialogue. Bart (my director and cameraman) rehearsed me extensively on this scene and cued me in many areas to keep his dialogue flowing, natural, and exact. FX artists Henry Borriello designed my eye prosthetics and we poked microscopic holes in the center so I could make out some visibility. I also had VERY large cue cards behind Bart with key words to start off each paragraph of dialogue so I wouldn’t waste time and flub everything. (Sorry actors, but ya gotta do what ya gotta do to get a scene done and on time! LOL!) Next to Beefteena, I think Urbane is one of my best, and favorite, screen roles.
Brian: What discussions would you like to erupt from your bloody, emotionally viable masterpiece A Far Cry From Home?
Alan: I just hope it startles people and leaves them thinking about it for a day or so afterwards. I go on record stating that I first and foremost wanted to make a very graphic, hard-core thriller. All the rest of the politico stuff, the hate, the homophobia, are simply reality-based additives to give Far Cry a different edge. Aside from films by Sean Abley (Socket), Jason Paul Collum (October Moon) and Jeff Dylan Graham (Psychosamtika), I’ve never seen a horror movie using gay characters as the protagonists that weren’t stereotypical or expected. I wanted Lane and Kayle to be as different as night and day and very ‘matter of fact’ in their relationship and quest to make it work. They just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time – as are all victims in horror movies. I did use a lot of my life’s past experiences in this film as far as the verbal, physical and mental abuse, but then took it to the far extreme. If A FAR CRY FROM HOME makes people think differently about intolerance, hate, bigotry and basic human rights, then that is an extra bonus indeed and I did my job.
Brian: Lastly, any words of advice (IE: Never trust a Top Model who has cash up front and a fondness for road kill) and/or future plans that you’d like to tell us about? And – thanks – this has been better than bumping onto a sexy necrophiliac any day of the week!
Alan: I never give advice because nobody listens to it anyway- LOL! All I can say is eliminate the word ‘NO’ from your vocabulary and go out and make some great cinema!
For me, it’s looking to be a busy year! This past weekend we wrapped on the GALLERY OF FEAR horror anthology I’m collaborating on with Chicago–based filmmaker Anthony G. Sumner.
GALLERY boasts four very unique and different terror tales tied together by one main wraparound story called CRITIC’S CHOICE starring the inimitable Debbie Rochon. Let me tell you how magnificent this stunning, talented woman is to work worth. I’ve been a fan and friend for a long time now, but once you work with “La Rochon’, you really feel like you’ve arrived in this crazy business. She was pitch perfect, on screen and off, and really brings back a great style reminiscent of a young Joan Collins from the early 70’s! Her role as a hated and maligned art critic is sure to bring a lot of notice.
I directed and wrote two of the tales, A FAR CRY FROM HOME and DOWN THE DRAIN. And Anthony directed and wrote the other tales, IT RIPS and BY HER HAND, SHE DRAWS YOU DOWN, based on popular works by horror authors Michael McBride and Douglas Smith. Plus, to top it off, we have the greatest range of horror indie notables starring in GALLERY OF FEAR like Terry M. West, Jerry Murdock, Zoë Daelman Chlanda, Katherine O’Sullivan, Raine Brown, Robert Norman, Benzy, Debbie DeVerde, Susan Adriensen, Joshua Nelson, Terry Shane, Don Money, Sandra Schaller, Mike Lane, and, hell yeah, I’m in it too! It’s a great showcase and beautifully lensed by Bart Mastronardi, Dominick Sivilli and Anthony Sumner, with outstanding scores by Tom Burns, who only gets more amazing with each new piece.
This spring I’m directing and acting in the New York Sequences of Joe Davison’s EXPERIMENT 7. This is Joe’s (100 TEARS) directorial debut and I was thrilled when he asked me to do a segment for him. It will be crazy fun and Joe is so talented! Also, a screenplay I wrote called AMBER ALERT! for Anthony Sumner’s trilogy SLICE OF LIFE is now being filmed in the Chicago-area, and I just found out I’m up for a possible lead in an off-Broadway play this coming Fall called PANDORA, written by the wonderful Rob Rosiello. And even with this wretched, I’m still trudging ahead with all the pre-production work to get DON’T LOOK IN THE BASEMENT! sailing and afloat before the end of the year. So I’m plugging along Brian, step by step! Wish me luck and thank you so much for this fun interview! HORROR SOCIETY rules!
Brian: Thanks, Alan! And – Good luck!