Alan Rowe Kelly’s debut film, “I’ll Bury You Tomorrow”, has been lauded by critics and fans alike as a fun, creepy black comedy revolving around a country funeral home, and the sweet, shy necrophiliac who comes to work there. The film stars the very impressive Zoë Daelman Chlanda, Jerry Murdock—who plays two roles in the film so different that the credits come as a shock—and Kelly himself, as a transvestite make-up artist and pseudo-grave robber. “I’ll Bury You Tomorrow” has a wicked sense of humor and is one of the best indie movies to come along in recent memory.
It’s so good, in fact, that the very idea of it being a first film is nearly mind-boggling. “I’ve only been involved in film since 1999, when I first embarked on my 5-year journey of getting ‘I’ll Bury You Tomorrow’ written, filmed, edited and distributed,” says Kelly. “Previous to that, my experience began many moons ago as a make-up artist in the film and television industry – which I still work at it steadily today. Becoming a filmmaker happened quite by accident, following drinks and dinner with my ‘Bury You’ collaborators, Gary Malick, Tom Cadawas and Jack Malick – who just happened to own all their own film equipment! We discussed our love for the genre and how fun it would be to make an old fashioned B-horror film and ‘Bingo’ – a fire alarm went off inside my head.”
An unashamed horror fanatic, Kelly drew inspiration from his favorite films from a time when even hack directors were given a relative freedom. “I was obviously inspired by all the great 70s horror films I saw at the drive-in as a teenager; “Burnt Offerings”, “Evil Dead”, “Funeral Home”, “The Killing Kind”, “Phantasm”, “Don’t Look in the Basement”, “Pieces”, “Mother’s Day”, “And Soon the Darkness” and of course, “Alice, Sweet Alice”! (And that’s just naming a few, mind you!) Horror movies took many chances back then because the filmmakers didn’t have ‘others’ breathing down their necks. They were independents with intense storylines and provocative subject matter. The acting was always professional—though a bit out in left field a lot of the time—and to me, that is what makes them great. There was also that general creepiness to the grainy look of these older films, which presented realism and an almost ‘snuff-like’ quality to them. Even if it was a two-hour movie, you traveled the film with the characters and never knew how it would end. You stayed in for the long haul while loving that journey into unexplored terror. To be honest, I think a lot of the writing was more intelligent back then.”
“I’ll Bury You Tomorrow” tells the story of Dolores, a young woman who arrives, heavy steamer trunk in tow, to the small town of Port Oram, answering an ad for Mortician’s Assistant. The home’s owners, the Beechs, are reserved, quiet people. Their employees, Jake and Corey, have been stealing the bodies of the deceased from under the noses of the Beechs, selling the cadavers for medical research. Obviously, Jake and Corey don’t need a new co-worker fouling up their industry. Dolores, predictably, has her own agenda—not to mention a love for her work that cannot (and is not) taught at mortuary school.
The acting in “Bury You” is top-notch. Chlanda’s gradual metamorphosis in strength is terrific to watch. Murdock, who could have easily gone over-the-top in his performance as Jake, goes just near the edge of over-acting, keeping Jake at a comfortable cross between comedic and menacing. As for Corey, Kelly’s portrayal of the character leaves it open to interpretation—is she a woman or a cross-dresser? Ultimately, it doesn’t matter and is another perfect touch to the already bizarre film. Again, for a first film, the quality of acting is unexpected and welcome.
“That was a real coup for me,” Kelly says of his actors. “Not only were they amazing, but unbelievable sports and supporters! I met Zoë Daelman Chlanda on a photo shoot where I was doing make-up and she was the model. At this point, I was halfway through with the script to “Bury You”. After the first thirty minutes of conversing with her, I knew I had found my ‘Dolores Finley’. I struck a deal with her right there! I met Jerry Murdock on an open-call audition I held in Manhattan and fell head-over-heels for him. Great-looking, professional, friendly, creative, not afraid of taking risks or remotely hung up on his ‘model’ good looks. As a matter of fact, Jerry was actually considering moving back home to upstate NY to resume his career as a teacher if he didn’t get a role in this film—he told me it was his last ‘hurrah’ as far as auditions and rejections. Boy was I lucky! But even more, the rest of that audition day brought me the very talented Katherine O’Sullivan (Nettie Beech), Bill Corry, (Percival Beech), the unforgettable Linda Leven (Morgue Nurse), Tina Kay (Mrs. Clark) and Austin Sears (Dr. Gross)! I hit the jackpot that day!”
Not surprisingly, ‘Corey’ was the easiest part to cast, as Kelly had written the part for himself. “I wrote the part of Corey for myself. Since this was my first turn at the rodeo, I thought it best to write a part for myself reflecting all my bad qualities. Being nasty, rude, shrewish and creepy was very fun to do—I simply pretended to be in a bad mood each time the camera rolled. But of course, after viewing my first takes, I realized that much more underplaying was required so my ‘over the top’ performance wouldn’t be too much. My film partners had been filming for years. So when it was my turn to be shot, I felt comfortable and relaxed with their suggestions. If I was too much – they would tell me. My main problem was that I would get laughing so hard and mess up so many takes!”
“I’ll Bury You Tomorrow” was not an easy shoot. It took three years to make, primarily on weekends, which took its toll on the cast and crew. “My biggest challenge was to simply ‘complete’ it! And for quite some time, it looked as if it wasn’t going to happen. Leads dropped out and had to be replaced. Scenes were reshot, money ran out, and interest from others dwindled. But we made it through!” Like most low-budget movies, the completion itself is a testament to the tenacity and support of the filmmaker and his cast and crew. But Kelly never skimped on time or rushed through something to get it done. He was aiming for an amount of professionalism on screen and behind-the-scenes, and, quite fortunately, everyone involved believed in that goal. “I’m very anal about detail, continuity, frame blocking, etc. But I still depend on everyone—from actors, DPs, lighting, sound, make-up, etc.—to tell me if something isn’t flowing, doesn’t look just right, or feels ‘wrong’. The cast and crew’s opinions are very important to me in order to establish an open and artistic working environment. You want to be happy and excited about going to work on set – not feel as if you’re just a drone and working for someone else! But of course in the end, the ‘last word’ has to come from me.”
When it was finally completed in 2001, Kelly and company began the festival circuit, supportive of their product but prepared for the eventual criticism. Much to their surprise, “I’ll Bury You Tomorrow” played in twenty-one international festivals, winning top honors at fests like Telluride Indiefest (Best Feature Film, 2002), New York International Independent Film and Video Festival (Best Horror Feature, 2002), The B-Movie Film Festival (Best Make-Up Design), and the 2004 Park City Film Music Festival (The Silver medal of Excellence awarded to Tom Burns for “Best Impact in Scoring”). All the awards and attention garnered the attention of the newly-formed distribution company, Heretic Films, who chose “I’ll Bury You Tomorrow” to launch their company’s library.
“Believe it or not, the finished product is pretty close to my original script and concept,” Kelly says of his creation. “I mean, there’s always things I’ll see in it, which as a filmmaker, will make me cringe. (All which I will keep to myself!) It doesn’t help to point out all your mistakes to an audience who will only view it as that from now on. But for a first attempt at filmmaking and directing— especially once we added the haunting and melodic scoring from Tom Burns to the mix—I’m damn happy with the results.”
With the DVD of “I’ll Bury You Tomorrow” setting Amazon.com records, Kelly is preparing his next directorial effort, “Unhallowed Ground”, while taking time to act in other folks’ productions as well. Most recently, he worked with artistic terrorist and former Toe-Tag Pictures collaborator, Michael Schneider (“My Crepitus”, “August Underground: Mordum”), on his experimental film, “Opening the Mind”. “Michael had recently sent me a 10-minute montage and it blew me away – violent, disturbing and very eye-catching! Michael Todd Schneider is a lone horse and intense. He is very deep and detailed – much like a painter. I think ‘Opening The Mind’ is his most literal piece to date as far as storyline, but he still maintains that same gritty edge and level of discomfort you feel when viewing his earlier works. He knows exactly what he wants and is very proficient and professional. He is excellent with direction and blocking and knows how to treat actors! I played opposite actor Eric James, who is perfect as the homicidal Adrian Simms—he certainly scared me a few times while I lay nailed to his torture chair—for hours! I didn’t get to work with Jasi Cotton Lanier—we are in different parts of the film– but I’ve seen her takes and she has great screen presence. And boy, can that gal take a mean body slam against an oncoming car! Jasi plays the ‘good girl’ and I’m the ‘dirty whore’. We’ve been emailing for the past year, but have yet to meet. I’m looking forward to it! I’m not sure when Michael will be finished with ‘OTM’ – he treats his films more like an art piece – which they truly are. When it’s ready, it’s ready. He’s one of the recent new talents whose work I have seen that actually transports the viewer to another plane of consciousness. Very surreal and somewhat dangerous.”
As far as “Unhallowed Ground” goes, however, it is currently in the position of standing on “uncertain ground” (apologies, Alan), as so many indie films begin. “I am in the process of seeking funding for “Unhallowed Ground”, Kelly says. “(It’s) the tale of a young man named Ben, who, following his mother’s horrific suicide, inherits an abandoned hotel with twenty acres of a haunted, deserted fairytale-land attraction for children. Ben travels to the quiet, decaying town of High Point Junction to unravel the mystery of his mother’s tormented past. He soon discovers that the locals want no part of him, and the land bequeathed to him is indeed ‘haunted’. So if you fear vintage toys, clowns, puppets, demented fairy tale characters and nursery rhymes-run-amuck, then “Unhallowed Ground” will be the film that brings all those phobias to the screen with plenty of mystery, murder and chaos. (laughs) I have cast actors Jerry Murdock, Zoë Daelman Chlanda, Katherine O’Sullivan and myself, all from “I’ll Bury You Tomorrow”. I’ve also received keen interest from B-movie notables Jeff Dylan Graham, Joshua Nelson, Michael Todd Schneider and Felissa Rose to join the cast as well! Can ya stand it? And I won’t make a move without the magnificent scoring talents of the incredible Tom Burns! He’s the icing on the cake for a horror movie!”
With 2004 coming to an end, the future looks pretty good for Kelly. His notoriety and acclaim for “I’ll Bury You Tomorrow” landed him a seat on the judging panel for the 2004 New York City Horror Film Festival this October.
Still, the final question: what is the Alan Rowe Kelly dream project? “That’s a very hard question! ‘Unhallowed Ground’ will definitely be a dream project once I get it off the ground and running. But I imagine that I will feel that way about every film I move onto. I would love to shoot a ‘disaster’ movie one day. And though I know it’s probably bad to mention the word ‘remake’ – but it would be too fun to film my version of that crazy 1972 film ‘Frogs!’ which starred Ray Milland and Joan Van Ark! Now that would be slimy good fun to further torture actors with!”
Visit the film’s official I’ll Bury You Tomorrow website.
If you liked this article then you may also like the following Film Threat articles:
- I’LL BURY YOU TOMORROW…LAID TO REST (DVD)
- KELLY + VICTOR
- DONNIE DARKO DIRECTOR PASSPORT CONFUSION
- GLAD TO SEE YOU
- THE OUTSIDER’S CLUB
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