ALAN ROWE KELLY: Slashing Gender Barriers in Horror by Owen Keehnen

A former make-up artist, this shy kid never thought he would be in front of the camera. But now Alan Rowe Kelly is breaking boundaries and winning fans with every new film. Though he is well over 6' tall (even taller in hells) he's cast mostly in women's roles and has played a roster of women who are very tough to forget. Many of his solid performances are reminiscent of stars from Hollywood's golden age.

His breakthrough film was 2002's 'I'll Bury You Tomorrow' which he directed, wrote, co-executive produced, did make-up and costarred as Corey Nichols. The film was fresh and very effective and won a slew of honors and awards from various film festivals. Seemingly overnight Alan was a bona fide star in the horror world. Being much-in-demand he followed up this neo-classic with several roles in such movies as 'Dead Serious' , 'Vindication' , 'The Pod', and 'The Screening'.

Then in 2007's he wrote, directed, co-executive produced, and starred in 'The Blood Shed' - gaining 50 pounds to play one of his most challenging roles - that of Beefteena Bullion. His next major multi-hyphenate project is a remake of the 70s drive-in classic 'Don't Look in the Basement' which he has rewritten, and will star in as Lola Mason.

Alan has also been busy - appearing in a myriad of horror flicks in the past couple of years or soon to be released such as 'Eat Your Heart Out' (as Mama), 'Experiment 7' (as Dr. Melanie Phillips), 'A Far Cry from Home' (Best Actor at the 2009 Terror Film Festival), 'Satan Hates You' (as Cokey), 'She Wolf Rising' (as Tess), 'Psycho Street' , 'River of Darkness' , 'By Her Hand She Draws You Down' , 'Pink Eye' , and several others. He's also been busy writing screenplays (such as the 'Amber Alert' segment in 'Slices of Life'), doing make up on films, and producing within the horror field.

As if all this weren't enough Mr. Kelly is the owner and producer of South Paw Pictures, an Inductee to the 2009 Dark Carnival Film Festival Hall of Fame, and as you may have surmised he's also entertaining as hell to talk to. He was kind enough to take some time from his insanely busy schedule to discuss his unlikely career, his love of old movies, 'Don't Look in the Basement' , lotsa LOLs, and more in this exclusive racksandrazors.com interview.


 
Alan, why don't you start us off with a visual and describe where you are answering these questions?

I'm sitting here at my desk typing away in my reconverted loft in a 130-year old Silk Factory in downtown Paterson, New Jersey. Outside my windows are the courtyard where musicians play daily and the street sounds of the city fill the air. Summer came in quick this year so the fan is rumbling loudly before my air conditioner gets installed this week. My other half, The Amazing Mr. Buttons, an 11-year old orange Tabby I rescued from a shelter months ago, is lying beside me on the windowsill. He could care less as long as his tummy gets filled 2 times a day. My walls are all stripped and primed for an entire new paint job and boxes with all my 50's glasses are packed and stacked and my furniture covered in sheets. A lengthy process indeed, the walls are 25 feet high and I'm very shaky on a ladder! But even with the mass transformation of turning my home into a slick production studio and showplace, work goes on... and on... and on... lol! It's been Bohemian living for the past few months.

I have so many things I want to ask you! In the past decade you have exploded onto the indie horror scene with such great flicks as 'I'll Bury You Tomorrow', 'The Blood Shed', 'Dead Serious', 'Contact', 'Eat Your Heart Out', 'A Far Cry From Home', 'W.O.R.M', etc. I also find it so cool that you mostly appear as a female even though you are kind of a big (6'1") guy. First off, why do you think the indie horror world is so inclusive compared to many other genres?

I think its super cool too Owen! LOL! I felt like I finally found my home and where I belong in the Horror Genre. In the indie horror world- it is pure diversity, uniqueness and individualism. That was the draw for me - no one telling you what to be, or how to act. And of course, you have make good films to be accepted. That's the main reason I feel I made it in, not because of my look, but because we made a kick ass feature that offered something very unique to bored horror audiences in the late 90's/early 2000's. Even though indie films then were all being made primarily on Video with Digital still on the horizon, we still lit and shot the production as if it were film; art directed it within an inch of its life and presented it, as a film. We had great talent, a fun story, mad locations, excellent cinematography, music and sound and 150% enthusiasm - key ingredients not to be ignored in a horror film. As for being 6'1" and in heels, even taller, I simply have to act next to taller actors or I actually shrink my posture and take off the damn shoes to appear smaller on camera- it always works and no one notices the discrepancy. People are always surprised at how tall I am when they meet me... LOL! They always assume I'd be tiny.

So do you see your career as one with political implications such a visibility or acceptance?

Not at all. I'm a filmmaker, producer and an actor in the horror genre - nothing more - and more than happy and proud to wear that moniker. But with visibility comes a responsibility to be smart and educated about anything you say in public. Politics and social issues are simply too vast and extreme for me to be commenting on. I feel unless you're fully informed on what you're talking about; you can make yourself look like a real idiot. But I always speak up for equality, against intolerance, ecology, and the protection of self, children and animals. (Christ, that sounded like a bad Miss America answer, didn't it?) I know that my "image" can be used and taken to a lot of extremes for many purposes/causes by various people and groups who do not know me at all. But that's what happens when you make the decision to become a "visible" person. Everyone has an opinion, a dislike or something that will point to you. I came into this business as an adult and will continue to act like sensible one... off camera, that is... LOL!

Okay, so tell me all about your progression from successful make-up artist to bona fide horror writer/director/star?

I had always dreamed of being in front of the camera since I was a very young kid ogling over Saturday afternoon Creature Features and late night Chiller Theater. Being from a very small mining town in Northern New Jersey, there really wasn't an outlet for big dreams of becoming a movie star and I was way too shy and sheltered for Community Theater. I just dreamed and fantasized. I was raised in a family of N.J. State Police and had somewhat of a strict upbringing. But my parents were pretty easy on me and supported all my artistic endeavors... begrudgingly, I'm sure...LOL! In 8th grade I made my first attempt at filmmaking with my school friend Frank Greene with a little 8mm ditty called THE SEAPOD INVASION. It was such a huge deal to me. Back then you shot the film, edited it with special tape on a splicing machine I borrowed from my Uncle Nick, and dubbed the sound on a cassette player. I remember my great disappointment when it came down to the last rung of dubbing and our cast of neighborhood friends was down in my 70's basement trying to get it done. They were much more interested in getting outside in the summer sun and playing kickball than sitting around talking into a recorder mic. So they left me to do the rest myself. I entered the Kodak Film Competition and, of course, lost. My film reel was returned to me in hundreds of pieces because the editing tapes had dried out. It was such a bummer and that was the end of my magnificent film career! LOL! I attended high school like every other kid in town, moved to NYC immediately after and attended art schools in Manhattan to become a world famous fashion illustrator. Unfortunate thing about that career choice was that fashion illustration was becoming a dying art and fashion photography was reaching its apex by the time I graduated. So, for my new canvas, I became a make up artist. That was my life for over 20 years. It introduced me to the chic world of modeling, fashion, travel & clothes - a very glamorous world, but not a glamorous profession because it was all about hard work, climbing the fashion ladder and once again, that ugly word "acceptance" . I worked very hard for every penny I made but even with my great talent for coiffing some of the most beautiful heads in the industry. I never made it to "A" level because I wasn't accepted in that world either. I was still a bit of a hick with a questionable taste level as far as my appearance. I looked like a combination of Cyndi Lauper, Boy George and A Flock of Seagulls, which I thought was totally awesome on a nightclub level, but not at all in the beauty industry. I simply danced to the beat of my own drum and refused conform to be what everyone was constantly telling me what I should be. I was convinced there was nothing wrong with me and told everyone to stick it. Didn't do me much good, but at least I still had my identity by refusing to become a standard fashion clone. Everyone always commented that I should be an actor, but I just scoffed at the idea because I certainly didn't wish to welcome more rejection into my life. I saw how hard actors worked at the grind of auditions and hitting the pavement from casting agent to casting agent that always ended with the final word "NO". No thank you! I'll just keep to my brushes and move on. By the 90's I had finally graduated into TV and commercials for better money and soon started writing. A literary agent in N.Y. and L.A. picked me up, but that didn't get very far. So one day I was on a commercial set with my camera pal Gary Malick and he suggested we make an old school horror movie for fun. I jumped on it and wrote the script 'I'LL BURY YOU TOMORROW', and low and behold, 2.5 years later we had a small cult film hit that won tons of festivals and became quite the talk in the indie horror community. It was the breakthrough I waited 40 years for. The rest has simply been my very good fortune, but not without hard work.

Has make-up been acting tool for you? Meaning, is the application of your make-up a huge component in your transformation into a specific role?

Totally! Spending all that time on a set introduced me to every personality type imaginable. I watched directors and photographers pamper, maneuver, insult and brutalize models/actors into submission. I quietly watched and learned all the aspects of the industry, not knowing why, but I had a gut feeling that one day it would come in handy as training for something. And it certainly did! Knowledge is power. My acting/directing career was right around the corner and I didn't even know it. I'm not a trained actor in any sense. But I am instinctual and years of watching every old movie became my template for movie acting. My roles always require a different hair and make up strategy. Next to a great script, make up and wardrobe is the hugest component for me to become another person. Like a costume, I can slip into a character and mimic it. It's when I have to play someone closer to my own skin, such as Lane in 'A FAR CRY FROM HOME', when I really have to work hard at being natural and relaxed. It isn't easy. But after my transformation in 'THE BLOOD SHED', I was no longer afraid of that demon lens - LOL!

So right out of the gate 'I'll Bury You Tomorrow' made a huge impact, you won awards etc. What was the main thing you took away from that whole experience?

So much Owen! 'I'LL BURY YOU TOMORROW' was my film school. I hadn't a clue about lenses, sound levels, shot sheets, what a zoom shot was, a pan shot or sticks, etc., lol! But I learned fast and continued to learn with each film. I entered so many festivals with IBYT, expecting we would be a shoe-in with some of the smaller horror fests. We weren't...lol! So as a lark, we entered the Telluride Indiefest in 2002, and shockingly, we won! We were the first horror movie they ever accepted. That gave us a great label of professionalism and validated us in the community. We went to Telluride for our screening and it was a magical experience. People really got a kick out of our "little indie that could" and we soon appeared in Moviemaker Magazine. We finally came back to screen in NYC and met Tony Timpone of Fangoria. Between he, Michael Gingold, writer Jeremiah Kipp, and Rod Gudino at Rue Morgue Magazine, I was granted wonderful press and the beginning of a promising film career. My life had immediately changed.

You gained 50 pounds for your role as Beefteena Bullion in 'The Blood Shed'. What was your favorite weight-gain snack?

All of them.... LOLl! But easily - CHEESEBURGERS! Lots and lots of Cheeseburgers!

Was that the toughest thing you have ever done for a role?

Taking that weight off... LOLl! Special hint... if you're over 40...DO NOT gain weight ala Shelley Winters/Robert DeNiro style... very unhealthy! Get a fat suit and start padding... LOL!

I also want to hear about the extremely promising 'She Wolf Rising'. Tell me about that upcoming project.

I was line producer on SHE WOLF RISING and also played Tess, casting agent to superstar scream queen Gina Skylar (played by gorgeous Tiffany Shepis). I also edited the film which was a very interesting venture being it was the first piece I edited that was not my own. But director/writer Marc Leland and producer/actor Carl Burrows were amazing to work with and my best pal Tom Burns is finishing the film's score and sound design. It's a fun throwback to 80's horror films and a great homage to all of Ms. Shepis' scream queen roles. She and newcomer Timothy Mandala really shine and we also have Ruby LaRocca, Nicola Fiore, Joe Zaso and Debbie Rochon in great cameos as well.

I am sooo excited to hear that you are adapting 'Sudden Fear' (Joan Crawford, 1952) as a segment for the 'Slice of Life' anthology horror movie coming out this year. Are you a big old movie fan?

'SLICES OF LIFE' is a ridiculously great horror anthology by Anthony G. Sumner and I had the pleasure of co-starring in the segment W.O.R.M., and writing another segment called AMBER ALERT! I'm so excited to see it and the production value of the film is off the wall. As for SUDDEN FEAR, I am the BIGGEST old movie fan and always have been since I was a youngster! So I'm hoping to adapt SUDDEN FEAR into an actual feature to shoot in New York and San Francisco in the future. I want to update the story and put my spin on it's tale and characters to give it an entire new life and edge without straying too far from Edna Sherry's original plotline. Of course, the Crawford role is MINE! LOL!

So if you were a golden age Hollywood actor or actress who would it be?

There are too many that I love so much such as Bette Davis, Joan Crawford, Humphrey Bogart, Richard Widmark, Ava Gardner, Simone Signoret, Ida Lupino and Ruth Roman - But out of all of them, I'd have to go with Barbara Stanwyck She had the "smartest" and most brilliant career. She was loved by all her crew and directors, IS always amazing and believable from all of her early films on up to her 80's - and never has a false moment. She was truly devoted to her craft and her work is still timeless and not outdated. And what I meant by "smartest" career is of all the Hollywood stars, she was one of very few who managed an "independent" career freelancing with every Hollywood studio. She always had control of her film properties, characters and what she was doing. Of all the Hollywood bios I've read, she is the one I envy and admire most and, in my very small offbeat way, hope to emulate.

I also want to hear all about your writer/director/producer/starring remake of the 1973 drive-in flick 'Don't Look in the Basement'? What made you decide on that project and how is it progressing?

It is finally progressing very nicely! There were quite a few unnecessary snags in the road to get it moving, but we're on our way now. Director Anthony Sumner and actor Jerry Murdock oddly approached me at the same time in 2007 and said "you have to remake this film. It will be your crossover movie that could eventually grant you some higher budgets in the future." I always loved this obscure little Grindhouse classic by S.F. Brownrigg and started watching it again. It hit me dead on and I thought, "yeah, we can do this" and I would give it a new life without compromising the original, as so many "studio" remakes do today. Anthony and I decided to co-produce/direct it together through our companies SouthPaw Pictures and TinyCore Pictures. I rewrote the script, updated it, added new characters and came out with a very decent storyline. We got all our legal clearances together from our lawyers (and for those of you who think you can remake a Public Domain film without doing proper research, think again! You're in for a rude awakening if you don't take the proper legal paths. Especially with distributors.) "We" were set to shoot in 2008, but the recession killed us - as it did everyone - and our backers backed out. It was frustrating, but who could blame them? It was happening to many filmmakers at the same time. In retrospect, it all worked out for the best. We had time to build more press and interest while assembling the most amazing cast that includes Jerry Murdock, Zo... Daelman Chlanda, Debbie Rochon, Caroline Williams, Jeff Dylan Graham, Raine Brown, Katherine O' Sullivan, Marv Blauvelt, Susan Adriensen, Douglas Rowan, Terry M. West, Carl Burrows, myself, and a lovely upcoming starlet named Deneen Melody. So yes- we are remaking a small low-budget classic, and why not? The film deserves a new life and I truly believe we have the right combination of talent to give it it's worth. Everyone gets so up in arms about remakes, etc. and all I have to say is get a life and go watch another movie if it bugs you so much! LOL! With Facebook and the Internet you HAVE to hear everyone's opinions and I simply am too darn busy making movies to give a hoot about what the populace living in "mom's basement" is saying. Such nonsense. The proof will be in the finished product, so let's wait and see then. We are shooting in 2011, mainly because we haven't the time this year with other films still in post-production (GALLERY OF FEAR for me, and SLICES OF LIFE for Anthony). Plus I have 4 more film roles this Summer/Fall and I'm shooting another film this October in collaboration with talented genre directors Bart Mastronardi, Jeremiah Kipp and Nathan Wrann. (But I can't speak of it just yet... but I promise, it's going to be terrific!)

Hey, so if we were to have a grave warning about not looking somewhere in Alan Rowe Kelly's house or apartment what room would it be -- and are you brave enough to share what we might find?

Without a doubt, it would be my loft - once my bedroom - in my factory apartment. It now serves as my storage room for every creepy horror prop, wardrobe, hideous old mannequins ("Marcia..." ), and set pieces I've been collecting for the past 10 years. I've been accumulating props for a film called 'UNHALLOWED GROUND' that I wrote years ago and it is still my "Baby" project! Once the right budget rears itself, I'll finally make, what I think will be, my finest film. I used to display a lot of the items in my home until friends finally told me to put them away because they were creeped out and always felt like they were always being watched... and they were... LOL! But in the next month all of these items are going into storage and I will finally have my home and studio back...Whew! Talk about hoarding... LOL!

Oh, and speaking of drive-ins, we're pulling the car into the Alan Rowe Kelly Drive In. What three horror flicks are on the triple bill for tonight and what goodies will you be serving up at the concession stand?

Well, I'll have to go complete old school on this one! 'ATTACK OF THE 50-FOOT WOMAN' with Allison Hayes & Yvette Vickers, 'THE BLOB' with Steve McQueen, and 'FIEND WITHOUT A FACE' with Marshall Thompson & Kim Parker. ("And trailers for Barbara Steele movies have to be in between each film tool... LOL!") As for my Concession Stand? BEER! Lots and lots of beer! Rental lawn chairs, cartons of cigarettes, black & white milkshakes, Ice cream sodas, rolling papers, Atomic Fireballs, Goobers, Raisinettes, Milk Duds, and the greasiest pizza, hot dogs and popcorn available! Let's all go to the lobby....

Do you have any other upcoming projects you would like to let the racks and razors readers know about?

'GALLERY OF FEAR' will finally be hitting the fest and screening circuit this Fall - It's a horror anthology in the old Hammer/Amicus Film tradition with three tales and a wrap around story. It took me 3 years to complete it. It stars Debbie Rochon, Jerry Murdock, Raine Brown, Don Money, Katherine O' Sullivan, Benzy, Zoe Daelman Chlanda, Terry M. West, Mike Lane and a slew of other talented actors. I wrote and directed two of the tales, plus the wraparound story, and Anthony Sumner wrote and produced the 4th. It's so much fun! It's really a beautifully produced piece with great cinematography from Bart Mastronardi, Dominick Sivilli and Anthony Sumner. Anthony's 'SLICES OF LIFE' anthology will also be debuting at the same time and I co-starred in one segment and wrote another called AMBER ALERT! Then in July, I'm playing the notorious Dr. Annabelle Voitch in Bryan Enk's THE BIG BAD, and I'll appear as a doting "mom" in Justin Power's and Andrew Rose's VICIOUS this fall. 'DON'T LOOK IN THE BASEMENT!' will commence in 2011 and I'm also writing a new screenplay called MAXINE. I also have scripts for UNHALLOWED GROUND, SUDDEN FEAR, YOU BETTER WATCH OUT!, A MURDER OF CROWS and SPORE! sitting in the bleachers awaiting budgets and OK's to move ahead - and as always- you never know what's going to pop up in between! Anthony Sumner is starting a new screenplay called BURLESQUE BLOODBATH and I'm just waiting to sink my teeth into that one as well! I'd also love to work with directors Billy Clift, Mel House, Eric Stanze and Steve Balderson, they are coming out with great films and put out such quality work! ("Shameless self-promotion, I know... LOL!)" I was recently asked by San Francisco Diva - Peaches Christ' to do the honors of hosting the 2-night Manhattan premiere of her film ALL ABOUT EVIL with Natasha Lyonne on July 30th and 31st. Now THAT is going to be a show, and if you're in town you'd be a fool to miss it! I'm loving my life right now. Doesn't seem to be enough hours in one day lately, but you make the time!

So with writing, directing, producing, acting, even editing and make-up - doing all these things. What gives you the most pleasure and comes the most naturally...and which skill do you look forward to developing even more?

I love ALL of these aspects, no matter which I'm involved in. Of course, I want to develop more as an actor/director/producer because most times I'm doing all three at once. I do have mad organizational skills and the main key is thinking ahead of everyone and being at Step 2 by the time everyone completes Step 1.My favorite part of any film is "Day One" of shooting. Acting is my love, writing is my curse, and directing is a great honor that has been handed to me. But what I really love is location scouting! Get me in a car with a full tank of gas and my camera, and I'm gone baby!

What do you think is your best moment as an actor - thus far?

I really get a kick out of Beefteena Bullion in 'THE BLOOD SHED' because it's such a crazed Kabuki performance and to look so awful and not care was inspiring. She was quite the character to emulate and too much fun - such freedom!! It was a huge playground everyday and a prime example of make up and costumes being vitally important in her portrayal. I also loved playing Urbane in Bart Mastronardi's wonderful 'VINDICATION' - wonderful script! But I think Lane, the gay victim in 'A FAR CRY FROM HOME' (a segment in 'GALLERY OF FEAR') may be my best role so far. I was graced with the Best Actor Award from the 2009 Terror Film Festival and I couldn't have been prouder. It's a role that speaks volumes to many people who have ever felt persecuted, hated, or punished for simply being themselves. I had to dig deep into some terrible places to get there, but it was worth it and certainly expelled a lot of demons for me.

Zombies, werewolves, demons, witches, vampires, serial killers, creatures, aliens, telemarketers...what does it for you horror-wise and why?

Zombies (I can never get enough!), witches and creatures of any sort always do it for me! Serial killers are far too real and terrify me. And I am sooooo totally over the recent curve in vampires and werewolves - they've 'pansied' them out! All this brooding pathos and "Woe is me, I hate what I am" teen romance dribble.... Ugh!! ("Sorry guys, but I was asked! LOL!") What ever happened to mad, ravenous flesh & blood hungry beasts that hid in the dark awaiting hapless victims? The evil from within that could not be contained? Now they all have feelings... Eesh! It's 90210 with hair, fangs and fashionable clothes. "B-O-R-I-N-G!" Before you know it Zombies will be cute and become Vegetarians. Call me an old school purist if you must, but what happened to the scares?

What's the best Halloween costume you ever had?

In the late 70's and 80's we went completely bonkers with outrageous costumes. "Since I sewed I made my best costumes as Mae West, Carmen Miranda" and also made a big hit in Manhattan clubs going as the Andrew Sisters with two of my dearest friend that are no longer with us following the AIDS scourge of the 80's & 90's. Nowadays, I settle into huge comfortable animal costumes that zip up in the back and have giant heads... I just can't get enough of my giant pink rabbit costume once I'm in it.... could live in it for days and I almost got arrested once for having a fit over the bad carrots in the produce section at Pathmark... you think I'm kidding don't you? LOL!

What scares you in real life?

Being broke is always a constant, scary struggle in this business. But that's really life for all of us, isn't it? And not living long enough to achieve all I want to do in this industry is a big fear! There's so many films I want to make ("And just for the record, I'm healthy as a horse and plan on living to at least 98 years old before getting bored with the idea... LOL!)." Aside from that? Probably being eaten alive by huge hairy spiders would be my biggest fear.... LOL! "Hey! It could happen...."