Brendan Cleaves Imagines a Reality Where Dying Isn’t the End in His Horror Comedy ‘The Dead Collectors’

We begin our coverage of FrightFest 2021 with Brendan Cleaves’ The Dead Collectors, a hilarious horror comedy which sees the process of dying turned into a bureaucratic nightmare. It’s wonderfully performed by Ivan Kaye and Elliot James Langridge who embody the sheer haplessness of the collectors, two men who appear so entrenched in the mundanity of their bizarre working life. The Dead Collectors is due to receive its World Premiere at FrightFest this weekend and we caught up with the Director who revealed how he ended up working with a professional brain surgeon on the film’s explosive practical effects.

What inspired the idea of these two hapless men collecting the bodies of the recently deceased? 

I think the idea is routed in normalising something that’s usually considered out of the ordinary or fictionalised. What would happen if the dead returned to life? Any normal person could come back as a monster. How would we deal with it as a society? How would families react when the enforcers came to collect granny after she passed? The idea was to take what normal zombie or living-dead films do and flip the idea on its head a bit. I liked the idea that this is just a job for these men. They have lives outside of their work. What they do is as normal as heading into the city for your 9 to 5. 

Another aspect of the idea holds a strange likeness to reality. I showed the film to a few of my friends who work in the medical industry, these people deal with death daily, it’s part of the job, a hard part, but still made me realise how this darkness was part of their lives and they have to compartmentalise it somehow. As dark as it is, comedy and acceptance of the inevitable go hand in hand.   

How much of the comedy was scripted and how much was improvised? 

I tried to keep to the script, mainly due to an insane schedule. But being comedy there is always a chunk of adlib. Hard to put a figure on it but I generally run a few takes to script and a few off. If we have it, we have it and move on. If we are up against our schedule, annoyingly, sacrifices have to be made sometimes.  

Do you have a method for testing comedy? How do you know what’s written is going to make an audience laugh? 

I didn’t write the script, but some of the ideas in the film I added to accentuate the comedy, story and characterisation. The films I do write I like to rehearse, which we didn’t have the budget for on The Dead Collectors. That’s a good place to boost it but hard with low budget filmmaking. I was just thankful I had some amazing actors to work with who grasped the tone and added to the process. Some of the funniest moments for me were just the looks between Elliot and Ivan. If something is special like that, I tend to know there and then.   

Who did you work with on the practical effects? Was not expecting the grossness! 

You won’t believe me, but a brain surgeon did our main practical effect. It was a bit off-piste, but you have to be creative when you have no budget. We shot the film in my girlfriend’s parent’s house and her Dad, James, who just so happens to be a retired brain surgeon, was super excited about the film and wanted to help out. It was obvious what job I gave him. He spent hours testing out different things we could use as brain to make it as realistic as possible, if anyone knows the colour of exploding brains it’s going to be him. Then we used one of those dog ball throwers to fake the exploding head. Oh, our runner doubled as the dead body as well. Don’t worry we didn’t drag him down the stairs, it was just his feet in the body bag in the back of the van.   

How did you find production in general? What were the challenges you faced in bringing The Dead Collectors… to life (pun intended)? 

It’s always the same with film production, time and money, ha! I did cast Ivan about twenty-four hours before the shoot so that was down to the wire. We had already got the costumes so poor Ivan had to wear a boiler suit three sizes too small, although that may have added to this great performance. We shot late in the year so the light was an issue, all the normal things that try and mess your day up. It was a fun shoot though, I’ve got to thank the great cast and crew for that. Ryan our Production Designer had to cut up the patio furniture covers to make an impromptu body bag because ours never showed up in time.   

And lastly, what’s next for you? 

I’m in the post-production stage with a short I wrote and directed earlier in the year, a total coincidence, but it’s a proper zombie horror this time. I somehow managed to get Craig Charles involved too so I’m excited to get to the festivals in early 2022. I’m also attached to a comedy feature, fingers crossed, shooting next May. I’m also writing a horror-comedy feature in the vein of Evil Dead vs Ghostbusters that has been chugging away since the beginning of the year. 

The Dead Collectors is part of our spotlight on the 2021 edition of FrightFest. You can find the rest of our festival coverage here.

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