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Gregory Lamberson: The Man, The Myth, The Maniac (Interview)

bottle eyesOne of my fondest memories of college was that there was a little video store between my studio apartment and the campus of NIU.  It was at this little video store – one of the last of a dying breed – that I discovered an insane amount of hidden gems in the world of horror – see, though this was 2007, about 60% of this joint’s horror selections were on VHS only – I’m talking GEMS that never survived to make it to DVD in a lot of cases.  This place was like stumbling across an archeological dig – where else could one find the Return to Boggy Creek and Dark Night of the Scarecrow – complete with their bitchin’ oversized VHS covers?  (Yes, I know Scarecrow now has a DVD release.)

Well, one rainy day, I took shelter in ye olde video hut and perused the horror section for something that would complete the motif of a gloomy and rainy day – I needed something insane….something colorful…something….else…

Behold the instrument of my youthful transcendence into colorful and slimy depravity, Greg Lamberson’s 1988 Slime City – on VHS of course!

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The film follows the adventures of a chap named Alex who just rented a new apartment.  This apartment is home to strange inhabitants, some of which offer him some funky “Himalayan yogurt” which makes this the second movie of the 1980s to involve killer/dangerous yogurt – I speak of course of Larry Cohen’s 1985 The Stuff.  Anyways – Alex undergoes a metamorphosis and the insanity gets turned up to 11 in the third act – does he become a beautiful slime covered butterfly?  I leave that for you to experience, faithful readers.

Slime City is a fantastic ride into low-budget horror awesomeness that wouldn’t see a sequel for a good 22 years (!) – but fear not, there were some gems – both in the world of film, as well as the written world – from Lamberson in-between those two decades…

 

Three years after Slime City dropped, Lamberson’s dark and gritty Undying Love told the tale of a man who has given up on life – the film STARTS with his suicide attempt – and ends up traversing the underground world of vampires – like you do.  This energetic film has it all – insane arterial squirts, solid acting, and even some raw-meat eating!  The beauty of this film is that it is FUN – the pacing is perfect, and clocking in at just under 75 minutes, the film never seems to drag – like so many low-budget movies tend to.

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Lamberson’s third film, Naked Fear dropped in 1999, and was about an agoraphobic and a claustrophobic and the adventures they get into – mainly of the serial killing variety!  The movie has boobs, blood, and the best one-liners – “He’s collected his last tip!” said after a man is stabbed to death.  Super hard to find, but worth the hunt!

2007 saw the release of a short film titled Gruesome – coinciding with the release of his first book – Johnny Gruesome – a tale of revenge wrought on by a high school student named Johnny Grissom who was a badass, think a satanic Fonz –but even cooler.  Johnny’s car was found in the local creek with his body inside – what led to this tragedy – why are Johnny’s enemies getting knocked off in mysterious ways – and what is the secret all of his friends are holding?  The short film, only 8 minutes long, features the always lovely Erin Brown – AKA Misty Mundae – and showcases some brutal and sweet revenge at the hands of Johnny Fuckin’ Gruesome!  The book went on to win Lamberson the Dark Scribe Magazine’s “Best Small Press Chill” Black Quill Award in 2008.

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It was in 2009 that Lamberson dropped his next book – Personal Demons – which earned him the IPPY Gold Medal for Horror.  The book centers around a cocaine-addicted Homicide Task Force agent named Jake Helman who, while taking a new job as a security director, uncovers a diabolical corporation’s plan that involves stealing souls from people – incredibly intriguing and insane!

2010 was a busy year for Lamberson when two (!) books – The Frenzy Way and Desperate Souls, as well as the highly anticipated Slime City Massacre all dropped on the world like an atom bomb of brain-melting, mutant-spawning, slime-spewing radiation of pure awesome.

The Frenzy Way concerns a demented serial killer (or is it?) that leaves partially eaten human chunks of meat at crime scenes – Dexter eat your heart out – Captain Mace has this one.  Desperate Souls follows our favorite cocaine-addicted protagonist Jake Helman in the next chapter of his adventures – this time involving the dark power of Voodoo (and zombies?!) set in Lower Manhattan.

The world of independent horror was holding its breath since 1988 – an astounding 22 years for a sequel to Slime City and holy shit did Lamberson deliver!  Slime City Massacre follows four homeless people residing in Slime City – a post-dirty bombed New York City – those bastards even got Lloyd Kaufman in the blast!  What follows is a tale with our favorite Himalayan Yogurt, countless acts of slime-infused debauchery, and an amazing character metamorphosis in a bathtub that has to been seen to be believed!

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Faithful readers of Lamberson received additional entries in the Jake Helman saga in 2011 with the release of Cosmic Forces – which had Private Investigator Helman diving deep into the world of cults and supernatural creatures – as well as in 2013 with Storm Demon, – which pits Helman against an ancient beast known as the Storm Beast hell-bent on destruction.  One thing is sure; the Jake Helman saga would make an incredible series of movies given both the subject matter and stories.  Eat it, Peter Jackson.

Lamberson shows no signs of stopping or even slowing down – and to be honest, the world needs more maniacs like him.

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Cinema Holocaust was able to have a quick chat with Mr. Greg Lamberson – about future works, about writing techniques, and about cannibalism.  Here’s what went down –

Cinema Holocaust –   What inspired you to get into writing? Into film?

Greg Lamberson – I loved monsters, cartoons and comic books as early as age four.  I really can trace my obsession back that far.  As was the case for many genre filmmakers my age, there was a natural progression from the Aurora monster models to watching Hammer horror films.  At various times I wanted to be a comic book artist or a stop motion animator, but it was always about telling stories in a visual medium.  An inordinate amount of my youth was spent obsessing over Planet of the Apes, Logan’s Run and Star Wars.  From seventh grade on I knew I was going to write and direct.

CH –  Did you ever think when you were making Slime City that it would become such an underground cult-classic, and when did you realize it?

GL – I thought it was going to be bigger!  I thought it was going to lead to a big career, like The Evil Dead did for Sam Raimi, or it would at least lead to larger low budgets, like Basket Case did for Frank Henenlotter.  Then the bottom dropped out of the home video market and reality set in.  There was a point when Camp Home Video, the film’s first distributor, went under owing us at least thirteen grand, and its head operator disappeared and the rights were tied up, when I thought the film would disappear forever, but as soon as the seven year term of that contract expired, Mike Raso from Alternative Cinema re-rereleased it on VHS, and then on DVD a few years later, and then re-released it on DVD with a couple of my other films a few years ago.  Mike’s been a champion of the film, and I’ve worked pretty hard keeping it out there.  We also sold it to about ten countries back in the late 80s, so people all over the world who watched it as a kid have fond memories of it.  Hell, I even like it now.

CH – Where did the inspiration for Slime City come from?

GL – An easier question is, “Where didn’t the inspiration come from?”  There’s a certain autobiographical aspect to the story – I moved to NYC from a small town when NYC was sleazy and fun.  I cobbled together bits from Rosemary’s Baby, The Wicker Man, The Evil Dead, Peter Straub’s novel Floating Dragon, put it in a blender, and probably served the milkshake before it was quite ready.  The script was ultimately based on a Super 8 short I made at the School of Visual Arts at the end of 1982 called Bad Worms.  My roommate, Tom Merrick, starred in the short and played Jerry, the best friend who gets his head smashed on the floor in the feature.  I love that the film has diehard fans, and I appreciate them.

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CH – The long-awaited sequel, Slime City Massacre, dropped in 2010 – how did it feel coming back to the gooey world and adding another chapter to it?

GL – I don’t know that anyone was waiting for SCM, but it was a great experience – the best I’ve ever had making a film.  I only went to film school for one year, and I consider my first three features – Slime City, Undying Love and Naked Fear – my personal film school.  Undying Love and Naked Fear had even lower budgets than Slime City, and are even more obscure, but they show some progression in terms of filmmaking.  I threw in the towel after Naked Fear – I got married, moved to Buffalo, and became a novelist.  But I always felt I had something left to prove as a filmmaker, and Slime City Massacre became the vehicle that drove me back into the ring.  It was the first film I made that I truly like.  I do have a story for a third one, but I don’t know if I’ll ever make it.  I’m not pleased with the way Media Blasters handled its release and marketing, and not enough people have seen it, so we’ll have to see if it develops a following like Slime City did.

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CH – Did many people catch the reference to Muro’s Street Trash with the quick cameo of a Tennefly Viper bottle in Slime City Massacre?

GL – The Viper bottle, but also Belial in his basket.  Belial tried the Viper and melted.  I think most people get it.  We had a premiere in New York City, and Roy Frumkes and Frank Henenlotter were both in the audience, which was fun.  SCM wasn’t just a sequel to Slime City, but an appreciation of the other NYC horror comedy sleaze films of the era – Basket Case, Street Trash, and with Lloyd Kaufman’s cameo, the Troma films.

CHUndying Love AKA New York Vampire had some incredible energy behind it – what to you is the hardest part about film-making – especially when you are as involved as you are in your movies?

GL – Thank you – Undying Love was my favorite of my films until I made SCM.  Every aspect of filmmaking is hard, but if you handle them right, every aspect is fun.  I suppose raising the money is the hardest part.  That’s a bitch.

CH –   You’ve worked with Frank Henenlotter on Brain Damage as First Assistant Director – how did that experience influence your future work?

GL – I’d already filmed Slime City when I worked on Brain Damage, so Frank’s knowledge as a filmmaker and film historian on the set of Brain Damage didn’t help me as much as it would have had the order been reversed.  However, when I first moved to NYC Basket Case was playing as a midnight movie and it played a role – along with The Deadly Spawn and The Evil Dead, which both played at a movie theater I worked at – in my decision to bail on film school after a year.  I wanted to learn how to make features, and all I was making were shorts, and I saw that 16m horror films were getting into theaters, so I took the plunge.  I wrote Slime City, then worked on I Was a Teenage Zombie, then shot Slime City, then worked on Brain Damage.  I think Frank’s influence on me was long term, though – I don’t know if I ever would have come up with Debbie Rochon melting into a puddle of slime in SCM if the universe had not produced Frank.

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CH – What would be your cinematic dream-team of actors (dead or alive)?

GL – I’m a child of TV and an adult of TV.  I’ve dreamed of working with Jonathan Banks ever since Wiseguy was on TV.  Now Breaking Bad has probably made him untouchable.  But I’m not a star fucker, I’m quite happy working with the actors I have – Debbie, Robert Sabin, Mary Huner Bogle, Tommy Sweeney, Lee Perkins, Brooke Lewis, and recently Kevin Van Hentenryck.  There’s a long list of people, and here in Buffalo I have sort of a repertory company of regulars I’ve directed.

CH – What was the funniest thing that has happened on set while shooting?  The scariest?

GL – The funniest: in the big fight at the end of Slime City, Robert Sabin picks up Mary Huner and tosses her onto a drawing table which he uses as a dining room table.  Robert and Mary choreographed the action so that Robert would grab Mary, she’d jump in the air, and he’d sort of boost her jump and guide her onto the easel.  They were great.  Up she went – and down came the easel, which completely broke apart from her weight, which must have been all of 100 lbs. (105, if I remember the stats on her resume correctly).  There was a brief moment of panic that Mary had hurt herself, and then we broke into hysterics as soon as we realized she was okay.   Tom Lauten and Scott Coulter, our effects men, reassembled and the rebuilt the easel and we continued.

The scariest: On Slime City Massacre, Jennifer Bihl was sort of skipping through our deserted train station location to use the bathroom.  She was in her slime head make-up, and she was wrapped up in an ace bandage, and she fell through and uncovered pit in the floor.  On the way down, she grabbed onto a rusty piece of metal and almost lost her fingers.  She went to the ER covered in slime, fake blood, and a lot of real blood, and needed surgery.  I’d never had an accident like that on set before, and it was really distressing and weighed heavily on me.  Jen showed up for work the next day, which was incredible.  Four years later, I still get knots in my stomach just thinking about it.  I’m not someone who asks his actors to do dangerous stunts; it just isn’t worth it on a low budget film without stunt and safety experts around.

CH – Not many directors get to direct what they wrote – how has this freedom aided in telling your ultimate vision for your films?

GL – I’m a disbeliever in the whole auteur theory because film is such a collaborative medium, but I like writing and directing, and it’s one of the few advantages of being an indie filmmaker.  Sometimes it works to the disadvantage of the film – the director I work with sometimes discards the ideas of the writer I work with a little too easily to make his day.  That writer guy seems pretty happy during pre-production, but a running joke where I live is that the director never smiles on set.  I actually think that’s the producer, but they’re hard to tell apart.

CH – You have been a director, writer, line producer, producer, assistant director, and production manager on films – which do you find most challenging?

GL – The hardest is doing all of them at the same time, and I wish that was a joke.  They’re all hard, and the level of difficulty is determined by the circumstances of each production, and the people who you work with.  Slime City Massacre was a really big film made on a $50,000 budget.  We shot 90% of that film in ruins with no electricity or running water, we had an enormous cast, 100 extras, and a large SFX team.  To be the onset producer in addition to writing and directing was an enormous task.  But last year I was the line producer and 1st AD on Model Hunger, which Debbie directed, and on Battledogs, a big SyFy movie which Chris Olen Ray produced, and I worked just as hard on those as I did on my own film.  It’s about giving everything you’ve got, which is exhausting.

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CH – Describe your writing style – are you more methodical or impulsive – or both?

GL – In terms of my screenwriting, I’m pretty impulsive.  I create the characters, a few key scenes, and let myself go.  It’s different with my novels – I don’t like to outline them, that robs them of spontaneity, but most of them are chapters in a series, so I have an overall arc I’m working toward.

CH – Which of your written books are you most proud of – which one was the most intense journey for you in writing?

GL – I’m proudest of The Jake Helman Files, a series comprised so far of five books – Personal Demons, Desperate Souls, Cosmic Forces, Tortured Spirits and Storm Demon, which was just published.  I view it as one long work – the sixth book will be published in March 2015.  Within those, I suppose Tortured Spirits is my favorite, but only because it builds on everything that came before it in the series.  The most intense writing experience was Johnny Gruesome, which has the simplest story.  My daughter had just been born, and I quit my job to write full time, and quickly discovered that writing full time while being a stay at home parent with a newborn amounted to squeezing in two or three hours a night and falling asleep at the keyboard.

CH – Do you put a little bit of yourself into the characters you write – is there a little bit of you in Johnny Gruesome?

GL – Of course.  I’m sure there’s a little bit of every author in every character he creates.  I wrote the screenplay for Johnny Gruesome in 1983, right after I wrote the script for Slime City.  It’s a story about teenagers, and I was 18 or 19 when I wrote it.  It’s hard for me to believe, but it’s only been seven years since I wrote the novel version, so I was 42 then.  Eric, the protagonist, and Johnny, the teenage zombie slasher, were both different sides of me from the get go, but to make writing the novel more interesting for me, I really made it about my high school life in Fredonia, New York.  Jake Helman is my signature character, so I put a lot of myself into him – he’s a wise ass just like me, and I like to think that I don’t give up and fight the good fights when they come along.  Tony Mace, the hero in my werewolf series The Frenzy Cycle, is a police captain – he’s middle management, trying to protect his subordinates from his superiors, and I’ve been there.

CH – I actually had the honor of meeting you in Toronto a few years back at FanExpo – what is your craziest convention story?  Any crazy fans? Was it hard to focus sitting next to Erin Brown?

GL – I love going to FanExpo, and I’ll be back with Medallion Press this year.  I don’t think I have a single crazy convention story – I go, I try to be personable, I’ll talk to anyone who comes up to me, I work the shows pretty hard, but at the end of the day I get dinner with my family and crash hard.  I love doing the shows, but they’re exhausting.  I’m actually less interested in all of the celebrities than I am in the fans, especially at FanExpo, where Medallion has built up a following for me over the years. I worked with Erin on the Johnny Gruesome short film, by the way.

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CH – What are some of your favorite movies? Favorite books?

GLGunga Din, King Kong, The Maltese Falcon, The Graduate, Taxi Driver, The Wild Geese, Goodfellas, Rocky –  the list goes on and on; The World According to Garp, A Prayer for Owen Meany, The Risk Pool, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay.

CH – What makes YOU squirm?

GL – Cleaning my cats’ litter boxes. I don’t have a lot of unpleasant reactions to things.  During my 21 years in NYC I had a meat cleaver pulled on me, someone fired a .32 at me from fifteen feet away, me and a friend got into a brawl with drug dealers in the middle of 42nd Street, I was robbed by a guy with an AK-47, and a train almost sliced and diced me and a buddy while we were drunkenly walking through a subway tunnel one night.  Experiences like those kind of fortify you.

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CH – What was your worst nightmare – and have you ever used that in your work?

GL – I only sleep five hours a night, so I crash within a couple of minutes of lying down, and I never remember my dreams.  I sleep soundly.

CH – Tell us a little bit about your upcoming films – both Dry Bones and Killer Rack.

GLDry Bones stars Michael O’Hear, who appeared in both Slime City Massacre and Snow Shark: Ancient Snow Beast (which I produced), Debbie Rochon, and Kevin VanHentenryck.  It’s a horror comedy about a middle aged guy who returns to his childhood home – and the monster that terrified him as a boy.  People who have seen it think it’s my best film, and it really is sort of a bookend to Slime City.  It’s a horror comedy that’s genuinely funny and may have the first real scares in anything I’ve done.  It starts out as sort of a mid thriller, gets into some outrageous territory, and has a lengthy sequence of over the top succubus sex scenes that I believe will help it achieve a reputation.  It should be out on DVD this summer, shortly after The Legend of Six Fingers, which I produced for writer-director Sam Qualiana.

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Killer Rack is a flat out comedy, although it has horror elements to its story.  It was written by Paul McGinnis, who has a supporting role in Dry Bones.  It will be the first script written by someone else that I’ve directed, and when I read it I told Paul I had to make it.  It’s the hilarious story of an insecure woman who gets breast implants which turn out to be Lovecraftian creatures.  I’m producing it with Paul and our mutual friend Rod Durick, who’s a special make-up effects artist, and I expect it will be the last micro-budget movie I make.  I have bigger things in development, including a possible movie or TV series based on my novella Carnage Road, which Craig Sheffer optioned.

CH – If you could get away with it, would you indulge in cannibalism?

GL – I like pizza and cow – people, not so much.  But cannibalism will play a role in a novel I’m writing for Medallion which will be published in 2015.  I’d also like to plug a novel I have coming out in a couple of months called The Julian Year, which is about possession on a global scale.  It’s the most ambitious thing I’ve written, and it’s the first TREEbook (Timed Reading Experience E-book), a unique e-book platform which Medallion created which uses time triggers and branching technology to tell multiple versions of a single story.  It’s insane; there’s never been anything like it: you download the Medallion Media Group Sidekick app for free from iTunes, and purchase The Julian Year through the app.  The app measures each reader’s individual average reading pace, and the reader’s personal reading habits cause the story to branch off in different directions.  In one branch, a character will be the main character; in another, he’ll be a supporting character; in one he’ll be a hero; in another, a villain; and in still another he may get killed.  And there will be multiple endings.  It’s not a Choose Your Own Adventure because you’re not choosing anything – it’s a passive experience, and the branching is seamless.  You won’t even know the story’s changed until you reach the end and the tree graph appears showing you which path(s) you followed.

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A very special thank you to Mr. Gregory Lamberson for hanging out with Cinema Holocaust!

Be sure to check out his slime-covered website HERE, and to join the Cinema Holocaust army on Facebook HERE.

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This entry was posted on January 1, 2014 by in Cinema Holocaust and tagged , .
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