With his latest eco-horror novel, an upcoming horror film, and a new stage production of his hit horror comedy, Gregory Lamberson is giving horror fans plenty to love.
Whether it be lively, fun and practical effects driven stories on films like Slime City and Killer Rack, or vividly scary and page turning tales in books such as “Black Creek” and “Carnage Road”, horror fans should get to know Gregory Lamberson. With a passion for horror and storytelling, and his upcoming book turned film Johnny Gruesome, there’s a lot to talk about with Lamberson.
We were thrilled to have had the chance to interview Gregory Lamberson and share his incredible work. We hope you enjoy it!
INTERVIEW WITH WRITER/FILMMAKER GREGORY LAMBERSON
Tell us about ‘Johnny Gruesome’. Having had the idea since the 1980s, how did it feel to finally film it last summer?
I wrote Johnny Gruesome in 1984, at the age of 19. It was my second original script, after Slime City. It was the film I wanted to make, for half a million dollars, and I knew that if I couldn’t raise the money I could shoot Slime City for 10% of that. I sent it in blind to Vestron Video, which had development execs in NYC, and “took a meeting” which I was woefully unqualified to attend. The execs asked all the right questions, and I gave all the wrong answers. So it didn’t happen, and I made Slime City instead. I’ve been a micro-budget filmmaker since then.
Ironically, when I had a picture edit of Slime City, I pitched that to Vestron. They were interested. But right when we were about to begin negotiations the company had its first theatrical hit with Dirty Dancing, and the top dogs decreed they would no longer acquire low budget horror. So I almost had success at a very young age twice with the same company. Because the Slime City deal fell through, it took me an extra year to complete that film, begging for money wherever I could. During that time, the bottom fell out of the low budget horror market. Woe is me.
I revised the script for Johnny a few times over the next decade, but it never changed much and never went anywhere. After my first novel “Personal Demons” was published, I decided to novelize Johnny. In 2007, it was published as a limited edition hardcover by Bad Moon Books, and in 2008 Medallion Press published it as a mass market trade paperback and promoted the hell out of it at BEA, FanExpo and other events. I co-produced a rock CD, Gruesome, with Dean Italiano and Giasone Italiano — they were the sole creators, I just gave them some ideas and co-financed the studio costs — which we released ahead of the novel.
I also directed a sloppy short film/music video based on the songs, which is sort of what led me back into filmmaking after retiring to concentrate on novels. And we released a limited edition Johnny Gruesome mask. We also adapted two chapters into a comic book sampler, which won Best Comic Book at New York City Horror Film Festival. I basically promoted the book as I would a film. It won the IPPY Gold Medal for Horror and was a Bram Stoker Award finalist. And it served a greater purpose, which was to entice Medallion to publish my occult detective series “The Jake Helman Files”. I figured that after 17 years, I had exorcised Johnny from my DNA…
But Johnny had other plans. In 2015, feeling very satisfied with how Killer Rack turned out, I vowed to raise the money to bring Johnny to the screen. About one year later I did, on a $250,000 budget. That’s chicken feed, but it’s five times the budget I had on Slime City, Slime City Massacre and Killer Rack. We’ve locked picture, the score is about 75% complete, and I’m waiting on a new theme song from a big rock musician. We’re also utilizing most of the songs from the Gruesome CD.
Do you plan on bringing ‘Johnny Gruesome’ on the festival circuit like your previous film ‘Killer Rack’ and when do you think audiences will be able to see it?
Right now, I am not planning to take Johnny on the festival circuit. I feel it’s good enough, with high enough production value and star making performances from my leads, that as soon as it’s complete I’ll be looking for distribution. A lot of the more lucrative distributors insist on world premiere rights. If I don’t get the deal I’m looking for, I will look into festivals, but I’m going to be very selective. Timing is everything, so we’ll see what pans out. I think this film could easily lead to a franchise. Johnny is a killer character, no two ways about it.
Having mentioned ‘Killer Rack’, talk about how that became a musical coming this fall and to what capacity will you be involved with that production?
I’ve always wanted to do a horror film in which there would be a completely out of place musical sequence in the middle, and then the film would revert to a non-musical without explanation. Paul McGinnis’s screenplay did not include a musical number, but when I read it the thought did occur to me that this might be the right project. I decided against suggesting it because I didn’t want to make things any harder on us. I became friends with Armand John Petri — not to be confused with Armand Petri, the micro-budget filmmaker — a music producer who recorded top albums for 10,000 Maniacs and Goo Goo Dolls. As it turns out, he’s a colossal horror fan who recorded many great commentary tracks for awesome films.
When my daughter told him I was making a film about “killer boobies,” he told me he had to be involved and started writing the “Killer Rack” theme song. He brought in as collaborator Joe Rozler, who did the arranging for Manowar, among many other things. Armand and Joe are two of the most talented music industry pros in Buffalo, and Armand mentioned to his wife Kim Piazza, an actress friend of mine, that the film should be a musical. That was really all the validation I needed. Paul and I agreed to feature one musical number, which turned into “Funbags,” which Paul (“the cute one”) and Lloyd Kaufman sang.
Except for the climax of the film, it’s the show stopper. Just over a month ago, Armand pitched the film to Neal Radice, Artistic Director of Alleyway Theatre here in Buffalo, the idea of doing it as a stage musical. I am not at all in the know regarding the theatre community here, but Neil is one of the prime drivers. It only took us a few email exchanges to iron out a deal, and another week for him to hammer out a hilarious adaptation that is pretty faithful to Paul’s script. Armand and Joe created three songs for the film, and with Neil they are creating a bunch of new songs. The show is already cast. Kim will be playing the stage version of Debbie Rochon’s character, and the show will run for a month in September/October. I’m not involved at all, except to attend as many performances as they will allow, and maybe to hawk KILLER RACK DVDs on the sidewalk outside the theatre.
“Black Creek” is a book you released last year. Where did the inspiration behind the story come from and do you have any plans to turn that into a film?
Love Canal, Niagara Falls is about 20 minutes from me. It was developed as a possible shipping lane between the US and Canada, then abandoned, and became an industrial waste sight for decades. Toxins in barrels were buried in clay and covered with dirt, and the barrels rusted, the toxins leaked, and flooding from snow melts and regular rainfall spread them. Schools were built over the sites. People’s basements flooded with black sludge. All of this contamination resulted in cancer and crazy birth defects — one child was born with club feet, another with double rows of teeth. It was a huge deal when I was a kid in the 70s, and Jimmy Carter authorized the relocation — a nice word for evacuation — of 800 families.
When I was in college, I happened to take a taxi from Niagara Falls to my home town Fredonia, an hour south of Buffalo. The cabbie was a young guy who told me his wife was pregnant, and they owned a house in Niagara Falls. The government had “rehabbed” some of the contaminated houses and sold them for cheap. I thought this was insane, and knew I would do something with this story one day. Shortly after I moved to Buffalo in 2003, I visited the site, and it’s really creepy — fenced in acreage, basically a park no one is allowed to enter, surrounded on two sides by blocked off streets and abandoned houses, but directly across the street from an occupied neighborhood.
I tell you all of these details because so many people don’t even know this was the worst environmental disaster in US history, the local government turned a blind eye and even covered it up, and to this day there are reports of green slime being discovered in sewer pipes, green chemicals bubbling out of the ice, albino deer, etc. Thank God Jimmy Carter took action. “Black Creek” is the “pretty” name the area was renamed so as not to frighten away prospective home buyers. The eeriest site of all is the million dollar playground built right outside the contamination zone. This shit is real. “Black Creek” is my only eco-horror story, and it’s also my most brutal novel. I don’t have any plans to turn it into a film, because it would be expensive, but I’m certainly open to selling the rights to anyone who can raise that kind of money.
Having used different outlets to tell your stories, do you think of yourself as more of an author or more of a filmmaker? Which process do you consider more difficult?
I am whatever pays my bills at the time. For several years, writing those novels — twelve of them — paid my bills…almost. Now the pendulum has swung in the other direction, and I’m more active as a filmmaker. The novels are more creatively satisfying, because I get to tell my stories exactly as I see them, without any budgetary restrictions on my imagination. But films are way more challenging and fun to create.
What are some of your influences from the horror genre, both literature and film? What books or films would you recommend people seek out and experience?
The Aurora monster model kits are what lit a fire under my ass. I didn’t grow up on the Universal classics, except for The Creature from the Black Lagoon. I grew up on Roger Corman sci-fi films, giant monster movies, and then Hammer. My mother didn’t drive, so we didn’t go to the movies. I had to rely on television and comic books for my entertainment. The TV movie The Night Stalker — not the campy TV show it spawned — was probably my biggest influence. Dan Curtis was the man in my eyes. And later, Marvel’s “The Tomb of Dracula” comic book by Marv Wolfman, Gene Colan and Tom Palmer.
John Waters recently said that the midnight movie is dead. Having made the cult hit midnight movie ‘Slime City’ in the 1980s, what is your take on the “midnight movie” today and do you agree with Waters?
I agree 100%. VHS started to kill the midnight movie, DVD drove the stake deeper, and streaming finished it off. For awhile, film festivals replaced midnight shows. Now it’s the distribution model that permits films to receive limited theatrical releases day and date with VOD releases. I’m constantly amazed that people I know on Facebook are seeing all these great indie horror films I’ve never heard of on VOD. I think it’s a great development.
In addition to everything else you do, you also run the Buffalo Dreams Fantastic Film Fest every year. What is the mission of the fest and why is sharing stories through the medium of film so important to you?
My partner on Buffalo Dreams is Chris Scioli. Last year we expanded to 10 days, which we intend to do again this year. Our goal is to discover the best films we can in all genres and show them on a big screen to people who want more than mainstream Hollywood blockbuster bullshit. We’ve earned a great reputation, I think because we’re not in it for the money and truly love films, and filmmakers travel to it from all over the country and from other countries. It’s become a great avenue for me to meet other filmmakers, and people who come to Buffalo from out of town to screen their work make loyal fans, friends and supporters here. It is corny to say, but true: we’re building a real family. I love these people!
If you could remake any bad or mediocre horror movie from history which one would you choose and why?
Remakes aren’t on my brain, but Marc Makowski, my partner on many of my films dating back to Slime City, has his eye on a cheesy B movie of yore, and I would be game to direct that. I don’t want to say the title because someone else may beat him to the punch!
Lastly, are there any other upcoming projects you are working on that we should keep an eye out for?
I am developing another one of my books as a film right now, and I have a star interested. It’s “just” a matter of raising my biggest budget ever. Right now I’m waiting to hear if I’m being hired to write a screenplay for someone, which could lead to a production role in the fall, and I may be line producing a film next month. I’m also attached to direct a 70s style demolition derby comedy produced and co-written by an actor friend, Bob Rusch. Every one of these projects is in Western New York, things are really taking off here.
I do have something bigger in the pipeline — a director well known to horror fans is developing some of my novels as a potential TV series. That’s really my dream project.