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FROM SLIME TO SLIME: AC Exclusive Interview with Director Greg Lamberson
Greg Lamberson is the imaginative director behind such low-budget classics as the super sloppy SLIME CITY (1988), the urban vampire film UNDYING LOVE (1991), the psycho-thriller NAKED FEAR (1999), and the mini-movie music video JOHNNY GRUESOME (2007) , all of which are featured in Pop Cinema’s SLIME CITY GRINDHOUSE COLLECTION.
Greg took some time out of his busy pre-production schedule on the forthcoming SLIME CITY MASSACRE to answer a few questions via the e-mail for us, Thanks Greg.
When did your interest in film and horror in general start?
I've been obsessed with monsters for as long as I can remember which would be about age 3. I loved monster cartoons and comic books with ads for the Aurora monster model kits. Then I bought the actual models, then watched the movies that inspired the models. I just returned from the Bram Stoker Awards in Burbank, where a friend gave me a reproduction of the Aurora Godzilla. I love it!
What made you want to start making films?
I suppose STAR WARS, but movies ruled my life even before that: PLANET OF THE APES, LOGAN'S RUN, THE OMEGA MAN. I always knew I wanted to tell stories I just didn't know what medium it would be in. I thought maybe I'd be a comic book artist, or a stop motion animator. STAR WARS made me realize I wanted to be the one to tell the artists and stop motion animators how to tell my stories.
Romero, of course. And Jack Arnold - I loved CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON and THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN. Richard Matheson was a Special Guest at the Stokers, and it occurred to me that his work had a greater impact on me growing up than anyone else's. I was a child of TV, not a child of books or movies - those came later - and THE NIGHT STALKER and TRILOGY OF TERROR were the biggies for me.
What was the inspiration for SLIME CITY?
In terms of content, a bunch of different things. The liquefying man from Peter Straub's novel Floating Dragon for one, with dashed of THE EVIL DEAD and ROSEMARY'S BABY. In terms of approach - getting a movie made for very little money, no matter what it took - Don Dohler, BASKET CASE and THE DEADLY SPAWN.
I was going to film school, making Super 8 short films, and guerrilla filmmakers were out there making features in 16m that were playing in movie theatres. I never went back for a second year of film school; instead, I worked as production manager for free on I WAS A TEENAGE ZOMBIE.
Was SLIME CITY written with specific actors and locations in mind?
One specific actor, Robert Sabin, the first friend I met in NYC. I was attending the School of Visual Arts as a filmmaker and he was going to NYU as a theatre manager. That's fancy talk for "actor," or "future waiter." We worked together at the same movie theatre and he starred in my first short. He's appeared in every feature I've done, and has a "juicy" role in SLIME CITY MASSACRE. As far as locations, I wrote the film to take place in my Brooklyn apartment, and we found or built the rest.
There were no problems at all having Mary Huner play both of the female leads. I did that out of necessity, but it's only helped the film's reputation. Mary will be back in SLIME CITY MASSACRE too.
If the above question does not qualify as an answer to this one, what was the hardest aspect of the SLIME CITY shoot?
The entire movie was brutal because we bounced around from Brooklyn to Queens to Alphabet City to the Bronx, and the special effects were a chore. The ending was the hardest thing to do because so many effects were involved. It took us four and a half days, and we practically shot around the clock.
Slime City has a couple of wonderfully memorable and impressive effects scenes, how did you meet the fx artist, and how much involvement did you have in the creation and execution of the effects?
Scott Coulter responded to a casting ad I placed in Backstage. He was very pro-active, and brought Tom Lauten into the picture with him. They had already worked on TOXIC AVENGER under Jennifer Aspinell at that point, and were getting ready to do STREET TRASH. They actually did a head cast of Robert's head, but then we were unable to raise the money to make the film.
A year later, when my partners Peter Clark and Marc Makowski were getting ready to make the film, Scott got back in touch with me at just the right time. As it turned out, he and Tom had set up an effects shop a mile from my apartment, so I used to ride my bike over there to watch them work. I had virtually nothing to do with the creation of the film's effects; that was all them bringing my script to life.
I never plan these things out. I don't work from outlines; I just create my characters and a few key scenes and wing it. When I get to a moment that feels like it needs a little shot in the arm, I see what comes out of my brain. In this case, ectoplasm came out, so I stuck with it.
The theatrical release was great: six weekends of glory. Well, five weekends. We died opposite RAMBO III on the sixth weekend, or there would have been a seventh. People loved it: they laughed and screamed and applauded. And then the run ended, and we looked for a video deal.
What led to your working on Frank Henenlotter's BRAIN DAMAGE?
Jimmy Muro, who directed STREET TRASH, went to SVA with Peter Clark and me. He had worked as a PA on BASKET CASE, which was consequently a very popular film among those of us living in the dorm. He introduced Peter to Frank, and later I met him at a video store where Peter and I worked. We moved a lot of copies of BASKET CASE at that store - it was one of the first films to cost only $20 - and we became friends.
He hooked me up with his producer, Edgar Ievans, who in turn hooked me up with their attorney, Jerry Gold. Jerry drew our contracts, which he also just did for SLIME CITY MASSACRE, and I interviewed him for my filmmaking book, CHEAP SCARES! Low Budget Horror Filmmakers Share Their Secrets. I worked as Frank's assistant director on BRAIN DAMAGE, which we filmed on a soundstage we built in a warehouse across the street from my old dorm.
I worked on BRAIN DAMAGE while I was editing SLIME CITY, then shot my second film, UNDYING LOVE, after that. UNDYING LOVE is a much better written and directed film than SLIME CITY. What I may have learned form Frank, I 'm not sure; but the guy is a wealth of exploitation film history, so watching him do things the right way must have taught me something.
What do you think was behind the brief spat of ultra gooey New York lensed horror films such as BRAIN DAMAGE, STREAT TRASH, and SLIME CITY that cropped up in the late eighties? Was there something that caused a community of people to want a more drippy film, or maybe just something in the New York water?
I think people were ready for something a little more creative than the standard slasher films from the 1970s, and home video created a demand for product. Horror films are always the cheapest films you can make because you don't need stars. Because more films were being made, some of us were bound to be a little more creative. And in the midst of all this activity, special make-up effects artists became stars in their own right. So they were creating gags and pushing the envelope, and filmmakers were doing the same thing.
I budgeted SLIME CITY for $35,000, expecting it to go to $50,000, which it did. We got the extra money from a foreign sales rep, who advanced it to us. The market for low budget horror films dried up, so I decided to make a film that could actually be made for $35,000, and it was. A vampire film does not require elaborate special effects. I wrote it as a simpler project, but one that would rely on mood, characters and story.
What led to the name change from UNDYING LOVE to NEW YORK VAMPIRE? Was it purely a distributor’s decision?
Absolutely. I love the title UNDYING LOVE. Mike Raso hated it. He said it sounded like a Meryl Streep film. I was just glad he picked it up, because it sat around dormant for a few years after its midnight run. But it will finally be released as UNDYING LOVE on the new DVD, GREG LAMBERSON'S SLIME CITY GRINDHOUSE COLLECTION. It's my favorite of my three films, even though it lacks the outrageous aspects of SLIME CITY MASSACRE. I thought Tommy Sweeney was really good in it.
Your third film NAKED FEAR is a really interesting small cast project that almost seems like it could have been performed as a play. What was the creative process behind this story and location shooting? You got some great footage of the end of the old movie theaters.
I was ready to hang it up as a filmmaker when I saw J.R. Bookwalter's OZONE, which was shot on Super VHS. I told my partner, Marc Makowski, "Let's do one more of these, using the same cast, for as little money as possible."
I wanted to do a movie in which I pitted Robert Sabin, the star of SLIME CITY, against Tommy Sweeney, the star of UNDYING LOVE, sort of a psychotic twist on THE ODD COUPLE, which I love. I designed the script to be shot on one location, but that evolved into two locations. Then the running time came up short, so I opened the story up a lot and expanded Tommy Sweeney's role.
One hindrance was that we didn't know that when we plugged our little Hi-8 camcorder into a wall socket it created a buzz on the audio track, which we never heard. It forced me to dub the entire film, which took years because my editor, Phil Gallo, was busy on a movie that he had directed.
Another was that the format sucked; it had dropouts everywhere. The only good thing I can say about shooting that film on video is that we were able to shoot more takes, which enabled the actors to bring more to the table.
UNDYING LOVE played as a midnight movie for five weekends at the Village East Cinemas in NYC. It received good reviews in New York Daily News and Variety, and then went into limbo until Mike acquired it for E.I. Cinema.
I suppose he really rescued it. It was harder to screen NAKED FEAR because there weren't many video venues back then, but we showed it at Millenium and at Two Boots' Den of Cin, which I managed. Roy Frumkes gave it a positive review on Films in Review, but it came out when Mini-DV was hot and nobody cared about a feature shot on Hi-8. So it died, which is one of the reasons why I decided to quit filmmaking. Too much work, too little glory, and no money.
Your mini-movie JOHNNY GRUESOME has apparently been a long evolving process of story and media shifting among script, film, novel, and comic book. Can you give us a brief history and understanding of its history?
I wrote the screenplay for JOHNNY GRUESOME when I was 19 years old, after finishing the script for SLIME CITY. It was a much bigger project, one that could not be done on a micro-budget. Vestron Video showed some initial interest but passed, so I made SLIME instead.
In a perfect world, SLIME would have been a surprise success and someone would have given me the money to make JOHNNY GRUESOME. But that didn't happen, so the script went into a drawer. Every few years I'd take it out and think, "This is really good. This will make on hell of a movie."
But it never happened. I later became a novelist with Personal Demons, which is my favorite creation. As a follow up novel I dusted off JOHNNY GRUESOME and rewrote is a novel. I also co-produced a rock CD based on it, and the music video - or "Mini-Movie" - uses songs from the CD. I also partnered with a sculptor on a collectible JOHNNY GRUESOME mask, and two on-line comics based on the character won the New York City Horror Film Festival's Best Comic Book Award.
Are there plans to expand the mini-movie version of JOHNNY GRUESOME into a feature film? I'm sure it would go over well as festival audiences seem to love the short version.
If someone wants to give me $3 million to make the movie the way I think it needs to be made, great. Or they can give me $1 million for the rights and make it themselves. But I've become a much better storyteller now that I'm a novelist, and there are film projects I'm more passionate about. I think I've told the story the way I want to in the novel.
2001, after 9/11. Personal Demons was also based on a screenplay I wrote, albeit one with a higher budget than I could ever raise. An agent from William Morris told me, "I love this, but it would cost $100 million! What have you got for $10 million?" So I wrote Johnny Gruesome, and now a few people are looking at it,
I never planned to make a sequel to SLIME CITY or I would have done it. People who know me know that when I say I'm going to do something, I do it. I never thought there was a creative reason to do a sequel back then, I just left that hoary "To be continued" ending on because that's what we did back in the 80s.
I changed my tune less than a year and a half ago, when I attended a bunch of 20th anniversary screenings with Robert Sabin and Mary Huner. Really wild story ideas came to me, but I held off writing the script because I knew that once I committed those ideas to paper, I'd have to make the movie. And that's what happened: I wrote the script and now I have to make the movie.
Robert and Mary will both be back, that's the main thing. This time Robert will playing Zachary, the occultist who possessed his character in the original film, in a series of flashbacks set in 1959 which are interspersed through the story like the flashbacks in LOST. Mary will be playing her "good girl" character from the original in the main body of the film, which takes place in a post apocalyptic future.
Robert and Mary will both be playing supporting characters that are key to the story, which is about four squatters who discover Zachary's wine and yogurt and become possessed. The film stars Jennifer Bihl, a local actress here in Buffalo, and Kealan Patrick Burke, a popular horror author, and Debbie Rochon, Lee Perkins, and Brooke Lewis. I wrote a strong role for Debbie that I think she's going to have a lot of fun with and her fans will love.
I'm really excited to be working with this cast. Returning from my previous films are Tom Sweeney, T.J. Merrick (SLIME CITY), and Eric Mache (UNDYING LOVE).
As I previously mentioned the gore effects from SLIME CITY, what can the viewers expect on the gory side of SLIME CITY MASSACRE?
This film is designed to be a balls to the wall homage to the splatter flicks o the 1980s and it features an insane amount of special effects. I have a huge crew of guys, local and out of town. There will be gore, slime - a lot of slime, and things I don't want to discuss. We're doing some things old school, like the appliances for the four slime heads and the rod puppets for the brains, but we'll be enhancing everything with CG. I honestly think horror fans are going to be blown away.
Thank you again for your time and in closing, what is next for Greg Lamberson?
Personal Demons will be reprinted as a paperback in October. It will be the first volume in an ongoing series called "The Jake Helman Files." I've already delivered the first sequel, but I don't know when it will be published.
Next year, my werewolf novel The Frenzy Way will be published and SLIME CITY MASSACRE will be on the film festival circuit. I don't know if I'll make any more films after that; we'll just have to see.