Greg Lamberson is a director, an author and a producer. He also just happens to be the genius behind the cult classic Slime City. During his career, Greg has provided some great and unique films to the horror genre. He’s currently working on a new project, Johnny Gruesome. I had the privilege of talking with him about this new film, some of his old films and some thoughts on the current horror genre.
PopHorror: First off, you have a new film coming out called Johnny Gruesome. For those of us unfamiliar with the film, could you give us a brief synopsis?
Greg Lamberson: Johnny Gruesome is about a high school senior and a heavy metal rebel named Johnny Grissom who is murdered by one of his friends, and his girlfriend and his best friend help the killer make his death look accidental. Johnny wants revenge and rises as a ghost, but realizes pretty quickly that ghosts are impotent. So his spirit possesses his corpse and operates it like a puppet to do his violent deeds. But his body decomposes, and he has a limited amount of time to do the things he wants to do. It’s the classic EC Comics, revenge-from-the-grave tale, except the monster is a teenager and a horror fan. I’ve loved monsters since I was a little kid, and I wrote the script as a reaction to slasher films I watched in the ’70s and early ’80s. I really wanted a monster with a lot of personality.
PopHorror: I know that Johnny Gruesome is based off of your novel of the same name. For you, was it harder to write the book or make the film?
Greg Lamberson: Actually, I wrote the script first back in 1984 when I was 19. I couldn’t raise the budget I wanted to make it, so I made Slime City instead, and I’ve been pretty much stuck at the micro-budget level ever since. I wrote the novelization of the script in 2006 – 22 years later! It was published as a limited edition hardcover in 2007 and as a mass market paperback in 2008. The challenges in the two mediums are like night and day. For the book, I had to add a lot of material because a 90 page script isn’t enough to fill a novel. Most of these added scenes aren’t in the movie for time reasons. The movie was hard because, even though I had my biggest budget – $250,000 – it was still only one third of what I wanted. We had a lot of locations, which means a lot of company moves, and a pretty big cast, and post-production took longer than I would have liked for a variety of reasons. Everything is a challenge on a move.
PopHorror: How satisfying is it to be this close to to finally having the film finished and on people’s screens after working on it for so many years?
Greg Lamberson: It’s unfinished business for me. I’ve loved this character since I created him 33 years ago, and I’m thrilled people will finally get to see him. He’s a great character who could easily carry a series of films. It will be interesting to see how fans of Slime City and fans of the book react to it. For the film. I didn’t feel beholden to the novel; it’s its own beast.
PopHorror: Johnny Gruesome will be starring Anthony De La Torre as Johnny Grissom. He’s currently starring as the young Captain Jack Sparrow in the latest Pirates of the Caribbean film. What’s it been like to work with him? The Johnny Gruesome poster with him on it is really incredible, by the way.
Greg Lamberson: Anthony was really great to work with on set. He was fully committed to the project and took the work seriously but always found time to have fun. I said then and still believe that he’s going to be big. He also plays the drummer Hellhammer in the upcoming Lords of Chaos, about the Norwegian black metal scene. He’s great as Johnny, and the movie is better now than it would have been all those years ago because he’s in it. The entire cast was great. I cast Michael DeLorenzo from New York Undercover as Johnny’s father, and he brought a level of intensity to that character that reminded me of Al Pacino.
PopHorror: Is there a release date set for Johnny Gruesome?
Greg Lamberson: Not yet. We’ve finished the film except for the color grading, which my cinematographer, Matt Nardone, is doing now. I’ve reached out to a few distributors and sales agents and they expressed interest, but not a single one of them has actually watched it yet. It’s a weird business. So it’s a matter of finding the right person to rep the film and not someone who will just treat it as another low budget horror film. The problem today is that so many distributors will throw a film on VOD, and maybe get a DVD in Wal-Mart, and that’s it. I want more than that for this film.
PopHorror: I wanted to touch on Slime City for a little bit. It’s a classic and is really just a fun movie. Where did you come up with the inspiration for that?
Greg Lamberson: I moved from a small town to NYC in 1982, and pimps, prostitutes, drug dealers, homeless people and cultists were suddenly my neighbors. I just sort of processed that environment and wrote about my neighbors! I lived on 34th Street and 9th Avenue during the crack days and passed 42nd Street every day, so that was my milieu. But I’m the first to admit I was heavily influenced by Rosemary’s Baby, The Evil Dead and The Wicker Man, as well as Stephen King’s novella Apt Pupil and Peter Straub’s novel Floating Dragon.
PopHorror: You’ll be attending VHS Fest at the Mahoning Drive-In Theater July 7th and 8th, where they’ll be showing Slime City. What’s it like as a filmmaker to still see people expressing interest in your film 30 years later?
Greg Lamberson: We shot Slime City 31 years ago, it played as a midnight movie 30 years ago, and it was released on VHS 29 years ago! It’s very gratifying that people have kept it in their hearts all these years and that new fans discover it every year. Camp Motion Pictures will release a new VHS re-release at VHS Fest, and they released it and Slime City Massacre on Blu-ray six months ago, and it’s available on Amazon Video and other platforms. It really will not die. I’m not rich or famous. I’m struggling as a filmmaker just as much as when I worked as the production manager on I Was a Teenage Zombie 33 years ago, so I get a kick that people still dig my first film.
PopHorror: Both Johnny Gruesome and Slime City have unique stories, as do your other films, such as Killer Rack. A complaint I see often with horror films is that there isn’t much originality anymore. Viewers are being saturated with reboots, rehashes and remakes. How do you manage to stay fresh with your ideas?
Greg Lamberson: I don’t know that we can call Johnny Gruesome fresh since I wrote the script 33 years ago, but I’ve had a dozen novels published and I’m trying to raise money for two new films that will star Craig Sheffer. I write to surprise myself, and if that happens, I want to turn those scripts or novels into movies. But I think there is a lot of original horror material out there. I co-run Buffalo Dreams Fantastic Film Festival, and every year we receive original films that blow me away. Let the studios make their big budget shit, there will always be original projects coming out of the indie world.
PopHorror: With that being said, there have been some really phenomenal films coming out lately. I just saw It Comes At Night, and I can’t say enough good things about it. Have there been any horror films you’ve seen recently that really stuck out to you?
Greg Lamberson: I haven’t seen It Comes At Night yet, but I will. Between family, my projects and Buffalo Dreams, I’m always behind on what’s in theaters and on VOD. I did love Get Out, and enjoyed 47 Meters Down.
PopHorror: Thank you very much for your time, Greg.
After speaking with Greg Lamberson, I’m anxiously awaiting Johnny Gruesome. Be sure to keep an eye out for any news regarding the film and anything else Greg Lamberson is working on. If you’re in the Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York area, be sure to check out VHS Fest on July 7th and July 8th at the Mahoning Drive-In Theater in Lehighton, PA. Finally, check out the Buffalo Dreams Fantastic Film Festival November 3rd to November 12th. The first week will be held at the Dipson Theaters Eastern Hills Cinema in Williamsville, New York. The final three days will be held at the Screening Room Cinema Cafe in Amherst, New York. I’ll see you there!