*Editor’s Note – Up and coming horror journalist Amanda Rebholz spoke with Indie horror director Mike Lombardo and we’re excited as hell to share it with you fright fanatics! We’re definitely looking forward to hearing more from both Amanda and Mike Lombardo! – Jerry
“Mike Lombardo: Reel Splatter, Surreal Talent” by Amanda Rebholz
Several years ago I was asked to be a part of a documentary about independent horror movies, and as a result of my involvement I was flown to Pennsylvania to film a segment with the rest of the cast. While everyone there were warm and wonderful, there was a boy about my own age who I couldn’t help but notice. He had vivid, brightly-colored tattoos and a messy mop of hair and a grin that took over his entire face. Within ten minutes we were obsessively discussing our mutual love of “Jason X” and its many tie-in novels, and we spent the rest of the party huddled in our own corner geeking out about splatterpunk as a genre and dark comedy elements in horror.
At the time, he was just the guy who I befriended at a party. Then he sent me a copy of “Suburban Holocaust“, a DVD of what was essentially his demo reel, and I knew he was much more than that.
He was a talent to watch, a wildly creative and ambitious filmmaker, writer and self-taught special effects artist. He was horror’s newest kid brother, tousling the genre’s hair while simultaneously kicking it in the shins.
Spending his days working at a pizza shop in Pennsylvania, Lombardo seems like just another weirdo horror fan when you talk to him or see him on social media. He’s deviously intelligent when forming a case for or against a film, and he has a wicked sense of humor that both shocks, offends, and makes you laugh hysterically once his delivery is complete. Horror literature icon Brian Keene is a personal friend as well as a sort of mentor, and he’s dedicated books to Mike. His work has been featured in numerous anthologies of short stories, and his films and shorts have played at festivals and conventions all over the country. His latest endeavor is a bleak feature that sharply veers from his usual blend of black comedy and over-the-top gore; titled “I’m Dreaming of a White Doomsday“, Lombardo’s new film is a holiday-themed version of ‘The Road‘ and he not only wrote, produced and directed it but he did all of the makeup work himself, often using Youtube tutorials or reaching out to FX mentors to teach himself new techniques to pull off effects he’d never attempted before. On the day that ‘Fangoria’ released the official poster for his film, Lombardo sat down with me for an interview.
You’ve had a lifelong love of horror. Do you remember what in particular set you on the path to wanting to create your own?
Honestly I can’t recall a point in my life where I didn’t want to be a “horror movie maker”. As a kid I was always obsessed with making things and watching horror movies so it was a very natural progression for me. I think the earliest influences I can pinpoint are my Creepy Crawler oven and the Halloween store. I would spend hours and hours damn every day making Creepy Crawlers, which is how I learned about moldmaking. Trips to the Halloween store and marveling over the fake body parts (something that ended up on my Christmas list every year, much to the obvious delight of my parents) and masks. I would take all the Halloween props and bugs I made and cover them in one of the myriad of slimes readily available at the toy store (the early 90’s were a great time to be a weird kid who loved gross shit) and recreate scenes from C.H.U.D. and Aliens in my living room. I don’t even want to think about how many times I heard my mom scream at me “NO MORE BLOOD IN THE HOUSE, MICHAEL!” I also spent a large portion of my childhood lost in the aisles of the Horror section at my local video store picking out the VHS tapes with the most lurid and gory covers. Making movies just seemed the perfect life for me.
You’ve cited TROMA as an influence on your formative years as a filmmaker. What specifically about TROMA inspired you or helped you develop your own voice?
Troma sucked me in initially with their over the top violence and whacked out comedy and as I got into my teenage years and really started playing filmmaker, the whole DIY punk rock ethic of Troma and being an upraised middle finger to the Hollywood system and censorship just sang to my soul. I loved the attitude, the self-deprecating and meta humor they did. Stuff like Terror Firmer just blew my mind and my new dream was to one day work for Troma. If you look at my old short films from when I was in high school, they are just big love letters to Troma. I still say that Lloyd Kauffman’s books are the best how-to filmmaking guides I’ve ever read. Make Your Own Damn Movie and All I Needed To Know About Filmmaking I Learned From The Toxic Avenger are invaluable resources to someone who trying to get into the world of indie film.
You’ve done everything from writing and directing to special FX. Does one aspect come easier to you than another? What’s been your biggest challenge to date?
I think of the three, writing is certainly the easiest for me, and probably the most fun. I am constantly writing throughout the day, be it scripts, short stories, or just fragments of ideas for both, especially when I’m at my day job in the pizza shop. Sometimes it feels like I have a swarm of insects in my head all the time trying to get out and frantically scribbling pieces of dialogue or a cool FX scene down on an order slip is the only way to get them out. Doing FX work is more entertaining, but also infinitely more frustrating because of the potential for screwing up something you’ve spent 60 hours working on by accidentally nudging a paintbrush half a centimeter in the wrong spot. Directing is always a blast because you get to see all the preparation and notes coming to life on set and you can really get what’s been screaming in your head for so long out on screen. There is nothing more satisfying than seeing your mutant little film baby coming to life. My biggest challenge thus far is working on I’m Dreaming of a White Doomsday. There were days where we were literally shooting outside in -18 degree weather because our apocalyptic locations were normally patrolled and we knew that no one would be outside to catch us shooting. It was just insane.
Your particular brand of horror tends to have a very absurd, wrong sense of humor about it. Where does that come from?
I blame Peter Jackson, Sam Raimi, The Adventures of Pete & Pete, Ren & Stimpy, The Kids in the Hall, Upright Citizen’s Brigade, and Tales From The Crypt for that. I grew up watching the most bizarre stuff as a kid and it definitely shaped my sense of humor and love of the macabre.
What do you feel is one of the biggest struggles indie filmmakers face today? Do you think institutions like TROMA have make it easier or harder for upstart filmmakers to get their product out there to an audience? (I.E.- is it harder to be taken seriously since so many of their indie films are so schlocky/poorly-executed on purpose, or does it make it easier since there’s a built-in audience who go in knowing what to expect?)
I think the biggest struggle facing indie filmmakers is being taken seriously. People are so used to having billion dollar CG demo reels shoved in their faces that when they see something that has a studio name on it that isn’t owned by Disney they assume its garbage. The saddest part of that is that most of the time it IS garbage. The problem facing indie filmmakers is indie filmmakers. The technology has never been more accessible and affordable to people and with the internet and youtube, everyone can put their work out there to see. This should be a wonderful thing that is helping the indie community progress by leaps and bounds but it’s not. For every independent film that is made by a small group of dedicated artists struggling to make something great with inhuman amounts of hardwork and dedication, there are a thousand “filmmakers” that just grab an iPhone and shoot some bullshit with no attempt to whatsoever at making a quality film. Troma pioneered a sub genre of B movie aesthetic that can seem slapdash and amateur, but its oftentimes a very clever and self referencing satire of filmmaking itself. Lloyd Kaufman is a very talented and experienced filmmaker and this is his particular style. Troma is uniquely Troma. They’ve been doing it for nearly 40 years. I don’t love everything they do, but I can appreciate their approach. This doesn’t mean that everyone should go out and make intentionally bad movies or worse, hide behind the badge of “low budget” to deflect criticism of poor writing, cinematography, acting, and FX. The idea is to make the absolute most out of the limited resources that you have available, be MacGyver. Don’t settle for shit because you don’t feel like doing the work. You can go to filmschool on youtube with the amount of DIY tutorials out there. There is no excuse for not taking the time to do the research and try to hone your craft. The over-saturation of Troma knockoffs is killing the audience’s willingness to take a chance on low budget movie because they’ve gotten burned so many times in the past. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying there is anything wrong with camp, but there is still a certain level of technical and storytelling knowledge that a filmmaker should be striving for. Indie films like “Hobo With a Shotgun” or even Troma’s own “Father’s Day” are proof that you can make a cheesy, over the top, b movie but still make it good. They are both beautifully ambitious films that tried to be the very best they could be while still retaining that glorious DIY punk rock Troma spirit.
What has been your greatest personal triumph as a contributor to the horror community?
This is going to sound incredibly egotistical, but my greatest triumph has been screening films at festivals and conventions and afterwards having people come up to me at my table or in the bar and tell me that I inspired them to make films. My face turns bright red and I stumble over my words like a jackass, but its one of the most amazing feelings in the world knowing that you helped spark someone else’s creativity. On the other side of that, it has been surreal to be able to work with many filmmakers and authors that I look up to and who have inspired me, folks like Brian Keene and Edward Lee. Some days I still think I’m dreaming.
Tell me about I’m Dreaming of a White Doomsday!
I just wrapped production on my first feature length film. It’s the story of a young mother and her 7 year old son spending their final days in a bomb shelter after the apocalypse. Oh, and it’s a Christmas movie. Its kind of like “Miracle on 34th Street” meets “The Road“. It’s a big departure for me because it has not a shred of comedy in it. It’s a totally serious, ultra bleak, straight horror movie. It was based on a short story I had published a few years ago that I wrote while my mom was in critical condition in the hospital with kidney failure. It’s a very personal and very intense flick and I am terrified and excited to see what people think of it. I don’t think anyone is going to expect this one from me. I’m hoping to have it out in time for Christmas 2016, so make sure you all don’t end up on Santa’s naughty list!
What encouragement or advice would you give to anyone looking to get started in this shit?
The best advice I can give an aspiring indie filmmaker is get a real job. I’m only half kidding. You need to understand up front that you will not make a dime off of this venture, in fact you’ll probably end up in debt, alone, and hating your life. This is totally normal. Come to terms with the fact that you will most likely be working a normal job (like in a pizza shop for 12 years…), and doing film stuff every night afterwards and on weekends until you are so tired you can’t see straight. You make films because you love it, not because you want to be a studio exec who is lighting his cigar with a hundred dollar bill and doing lines of coke off of a beautiful woman’s posterior (if this does happen, please contact me, I’d love to work for you!). It will drive you crazy and make you miserable, but seeing that final film and knowing that you created something that didn’t exist before is the greatest feeling in the world…well, except for like getting a lot of money or eating chicken quesadillas, but it’s a close second.