Your new movie Johnny
Gruesome - in a few words, what is it about?
hope the title says it all! Johnny Grissom is a heavy metal high school
rebel who is murdered and returns from the grave as a talking zombie. It's
from the Crypt with high school students. A fun B movie with no
aspirations of being anything else.
read somewhere that you initially wanted to do this movie as far back as
1984, and later turned the screenplay into a novel in 2007 before now
actually making the movie - so could you elaborate on that, and how did
the project evolve over the years?
wrote the script in 1984, but couldn't raise enough money to make it, so I
made Slime City instead. This is Slime City's 30th anniversary, by the way. In 2007, I turned the script for
into a novel which won some awards and was well received by
horror readers. The book expanded the story quite a bit, and features
several over the top gore scenes that aren't in the movie. Some friends of
mine also produced a rock CD based on the book, and I did a hybrid short
film/music video based on that which starred Misty Mundae [Misty
Mundae bio - click here]. I was really
happy with Killer Rack, the previous film I made, but felt stuck in the
micro-budget rut. My best films - Slime City, Slime City
Massacre, and Killer Rack - were each made for around 50K. I
decided to try to raise close to a million to finally make Johnny
Gruesome, which is the only one of my novels that could be adapted as a
movie for that budget. I was only able to raise a quarter of that, so I
made the movie I could make instead of the movie I wanted. The finished
movie is very close to the script I wrote 34 years ago, when I was 20
years old. I changed the setting from winter to spring, which is too bad
because winter is a much more dramatic environment, but the characters and
plot are the same. I ended up using six of the songs from the CD in the
movie, and Robby Takac from the Goo Goo Dolls performs a new theme song,
Gruesome being essentially a slasher movie, is that a genre at all
dear to you, and some of your genre favourites?
films really took off when I was in high school. A lot of them featured
"origin" sequences set in high school, then jumped forward in
time to when the characters were older. I wanted to see one set entirely
in high school. I also wrote Johnny
Gruesome as a reaction to those films: most of
them featured masked killers with little or no personality. I'm not
talking about the classics, but the bandwagon jumpers. I wanted my killer
to be a teenage zombie, and a wiseass - this was before Freddy inspired an
army of wisecracking horror characters. For the movie I made, I actually
went back and removed a lot of the bon mots - I wanted to play it
straight, although there is still a little bit of my 20-year-old self's
black humor in there. I like monsters and monster movies more than I do
slasher films, and I see Johnny as a monster and a slasher.
sources of inspiration when writing Johnny
Straub's Ghost Story, Stephen King's Salem's Lot, and Tales
from the Crypt pretty much sum it up - all filtered through my immature psyche's sense of
humor and violence.
Do talk about Johnny
Gruesome's approach to horror for a bit!
I wrote this when I was so young, it's a pretty simple premise: it was
never meant to be more than a fun B movie. What I think sets it apart -
and what made it a project I never gave up on - is the central character.
I've read comparisons to The Crow and Evil Ernie, but I created Johnny
before either of those characters made the scene. Johnny is a high school
student, a rebel, and a horror film fan, so when he's murdered he does
what he thinks he's supposed to do - come back as an undead creature and
kick some ass.
You of course also have to talk about the
special makeup of your title character, and to what extent were you
involved in its creation?
script and novel were very descriptive of Johnny's appearance, and between
an illustrated limited edition hardcover of the novel, a trade paperback,
a CD, a couple of promotional comic books, and the original concept art,
Johnny's look has been pretty well defined - dead kid who rots. Craig
Lindberg, who did the special makeup, did the effects for a couple of my
micro-budget films that followed Slime City - Undying Love and
and created some cool gags for Slime City
Massacre - and when we met
around 1990, I discussed the project with him. 26 years later, when he was
on a break from Saturday Night Live, he got to do the actual makeup, which
was a lucky break for me because he's so talented. I live in
Buffalo, which is where we shot the movie, and he's in
New York City, but he was able to come out and do the work.
can you tell us about your overall directorial approach to your story at
wanted to tell the story as naturally as possible; there was no
preconceived style. It's a contemporary story, but it was written in the
80s, and I made my earliest films in the 80s, so the 80s are in its DNA,
but there was no overt attempt to emulate that style of filmmaking. This
film had the largest budget I've ever had, which allowed me to hire a
professional crew and cast, but it's still a very low budget film. My goal
was just to get it done, to shoot what we needed to shoot in 18 days, but
also to do better as a director. We all worked hard on the film, there
were a lot of characters and a lot of locations. Like with most of my
projects, there was a really friendly, collaborative vibe on set.
Do talk about Johnny
Gruesome's key cast, and why exactly these people?
knew I had to have a real up and comer for Johnny. Anthony De La Torre
submitted his resume, and had just finished filming his part as Young Jack
Sparrow in one of the Pirates of the Caribbean sequels, and was getting
ready to shoot Lords of Chaos. I knew he was my guy right away. I wanted a
"name" to play Johnny's father, and kept coming back to Michael
DeLorenzo from TV's New York Undercover. I had been thinking of Byron
Brown II, a local artist, for the hero ever since we had worked together
as production assistants on the last Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
For Johnny's girlfriend, I wanted someone who could be a bad girl who is
sympathetic, and I selected Aprilann, who was very green, based on a
couple of music videos she did. Every anti-hero needs a villain, and
Johnny's is Gary, a punk rocker who kills him - I described it as punk takes down metal,
but metal roars back. I cast a local filmmaker with crew experience, Chris
Modrzynski, and he made a great psycho. When Madison Amey walked in for
her audition as Rhonda, the "good girl" in the story, I cast her
right away - she was the character I'd pictured in my head for three
decades. The high school principal could have been a cameo for a name
actor, but I wanted my pal John Renna, who co-produced the film, to play
the part, and it's his best performance so far - until people see him in
the film I just wrapped. I worked with Richard Lounello on Battledogs, and
again on a Fred Olen Ray TV movie called A Mother's Revenge, and I knew I
wanted him to play the police chief, Matt Crane. I'll close with Kim
Piazza, who plays Carol Crane, the high school English teacher. Kim is one
of my "Buffalo
regulars". There are many other actors, most of them local, too many
to mention. It was a wonderful cast.
few words about the shoot as such, and the on-set atmosphere?
worked hard and pulled together, and there was a sense that we were making
something above average, something that could really turn out well. There
are no interesting stories to tell production-wise, because it was a
smooth shoot, very well planned.
$64-question, when and where will the movie be released?
Gruesome will be released on VOD on Oct. 16th, just in time for
Halloween, and on DVD on Jan, 1st, 2019. Filmmaker Chris Ray hooked me up
with the distributor, Uncork'd Entertainment, and they really seem to be
you can tell us about audience and critical reception of Johnny
reviews are coming out now, and most of them are good, so fingers crossed.
It took me 32 years before I got to shoot the film, and then another two
years for it to come out. It's gratifying that the target audience seems
to dig it.
Any future projects you'd like to
just wrapped production on Widow's Point, starring Craig Sheffer and based
on the critically acclaimed book by Richard Chizmar and Billy Chizmar.
It's about a haunted lighthouse, and it's set during four different time
periods: 1933, 1985, 2007, and the present. I think it's going to turn out
to be an exceptional film, one with strong production value and acting,
and it will be scary. No one will accuse it of copying the 80s' style.
After all these years, it's my first straight on horror film. I'm also
developing a scary, gory creature feature that I hope to shoot this
winter. We'll see. This one requires a larger budget, and if I have to
wait a year for Johnny
Gruesome to hit, so be it.
Your/your movie's website, Facebook, whatever
have a Facebook page for the movie, please check it out:
Feeling lucky ?
any of my partnershops yourself
for more, better results ?
The links below
will take you
Anything else you're dying to mention and I have
merely forgotten to ask?
like to acknowledge my chief collaborators: Erin Elizabeth Heald, my
executive producer, who made the whole film possible; my wife Tamar
Lamberson, who co-produced the film with me and busted her behind on it
for over a year; co-producer John Renna; Matthew Nardone, my
cinematographer; Phil Gallo, who has been my editor for 23 years; and
Armand John Petrie and Joe Rozler, who composed and performed the awesome
score. Also Giasone Italiano and Dean Italiano, who composed other songs
featured in the film. It takes a village!
Thanks for the interview!