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Return to Slime

Jennifer Bihl prepares for her closeup in Slime City Massacre.

Local filmmaker Greg Lamberson's new horror feature will be screened Monday, proceeds go to a good cause

When Gregory Lamberson moved from New York City to Buffalo in 2003, it was with the intention of leaving his career as a filmmaker behind.

He’d had a bit more success than most independents, especially those working in his chosen genre, horror. The Fredonia native had worked in various capacities on a handful of films, including I Was a Teenage Zombie and Frank Hennenlotter’s Brain Damage, which were considered cult movies in a time before schlockmeisters turned that phrase into a tool for marketing junk. He had even directed one of his own: Slime City, the tender tale of an innocent New York student who turns into a monster when he drinks what he thinks is “Himalayan yogurt.”

But in the 15 years after that debut, with production money harder to find and video overkill turning the horror field into an endless swamp, Lamberson realized that “the career in filmmaking was not happening.” Deciding to concentrate on writing novels, he and his wife moved to Buffalo—where, on Monday evening, Slime City Massacre can be seen on the big screen, the day before it is released on DVD by Media Blasters, a major player in the genre field.

Adjusted for inflation, the budget for this sequel probably wasn’t a whole lot more than what Lamberson had to spend on the original Slime City in 1988. But digital technology has vastly reduced the cost of making movies, and of course a dollar goes a lot further in Buffalo than it does in Manhattan. Lamberson has 20 years of extra experience under his own belt and was able to draw on a pool of local talent eager to show what they could do.

The result is a vastly more professional film that retains the sense of gross-out fun that marked 1980s horror but puts it in a context of well-drawn characters played by a solid ensemble of capable actors.

Slime City Massacre takes place in the not-too-distant future, after Manhattan has been laid low by a dirty bomb attack. A homeless couple, played by novelist Kealan Patrick Burke and local actresas Jennifer Bihl, find shelter with a group of survivors in a ruined building. They’re shown the ropes of survival by a couple that has been there awhile, played by Lee Perkins and cult favorite Debbie Rochon.

Unlike too many horror films that rush right into the gruesome stuff, Slime City Massacre spends some time setting up its dystopia and the tensions within its central quartet. These scenes are intercut with flashbacks to 50 years earlier, when cult leader Zachery led his followers into ritual suicide in this same building. You don’t need to have seen the original Slime City to follow the story, though there are plenty of references to it for fans.

Slime City Massacre stands proudly in a tradition of what fans think of as “’80s horror movies,” which is a little more specific than simply horror movies made in the 1980s.

“It’s a broad generalization about a very small aspect of the genre product from that era,” Lamberson says. “If you think of ’70s horror as being the brutal stuff like Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Last House on the Left, ’80s films are a little goofier, less concerned with scaring audiences than grossing them out. Typically when people refer to Slime City in that context they’re referring more to cult films—Basket Case and the Troma films like The Toxic Avenger. The term doesn’t really include Aliens and The Fly and the better films of the era—it’s aimed more at a somewhat humorous subgenre.”

Still, with Slime City Massacre he was conscious of treading a line between appealing to the broadest base of the genre and making a more mature film. “The reason the original has survived is because of the gory ending. The sequel has more effects than the original but they’re more comic-booky. I think I’ve improved as a writer, so I’m more comfortable with characters. I was very conscious to make sure my female characters were all very strong. In a strange way it’s a women’s picture, because they’re the ones who go off in different directions.

“I’m not someone who wants to see a guy with a knife running around after a woman. I wanted this film to be fun, but not to the point where it would make people uncomfortable.”

With his new career as a novelist steaming along (four titles to date, with Cosmic Forces, the latest in his series featuring supernatural investigator Jake Helman, due out on October 1), Lamberson was only slowly drawn back into filmmaking. The first step was getting to know Emil Novak, proprietor of Queen City Bookstore and a longtime amateur filmmaker. “My last film was shot in Hi8, a format that was supposed to revolutionize low-budget films, but it looked terrible.” Lamberson says. “But seeing the quality Emil was able to get on newer digital formats got the wheels turning again.”

A local production company offered him a job directing a film that they were planning to shoot at the Central Terminal. “At the time I didn’t know what the Central Terminal was. I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to direct the film, but walking around that building, I thought that if I ever did a Slime City sequel I could do a post-apocalyptic story and shoot the whole thing here.”

When he and some of the people involved with Slime City did a 20th anniversary tour of horror conventions, “We had such a good time that I started thinking more seriously about it. From the time I wrote the script to the release date was just over two years. Everything just fell into place.”

Which is not to say that everything went exactly according to plan. Although other films have been shot there, Lamberson was unable to get permission to shoot in the main Central Terminal building. Tim Clark of the Buffalo Niagara Film Commission got the production permits to film in other buildings on the site that are owned by the city. (A few scenes were shot in an abandoned building on Niagara Street found by Novak, who worked as the film’s production designer.)

And at the 11th hour part of the film’s funding evaporated. Lamberson says that the lower budget didn’t really affect the film’s production value. “We were always going to shoot at the Central Terminal. It did affect how many out-of-town actors I could bring in. My goal was to be able to pay everyone to work on it, and that’s what went out the window. I was able to hire some actors and pros, but the bulk of the cast and crew were still volunteers.”

Slime City Massacre features makeup and effects work from a number of locals who figured that, of all the microbudget horror films being made around town, this one would be the best showcase for their work.

While the main cast was brought in from out of town, the exception is Jennifer Bihl, whom Lamberson first met when he was making a short to promote his novel Johnny Gruesome. “I knew Jen would hold her own, but she exceeded my expectations, and I’m looking forward to the reactions of horror fans around the country to her performance now that the film’s available. She did me and Buffalo proud. Slime City Massacre is a real ensemble piece, and her scenes with Kealan, Debbie, and Lee, watching them work together was the most gratifying experience I’ve had as a filmmaker.”

Always on the alert for marketing possibilities, Lamberson had a new one fall into his lap in recent weeks. Slime City Massacre features a sleazy real estate developer who wants to have the homeless survivalists killed so that he can seize the building and convert it to condos. His name? Ronald Crump.

“When I wrote that character it was just as a goof. It was my least favorite aspect of the story, and I just seized on the name.”

Now that Donald Trump has gained a new level of infamy, Lamberson and his old film school instructor Roy Frumkes, who played Crump, are filming a campaign commercial and other online material in the hopes of getting some attention from the non-horror media.

Now that it’s all over but the promotion, Lamberson says he’s glad to be back in the director’s chair. “The actual directing was fun and exciting, and now it’s more emotional than I expected. I was in seventh grade in Fredonia when I started dreaming about being a filmmaker. I’m happy the earlier ones I did have as much of a cult following as they do, but this is one that I really have confidence in, so that’s especially gratifying.”

Slime City Massacre and the original Slime City will be screened next Monday evening as the Market Arcade Film and Arts Center, 639 Main Street, beginning at 7pm. All of the proceeds will go to benefit Benjamin Heppel, a local eight-year-old with leukemia. The evening includes door prizes and a raffle from a mountain of goodies donated by Lamberson’s friends in the horror media. Lamberson will also be signing copies of the Slime City Massacre DVD at Talking Leaves Books, 3158 Main Street, on Saturday, May 21st, 5pm-6pm.

Watch the trailer for Slime City Massacre

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