It starts with the directions to Gregory Lamberson’s house on the Buffalo-Cheektowaga border:
Political sign on the lawn.
Johnny Gruesome decal on the car.
When you realize what Lamberson does for living, the sticker makes sense. He’s a horror writer and filmmaker, and “Johnny Gruesome” is his next movie. That sticker affixed to his car is some simple grassroots marketing. That’s respectable.
But Lamberson’s job doesn’t fully prepare you for what you see when you walk into the house. His inside front door is splattered with graffiti. “We filmed part of ‘Killer Rack’ in here,” Lamberson said, referring to the 2015 horror comedy he directed. That story, written by Paul McGinnis, is now a musical too. “Killer Rack: The Feminist, Horror Musical Comedy” opens Sept. 15 at Alleyway Theatre
Knowing that, the words spray painted on his door – “flatty!” and “BOY!!!” – fit the storyline perfectly. Here’s how Alleyway’s marketing materials summarize the stage show: “In a world that prizes breast size over accomplishments, Betty Downer impulsively books enhancement surgery with the evil Dr. Libby Niptuck... and then all hell breaks loose as singing, dancing, musical mayhem is brought on by a set of monstrous mammaries!”
Those monsters are here too. Lamberson guides you over to his desk
“Those are the killer boobs from Killer Rack,” pointing to a pair of melon-sized spheres with bloody fangs.
“Tentacles come out of them,” he added, noting matter-of-factly: “It’s not at all as salacious as the title would have you believe.”
Lamberson, a sandy-haired 53-year-old with a thick build and meaty hands, picks up a palm-sized white object.
It’s a model of an screechy-mouthed, melting head. “This is actually Johnny Gruesome,” he said.
Next to Johnny is a severed head, complete with thick, curly locks, deadened eyes, and what seems to be hair protruding from the ears. This is a teenager that Johnny Gruesome kills. And that is the actual head that ends up in another student’s locker.
(Don’t freak. Too much. It’s made of foam.)
Across the room, his daughter Kaelin is stretched out on the couch. Her long, curly blond hair frames a tired little face: Kaelin is watching cartoons, slightly tired, fighting a cold. All this talk of bloody props and horror films? This is her normal. In fact, Kaelin has had guest roles in a handful of her dad’s movies.
“She doesn’t realize she has an unusual childhood,” Lamberson said. “It’s all hanging out at effects shops, seeing these monsters.”
This is the world of Greg Lamberson, director of eight indie horror movies (they’re B-flicks; he’s OK with that label) and author of 11 horror novels. He makes films that, at their best, become cult classics — the kind that capture a “small, passionate, loyal following,” he said. “And that’s the most I can say any of my films have had so far.”
Lamberson, who grew up in Fredonia watching monster cartoons and movies, started this work when he was 18. That’s when he wrote “Johnny Gruesome,” the story of a high school kid named Johnny Grissom who is murdered and returns as a homicidal monster. He pitched it back then to executives from a production company, and though they passed, they did almost buy his 1998 film “Slime City.”
“We were literally waiting to get our contract when ‘Dirty Dancing’ opened and was a big hit,” said Lamberson, explaining that the same company was involved in that Patrick Swayze blockbuster. Once they saw the financial benefits of backing hits, Lamberson said, “They said no more low-budget (stuff). We were so close, until it fell through.”
But Lamberson kept going, then and now. After high school he moved to New York City, where he lived for 21 years before returning with his wife to Western New York in 2003. Both downstate and in Buffalo, he kept writing books and scripts, and directing and producing movies. His most popular remains “Slime City,” which has been released six times in various “hard media” formats, meaning VHS, DVD and Blu-ray. Like most – or arguably all – of his movies, it is intentionally campy — a hallmark of the cult horror genre.
Consider this excerpt from an Amazon review: “No nudity, but rather violent and featuring some of the worst acting the genre has to offer. So, yeah, I liked it!”
And this one: “There's some really solid moments of cheap gore and slimy, melty madness—especially that gloriously gory climax scene!”
What seems like criticism – cheap gore, bad acting – is actually a kudo in this realm. “Slime City” cemented Lamberson’s street cred in the underground horror world. Even now, he gets approached at conventions by young horror fans who found the old VHS version and want it autographed.
The next step is make a movie, or sell a television concept, that accelerates Lamberson’s career. Lamberson is hoping that will happen through the exposure gained by “Killer Rack,” which was shown at 20 film festivals, and the anticipated success of “Johnny Gruesome.” Lamberson is aiming to release “Johnny Gruesome” at his own annual event, the Buffalo Dreams Fantastic Film Festival, which runs Nov. 3-12 in the Dipson Theaters at the Eastern Hills Mall and Screening Room Cinema Cafe at Boulevard Mall.
Between shooting his own projects, works on the crew of other movies being shot in Buffalo in between his own projects. Right now, for example, he is on “fire watch” duty for the larger-budget film “Wolf Boy.” The job title is literal: He sits in his car all night keeping an eye on the film trucks. He has also earned money over the years working at video stores, managing movie theater and working for a stock footage agency in New York, among other jobs.
“I obviously want it to go to the next level, so I don’t have to spend two years looking for money for each project,” said Lamberson, who raised $250,000 to film “Johnny Gruesome. “I think this will be a step in the right direction.”
Killer Rack: The Feminist, Horror Musical Comedy
Alleyway Theatre, 1 Curtain Up Alley
Dates: Sept. 15-Oct. 7; Thursdays, Fridays at Saturdays at 7:30 p.m., and an 8 p.m. performance as part of the Sept. 15 Curtain Up! lineup
Tickets: $32 general admission/$16 for student/industry rate
Credits: Emily Yancey stars as Betty Downer. Book, music and lyrics by Neal Radice, based on the movie written by Paul McGinnis and directed by Gregory Lamberson. Radice is director of the stage show and Heather Reed is choreographer. Film composers Armand John Petri and Joe Rozler contributed a song for the stage show.