(Note: this one is for Greg Lamberson, writer/director and the guy who was our editor over at FEAR ZONE for two years. Greg directed the movie SLIME CITY, and a few others, that were released in a box set called THE SLIME CITY GRINDHOUSE COLLECTION. We reviewed it for Cinema Knife Fight. The review of the box set is below.
Funnily enough, Greg’s brand new movie, a sequel to SLIME CITY called SLIME CITY MASSACRE, had it’s world premiere screening last night. Hope it was a big success, Greg ~ LLS)
(FADE IN: MICHAEL ARRUDA and LL SOARES stand outside an old-looking brownstone in a bad section of town. They are greeted by LIZZIE, an old woman who owns the building)
LIZZIE: Hello boys, you must be here for the room.
LIZZIE: I put an ad in the paper. Didn’t you see it?
LS: No, we don’t want to live here, you old bag. We’re here to review Gregory Lamberson’s SLIME CITY GRINDHOUSE COLLECTION. (To audience) This one is actually going to involve some travel, but it’s mostly a walking tour. First stop, the house from SLIME CITY! (To LIZZIE). How about setting us up with some of that Himalayan yogurt? I’m famished.
LIZZIE: Well, this isn’t a restaurant, boys, but I’m always excited to hear that someone is a fan of my father Zachery’s recipe. Follow me.
(They go down into the basement. Shelves line the walls, full of old-fashioned Tupperware containers of various colored gelatins and bottles of green wine)
LIZZIE: Just sit down at that table, boys.
(She gets them some containers)
LS: And bring some of that wine to wash it down with, too.
MA: You’re not seriously going to eat that stuff, are you?
LS: Hell, yeah!
LIZZIE: Here you go. I’ll be upstairs if you need anything else. It’s time for my soaps.
LS: Yeah, yeah. Don’t get your dentures in an uproar. We’ll be fine down here.
LIZZIE (goes upstairs): Okay. Have fun. Why don’t you read my father’s book, FLESH CONTROL?
MA (looks blankly at bright green yogurt): It’s so— colorful.
(LS already eating blue yogurt, and taking gulps of green wine): This stuff is delicious!
MA (sniffs yogurt cautiously): Smells pretty good.
LS: It tastes even better! Are you going to eat yours?
MA (quickly slides green containers across table towards LL): Be my guest. And while you gorge yourself, I’ll start our review of SLIME CITY.
LS: Hey, I thought I was starting this one?
MA: Aren’t you eating?
LS: I can do two things at once. SLIME CITY was director Greg Lamberson’s first film back in 1988. And it’s a good example of the micro-budget horror movies that were so plentiful in the 80s. It was the time of the VHS boom, when mom and pop video stores were on every corner, and this new form of entertainment needed more and more product. So horror films that were quickly and cheaply made were attractive to distributors. (Stops. Groans)
MA: What is it?
LS: I think I ate too fast. Take over for me for a minute. (Face dripping with slime, LS stumbles in search of a bathroom).
MA: Not a problem. In SLIME CITY, a young artist named Alex (Robert Sabin) takes a new apartment in New York City. He wants his girlfriend Lori (Mary Huner) to move in with him, and while she’s thinking about it, he meets his neighbors, a strange young couple who invite him over for dinner, which turns out to be a brightly colored slime concoction that he agrees to eat.
Soon after consuming the colorful yogurt, Alex discovers a strange slime covering his body. Things go from bad to worse, as Alex eventually becomes a slime-covered murderous monster. The proceedings lead to a bloody slime-filled showdown between Alex and Lori, an ending that is not for the squeamish. (LL returns). Speaking of which.
LS (face is bright yellow and covered in slime): I’m good.
MA: You look like crap.
LS: Gimme more of that yogurt!
You know, despite its tiny budget and its flaws, I like this movie a lot. It’s goofy fun. Yogurt that turns you into a monster who has to kill in order to revert back to normal? Devil cults trying to take possession of renters’ bodies? People dripping gooey slime? Women doing crazy dances for no reason? And with the low-budget effects, a lot of the scenes are unintentionally funny. Or maybe not so unintentional. Even though the film is mostly serious, there are enough one-liners and gags peppered throughout to give the movie a decent sense of humor.
But what about poor LIZZIE? In the movie, we hardly see her except for a big scene toward the end where she tells her father’s story to a horrified Alex in the basement. I wanted more LIZZIE, and I wanted more about her father’s cult.
Robert Sabin is very likable and an effective lead. Huner actually does a decent job playing two roles: Alex’s good girlfriend Lori and Nicole, the slutty punk chick who lives across the hall (a black wig differentiates them).
There’s even a nosy cop snooping around. Although why he’s always hiding in stairwells and alleyways is kind of strange. And if he’s so sure Alex is the killer, why doesn’t he just arrest him?
MA: I think he would need some evidence to do that. Just because a guy has a fridge full of fluorescent yogurt doesn’t make him a murderer.
LS: The gore effects are pretty funny. There’s one scene where Alex’s stomach is cut open and his innards drop to the floor. Instead of looking like intestines, they look like fruits and vegetables! He picks them up and stuffs them back in, and I was on the floor laughing. And don’t ask why Alex has a mouth in his stomach in other scenes. It’s never really explained. But I bet it has something to do with FLESH CONTROL, the book Zachary the cult leader wrote. Did I mention the spirit of Zachary is trying to take over Alex’s body?
The big finale is gruesome in a funny way, and the main reason why this movie has a cult following. It will definitely stick with you. All in all, this movie impressed me for the work of someone who had never directed a movie before and who had hardly any money. If you’re a fan of Troma films, and stuff like BASKETCASE and STREET TRASH, chances are you’ll really enjoy this movie.
MA: Well, I’m not a fan of those movies, and so I didn’t really enjoy SLIME CITY. That being said, I will say it’s clearly apparent that Gregory Lamberson knows how to shoot a movie. I was very impressed by the way he crafted a lot of the scenes. I also enjoyed the various nods to classic horror, especially the nod to Claude Rains in THE INVISIBLE MAN (1933). The bandages Alex wears over his face to hide his slimy appearance are clearly reminiscent of the bandages Rains wore in THE INVISIBLE MAN.
LS: A character even calls him the Invisible Man at one point.
MA: Yes, that’s right. And I agree with you about the two leads. Robert Sabin is very likable, and I was very impressed with Huner’s dual performance as both the goodie-goodie girlfriend and the dark, vampy neighbor. But this wasn’t enough for me to recommend this film.
To me, the problem here isn’t the low budget. With what he had, Lamberson did a masterful job at the helm. The problem is the excessive bloody violence, even in a film like this, where the effects obviously look so fake. See, when the fruit falls out of his gut and you’re on the floor laughing, I’m shaking my head wishing this had been taken more seriously. I might have cared.
LS: How can you really think this movie was “excessively violent?” And where’s your sense of humor?
MA: Um, in one scene alone, we have a guy’s stomach sliced open and his guts fall out, and then his head’s chopped off. Now, before I say anything more, I will readily admit that I’m not the target audience for this movie. It’s an exploitation film, and that’s why it is what it is. I have no problem with this. What I’m saying is, for others like me who are not in that small target audience, there’s nothing to lift this movie above the level of a low-budget exploitation horror movie. If that’s your bag, you’ll love it. If not, skip it.
(To LL) Wipe your face. You’re dripping all over the place.
(Suddenly SLIMER from GHOSTBUSTERS pops up)
MA: A ghost! This place is haunted! Will the horrors never cease?
LS: Aaargh! We’ve been slimed.
(Both jump up and run up the stairs. LIZZIE watches them run away from her apartment window, scratching her head).
(LS and MA find themselves at a party in a Brooklyn apartment. LS is no longer covered in slime. A beautiful woman walks by them.)
MA (to woman): How’re you doing?
(Woman smiles and flashes fangs at him).
LS (to MA): Stop flirting, will you?
MA (gulps): Sure.
LS: We’re at this party to review the next movie in the collection, UNDYING LOVE (1991). It was originally released on video with the title NEW YORK VAMPIRE. This time Robert Sabin has a smaller role as a photographer, and the lead is played by Tommy Sweeney, another interesting actor who has appeared in Lamberson’s films. Sweeney has an almost perpetual sneer, and is the perfect bad boy.
(VAMPIRE Woman takes MA aside and hands him a glass of wine. They chat in the background)
LS: In UNDYING LOVE, Sweeney plays Scott Kelly, a guy who recently tried to commit suicide. His gloomy demeanor attracts Carmilla (the very striking Julie Lynch), a model who is also a vampire.
MA (excusing himself from the VAMPIRE Woman): Yes, Julie Lynch is very striking! (Returns to chatting with VAMPIRE Woman).
LS: She wants to make Scott one of the undead, but her master, Evan (Andrew Lee Barrett) isn’t as sold on the idea. Will Scott become a vampire? Will Evan try to stop the transformation from happening? And what will happen to Scott’s girlfriend Leslie (Mary Huner) who saved him from his initial suicide attempt?
There’s even another old guy cop snooping around. This time he’s looking for the vampires who killed his partner 20 years before. The trail leads him to Carmilla and Evan.
I thought UNDYING LOVE was more subdued than SLIME CITY, but also a more mature work. The characters seem more fleshed out this time around. And there’s not as much of that “bloody violence” you hate so much, Michael.
So what did you think of the movie?
(VAMPIRE Woman attempts to bite MA on the neck.)
LS: Hey, stop that! (Pulls out hammer and stake and chases VAMPIRE Woman away.)
MA: Gee, thanks! Not that I would have minded a little hickey action, but thanks all the same.
LS: Don’t mention it, and I mean, don’t mention it! I have a reputation to keep up, you know. I’m supposed to be a bad-ass cinema knife fighter! I’m not a hero or a role model….
MA: You’re no actor, either.
(LS pops MA over the head with the hammer): After you’re through seeing stars, tell us your opinion of the movie.
MA: The movie, yeah, the movie. You’re right, UNDYING LOVE is more subdued than SLIME CITY. I enjoyed the two leads very much, and Julie Lynch as Carmilla was by far my favorite part of the movie. I enjoyed the movie that much more whenever she was on screen. But I didn’t buy the cop subplot, and thought it was rather weak.
I also thought the pacing for this one was off a bit, as it seemed slow and plodding. Also, I don’t think I’ve ever seen such sloppy vampires in a movie before. They spilled more blood than they drank. They need to buy some napkins.
LS: Yeah, I always wonder about vampire movies where victims are left in a pool of blood. Would an alcoholic leave a glass with some booze still in it? No. And a vampire probably wouldn’t leave without drinking every drop of blood.
MA: I thought UNDYING LOVE was okay, but again, it’s aimed at a small target audience. I think most fans of mainstream horror will be unimpressed.
LS: Hell, I thought it was pretty good. And I’m a big fan of Sweeney. I wish he’d been in more movies. I’m all for doing something different with vampires, but I have to admit, it is kind of a bummer that you can kill them with knives and guns in this movie. That’s the only thing I didn’t like.
MA: Consider yourself lucky.
(LS and MA are in a sparsely-furnished condo. There are several locks on the door)
LS: Lamberson’s third film is called NAKED FEAR (1999), although I’m not really sure how the title fits.
MA: Especially with the opening shots of New York City adult video stores and peep shows, I thought that’s where this film was headed, but strangely, the movie has nothing to do with this.
LS: It is an interesting movie though. This one is even more character-driven than UNDYING LOVE, and, aside from some bloody murders, is almost a drama. There are a lot of things I like about this movie. It’s the first time Robert Sabin and Tommy Sweeney are co-leads in the same film – Lamberson’s two best actors. It almost reminds me of those old classics where Karloff and Lugosi teamed up.
MA (nearly chokes to death): Whoa! That’s a major stretch, wouldn’t you say? Sabin and Sweeney are not even on the same level as Freddie and Jason, let alone two of the most iconic and talented horror actors ever to grace the screen, Karloff and Lugosi.
LS: I said “almost.” It’s like Lamberson’s version of Karloff and Lugosi.
MA: Their pairing is more like George Zucco teamed with J. Carrol Naish. No, I take that back. Zucco and Naish are better. I think I’ll go with John Agar and Richard Carlson, or maybe Ed Wood and Tor Johnson.
LS: Are you through?
MA: I could go on.
LS: Shut up. I’m getting back to the movie.
This time around, Sabin plays Camden, an agoraphobic whose parents were killed by a mugger outside their apartment. As a result, poor Cam hasn’t left the apartment in 10 years! He has everything delivered to him, and lives off the inheritance his parents left him. His lawyer and his only friend (Terry Spivey) tries to get Camden to see a shrink, but he won’t have any part of it. Instead, he is trying to heal himself. First, he puts an ad in the paper asking for a roommate. This is how Randy (Tommy Sweeney) moves in. Despite his surly aura and sneer, Camden likes Randy right away, for some odd reason. Secondly, Camden forms a relationship over the phone with Julie (Peggy Crown), a girl he “meets” on a party line. Slowly, it looks like Camden might actually be moving toward a more healthy mindset.
But Randy really came to case the place for his buddy (Nelson Wakefield) so they could rob Camden. When Randy changes his mind and kills his partner instead, when the guy comes to burglarize the place, it’s just the first of many murders Randy involves Camden in. Suddenly, Camden is thrust into a lot more human interaction than he bargained for!
Despite the fact that NAKED FEAR is the only one of Lamberson’s movies that was shot on High Def Video (his previous movies were shot on film), it actually looks pretty good. A lot of movies shot on video annoy me – they just look “off” – but this one looks better than most, and the video quality doesn’t distract the viewer from the movie. I also thought Sabin and Sweeney gave great performances in this one. They really play off each other well. And their characters are pretty three-dimensional for a low-budget horror flick.
The only problem I had with NAKED FEAR was a segment near the end where a bunch of previous scenes are shown, almost like a montage, and rather than being flashbacks, they just seem like filler to pad out the running time. But that’s a minor complaint. Otherwise, I thought it was the best of Lamberson’s three early films.
What did you think?
MA: Well, it certainly was the most subdued of the three, and I liked the idea of building a story around a character suffering from agoraphobia, but that being said, this one just didn’t work for me. I didn’t find it believable, and since it was supposed to be a believable story, not a tale about slime monsters and glowing yogurt for example, the fact that I didn’t buy into it really did this one in for me.
I found the whole “searching for a roommate” process extremely phony and forced. Here we have a guy like Camden, who hasn’t left his apartment in ten years, who’s messed up because he witnessed the death of his parents, and he decides to search for a roommate on his own? Not buying it. First of all, I didn’t even buy the notion that a guy like Camden would even want a roommate. Why, all of a sudden a change of heart? He says it’s because he’s lonely. Did he just get lonely all of a sudden? There should have been a more compelling reason.
Then, when Randy shows up, you can’t get a guy who looks any creepier and more suspicious. But a smiling Camden accepts him right away! Where are his references? It’s bizarre enough even for a well-adjusted apartment dweller to accept Randy so quickly, but we’re talking about an agoraphobic, frightened person like Camden. I just didn’t buy it.
I also found the way he meets Julie over the phone and their subsequent relationship just as phony. This movie just didn’t ring true for me, and for this reason alone, I thought it weak and uninspiring.
I also did not like the High Def Video. Movies shot on video always make me feel like I’m watching a soap opera. The video here was no exception. Movies look much better on film than video.
LS: I’ve seen a lot of shot-on-video movies, and like I said, it can be pretty distracting. For some reason I didn’t think it was that bad in NAKED FEAR. I’m not really sure why. Maybe because it was High-Def?
MA: And I didn’t find the characters three-dimensional at all. Camden, for example, is way under-developed. He’s agoraphobic. He’s afraid to leave his apartment. Yet, he’s never forced into a situation where he has to leave. Where’s the conflict? Much more suspense could have been generated if to stop Randy, Camden had to go outside, but alas, the action pretty much takes place inside the apartment.
LS: Well, if you want to nitpick…. To get rid of Randy, all Camden had to do was get the locks changed when Randy left for awhile. And then he could just call the cops and report the murders.
And I will say that when Camden finally does leave the apartment, it seems a bit too easy. You’d think it would be a real struggle after ten years of isolation.
MA: Then, there’s Randy. We learn he’s the way he is because his parents treated him badly, but the question I have is, just what kind of person is he? Murderer? Psychopath? Why does he even choose to betray his partner and stay with Camden in the first place? If I knew more about him, I might have been interested in his story. He comes off as just a weird bad guy.
We also learn that Randy’s claustrophobic. Yet, in a key scene where he’s in a closet, that fear isn’t exploited at all.
LS: Really? I thought the scene was well done. And the flaws didn’t bother me enough to ruin my enjoyment of the film at all.
MA: Well, as a result, I can’t recommend NAKED FEAR either.
LS: Man, you don’t like anything!
(LS and MA are driving in a two-door Cutlass Supreme.)
LS: Which bring us to the last of the films in this box set, JOHNNY GRUESOME. Actually, GRUESOME is more of a music video than a movie. Set to the music of Giasone Italiano (who does a great job with the tunes, especially the song “Gruesome”), Lamberson uses the music video format to tell a condensed version of his novel JOHNNY GRUESOME, about a bad boy teenager who comes back from the dead to get revenge on everyone who ever crossed him. This one even has Erin Brown (Misty Mundae!) as Johnny’s girlfriend.
It works for what it is, and the songs are great – they really stuck in my head – but it’s more of a trailer for a movie than an actual movie.
What did you think, Michael?
MA: This is getting painful for me. I was disappointed. I mean, it’ s not bad, but after having read the novel, I would have preferred to see a feature length version of the story rather than a music video, but for what it is, it’s not bad.
LS: Yeah, I would have preferred a feature film as well. But you take what you can get.
MA: Though to be honest, I was very disappointed with Johnny’s make-up. He wasn’t all that gruesome. The book is much, much better. Which brings me to a point I want to make, and that is, Greg Lamberson can write, just read his novels and you’ll know, but sadly, writing isn’t considered a priority when making movies, I guess. It’s too bad. Most really good movies usually have terrific scripts. And if any of these films had had scripts equal to the level of writing in his novels, I think I would have liked them better.
LS: Y’know, I grew up on low-budget horror flicks, and I must have watched hundreds of them during the VHS days. So I guess I have a kind of affection for this kind of stuff. If nothing else, I’m a bit more forgiving of these kinds of movies if I feel the filmmaker tried to be ambitious. I don’t think these are great movies, but I do think they’re a lot of fun, and I really enjoyed watching all of them.
MA: I grew up watching Hammer Films, so that might explain the difference in our tastes. Strong atmosphere, great acting, and great production values, that’s what I like. Not that I can’t enjoy a different kind of horror movie, because I can, but that’s where I’m coming from.
LS: Which means you have no appreciation of “campy” humor. That’s kind of sad.
MA: Not really.
LS: The DVD box set also includes director’s commentaries of the films, “behind-the-scenes” shorts, and even an interview with Robert Sabin and Mary Huner in celebration of SLIME CITY’s 20th Anniversary.
MA: The interview with Sabin and Huner was my favorite of the specials on the DVDs. It was fun to hear them speak about SLIME CITY all these years later.
LS: Greg recently got done filming a sequel to SLIME CITY, called SLIME CITY MASSACRE. And while I enjoyed these films, I’m really curious to see how much his style has changed over the years – this is his first feature film since 1999, after all.
MA: And while I didn’t enjoy these movies, I’m always looking forward to new horror, and so I’m also looking forward to SLIME CITY MASSACRE, though if I had to wager a guess, I’d say you probably will end up liking it more than me, but that’s okay. Different strokes for different folks.
LS: Can I ask you a question?
LS: You dislike so many of the movies we review. Why do you even like horror?
MA: Well, it’s a long story. When I was a young boy, I was locked in a closet for hours on end—.
LS: You, too? Wasn’t that the best place to play as a kid? And how about the crawl space underneath the house, with the worms and the rats? Wasn’t that the best?
(LS and MA drive the two-door Cutlass Supreme into sunset.)
(Originally published on Fear Zone on 8/4/2009)
© Copyright 2009 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares