It’s 6 p.m. on a Monday and Mike Lombardo is painting his dining room walls white. It would strike me as normal, if not for the surrounding area’s contents. A severed leg. Spongy tentacles. Not to mention, the adjacent room’s canary-yellow wall speckled with bloody red droplets.
Remain calm, folks. It’s just a still from the life of a horror film producer – and it’s a routine Lombardo knows well. He’s been operating Reel Splatter Productions in East Petersburg for 12 years now.
“That severed leg in there is for a book called Zero Lives Remaining,” Lombardo explains.
It’s one of many client requests that the special-effects whiz fields (this one was for a book cover gracing author Adam Cesare’s haunted arcade novella).
At age 28, Lombardo has scripted thriller themes ranging from “food service zombie apocalypse” to horror porn. With 12 films to date, the crew at Reel Splatter is celebrating the success of their latest production The Stall, which hit 13 film festivals this year.
I sat down with Lombardo in his house-turned-special-effects-studio to talk horror, Halloween and bizarre props.
No surprise that Halloween is his favorite holiday – but this year, Lombardo’s found himself more focused on Christmas. Perhaps an upcoming production starring an apocalyptic Santa has a lot to do with that.
Kim O’Brien: Where did your interest in the horror genre originate?
Mike Lombardo: Creepy Crawlers from the ’90s – that got me into special effects and mold making. Goosebumps was huge for me. It’s how I learned how to read. I grew up watching ’70s and ’80s exploitation movies. I was just always fascinated by it. When I was a kid, I would teach myself how to do makeup.
KO: How did you teach yourself?
ML: This was pre-internet. God, that’s a horrible thing to have to say! There were really no resources for this stuff. The Halloween store was the highlight of the year. I’d go and buy stuff and figure out how to make stuff out of toilet paper and Saran Wrap and latex. As I got older, I started reading books on the subject. I learned a lot from Tom Savini, he had a big book in the ’80s called Grande Illusions. When DVDs started coming out, that’s when the game changed. Everyone started putting behind-the-scenes stuff on there, so that was like film school for me.
KO: Was trick-or-treating a big ordeal? I’m embarrassed to admit that I dressed as a pumpkin three years in a row. You were probably in prosthetics and professional makeup.
ML: I had my head cut off. I did one where my mouth was ripped all the way open to here [motions to neck]. I terrorized my neighbors.
KO: When did you start to make a career out of horror film production?
ML: When I got out of high school, I started to take on professional makeup gigs. I still do on occasion, but I’d just rather make my own stuff entirely. I write, direct, produce, edit and do special effects.
KO: I’m pretty squeamish. I’ve never even watched The Walking Dead.
ML: When you watch a movie in context the stuff may be horrible, but when you’re on a set, people are having a blast. When you blow someone’s head off in a movie it’s goofy fun. Fake blood is made out of corn syrup and food coloring. You could put it on your pancakes.
KO: The Reel Splatter slogan is “Putting the laughter back in slaughter.” Is horror comedy a big genre?
ML: Horror comedy is a really big thing. We would lean more toward the cult end of film. Although, the stuff I’m doing right now – I’m Dreaming of a White Doomsday – is completely serious.
KO: Can you give me a preview?
ML: It’s about a mother and her 7-year-old son starving to death in a bomb shelter. It’s a real family film [laughs]. I’m telling people its Miracle on 34th Street meets The Road. It’s a short story I published a few years ago. When I wrote it, my mom was diagnosed with kidney failure. It was dicey if she was going to make it. Basically, what it boils down to is watching someone you care about slowly fade away and being powerless to stop it. The whole movie, the mom is just trying to shelter the little boy from how bad things are getting and she wants to give him one last Christmas.
Check out a clip from the production of White Doomsday
KO: How do you put your stamp on each film?
ML: They’re pretty unique. Our movie Womb for Two is about a 16-year old fetus living in its mom’s womb. That’s pretty whacked-out stuff. Generally a really, really twisted sense of humor. A lot of horror comedy is what they call “splat stick.” It’s like Three Stooges with gore. We don’t really do that. We don’t do the 70 gallons of blood spraying from someone’s head like in Kill Bill. Disturbing violence mixed with weird, morally bankrupt comedy is a good way to put it.
KO: When Halloween approaches, do you take on extra gigs?
ML: We’re working on White Doomsday pretty exclusively now, but my phone is ringing off the hook with people wanting costumes or special effects. I do a lot of FX help with people. I’ll type up a big tutorial. I’ll send them videos. All the Reel Splatter DVDs have how-to tutorials, like how to make your own tentacles, how to do your own blood, pump blood – that’s
the kind of stuff when I was a kid I wish I had access to.
KO: Do you have any favorite horror films or authors?
ML: Aliens is one of the greatest things in the world. Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2. Dead Alive – which is Peter Jackson, the guy who made Lord of the Rings. He started off doing insanely violent comedy. He’s a huge influence on me. Evil Dead. Even Halloween episodes of old TV shows like The Adventures of Pete & Pete. I met Brian Keene at a book signing. I was a big fan of his book The Rising, which is like what kicked off the zombie craze again back in ’04, along with 28 Days Later and the Dawn of the Dead remake. I got to meet Edward Lee. I did some severed testicles for his first movie.
KO: Everyone knows a guy…
ML: [laughs] Everyone needs one.
Visit the Reel Splatter Productions website to see more movie clips. (Warning: Most clips are not safe for work, or anywhere else for that matter.) Reel Splatter Productions presents Horror Night at Zoetropolis in Lancaster on October 24 at 7:05 p.m. Tickets are $12 in advance and $15 at the door. Visit lancastershortfilmfest.com for more details.
Have you designed an over-the-top costume that you’re excited about showing off? Make sure to enter some of these costume contests.