CHEAP SCARES! by Gregory Lamberson - Book Review


I seem to recall the motto of the now-defunct FILM THREAT Video Guide – a favorite rag of aspiring underground filmmakers (like myself) in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s – was “Shut up and Make Movies!” That philosophy is just as apropos now as it was then, but in today’s democratized digital landscape, where every 15-year-old with his parents’ mini-DV camera and a laptop is calling himself a damn producer, it should be appended with the clause “…but first know what the hell you’re doing!” Our pal Greg Lamberson – the man behind ‘80s cult gorefest Slime City and the multimedia opus Johnny Gruesome – can definitely rank himself among the guys who not only do know what they’re doing… but also know exactly what sort of mess an ambitious B-movie mogul-to-be is getting himself into. As you will see clearly in his new book, Cheap Scares! Low Budget Horror Filmmakers Share Their Secrets, Lamberson has the scars to prove it.

Less of a how-to manual than a total immersion in the mindset of the determined “shoot movies or die trying” DIY filmmaker, Cheap Scares interweaves Lamberson’s own colorful tales from the indie movie battlefield with those of other cult figures in the genre, from the gritty guerilla 16mm productions of the ‘80s to the current wave of digital video productions (at least those who have managed to carve out a functional niche in the currently overloaded market).With frequent call-backs to his often painful but always educational experiences making Slime City, Undying Love and Naked Fear, Lamberson divides the book into sections detailing each step of the filmmaking process (not just his own techniques, but those of many other independent filmmakers with whom he’s worked or associated): fleshing out the concept; writing the script; raising production seed money; assembling a crew, casting actors, directing said cast and crew, editing, distribution and marketing. Each step of the way takes pains to explain the many pitfalls that await the intrepid would-be filmmaker, citing the catastrophes experienced by himself and colleagues as examples.Although many of these horror stories (no pun intended) are pretty damn funny, I’m sure most of them were nothing short of a mini-apocalypse for the struggling artists involved. Detailing these meltdowns is also Greg’s way of telling the reader: “I’m going to suggest some ways you can succeed as a filmmaker, but the odds are you’ll fail anyway.” This is not an attempt to dissuade aspiring mini-moguls – far from it. It’s a way of weeding out those who aren’t completely serious about chasing the filmmaking dream. Everyone wants to succeed at their craft, but in this particular profession, the reward usually doesn’t come in the form of a fat paycheck. You have to do it because you love it, whether your audience is millions of viewers, or just the college buddies who helped you shoot the flick over the summer in exchange for a case of Pabst. That suicidal spirit permeates every one of this book’s 270-plus pages.Standout chapters include an in-depth interview with indie legend Roy Frumkes – the man behind beloved George Romero documentary Document of the Dead (which has been expanded for the second time this year to include coverage of Romero’s newer Dead installments), producer of Jimmy Muro’s splatter classic Street Trash, and creator of the never-completed anthology Tales That Will Tear Your Heart Out (a tiny piece of which was grafted onto Zombie Holocaust to create the sleaze epic Dr. Butcher M.D.). Another excellent segment focuses on “art-horror” auteur Larry Fessenden, known for his personal, subtext-loaded takes on classic monster stories – including the semi-autobiographical vampire flick Habit and the politically-charged global warming parable The Last Winter.Of course, Lamberson also has lengthy discussions with filmmakers from today’s digital era – who, due to relatively low costs on equipment, stock and distribution, may have less trouble raising production funds than their predecessors, only to find themselves one of thousands of tiny fish in a very, very big pond. To this end, he provides insightful interviews from several individuals who found a way to stake their own claim in the micro-budget movie world – including Justin Wingenfeld and Brett Piper, both associated with direct-to-DVD outfit POP Cinema (purveyors of countless Misty Mundae sexploitation epics), Stephen Biro of underground DVD label Unearthed Films, and Justin Channell, the ambitious and savvy young director of micro-budget zombie comedy Die and Let Live.Filled with rare and intriguing photos – including several cool stills from Frumkes’ aborted Tales, behind-the-scenes images from Slime City, convention appearances by several of the filmmakers interviewed and some groovy promotional art – Cheap Scares is a quick but fascinating read with a unique voice, much like Lloyd “Troma” Kaufman’s similar tales-from-the-trenches chronicle Make Your Own Damn Movie! or Robert Rodriguez’s fascinating Rebel Without A Crew. Like those uniquely personal visions, Cheap Scares is not designed to be a comprehensive manual on the craft, but the entertaining stories within its pages will definitely intrigue fans of micro-budget horror and might even add fuel to that creative spark that is currently beginning to light in the minds of several creative (and twisted) minds out there. Either way, it’s a totally wild read.Cheap Scares is available through McFarland Publishing; find out how to get your copy by calling 1-800-253-2187 or go to the Official Macfarland Publishing website for ordering info.