Santa in a gas mask in I'm Dreaming of a White Doomsday by director Mike Lombardo

INTERVIEW: Mike Lombardo

By Dixielord

 

Last week I has the pleasure of talking to Mike Lombardo, writer and director of the upcoming post apocalyptic holiday movie I'm Dreaming of a White Doomsday. It was a really fun talk more conversation than interview, and I hope you enjoy it.

 

 

House of Tortured Souls: Reel Splatter is known mostly for horror comedies, I have seen The Stall, but White Doomsday, seems to be a more serious film.

Mike Lombardo: Yes, it is a serious film. There's no comedy, well there's a few light moments, but it's not comedic at any point. We don’t play it for laughs ever.

 

HoTS: I was thinking it was completely humorous till I was just watching the trailer again and I caught the, “No food. No hope. Noel”. I don’t know how I missed that before.

ML: (laughs) It’s a little bit of grim humor in the trailer.

 

HoTS: It looks like it’s going to be a dark, grim movie.

ML: Yeah, I think that’s a pretty safe assumption. It’s pretty grim. Nihilistic is a good word for it.

 

HoTS: Nihilistic is a big word but I like that.

ML: (laughs)

 

HoTS: I see you have repeated the gas mask motif from Suburban Nightmare and The Stall.

ML: I have it tattooed on me as a matter of fact.

Poster art from I'm Dreaming of a White Doomsday by Director Mike Lombardo

Poster art from I'm Dreaming of a White Doomsday by director Mike Lombardo

 

HoTS: The gas mask is an unnerving, spooky look, where did that come from?

ML: The gas mask character that's all over the website, that's our logo, that's Dr. Chud. That was my character many years ago. Basically I've always been obsessed with gas masks and what they represent. It's very dehumanizing when you put a gas mask on someone. It almost instantly makes people uneasy. It speaks to paranoia, and I was just always obsessed with gas masks.

I found that actual mask, the reel splatter mascot at a flea market from a Viet Nam vet who owned a stall there. So I bought that and I had this character, trench coat, gas mask and a cardboard sign that said “The End is Near” and I started doing that in real life. Just wandering around town with that, just to fuck with people and see what would happen.

It's weird there’s never been a real mythology behind the character. We always talked about it, about different things he could be, but we never really did anything with it. He just started popping up in short stories, he's like an omen, he's always there, somewhere. Eventually as we moved into actual film stuff, making shorts, I picked that as the logo. Because I never considered Reel Splatter entirely horror, but it's also not entirely comedy . It's this weird, nasty surreal thing, and when people see the gas mask, their first reaction is “What the fuck?” and that’s exactly how I want them to react. I want them to say, “This is weird” and weird is the best way I can describe what I generally do.

Even the gas mask Santa, that was something I came up with in high school, so that's going way back. When I was in high school I had a project for graphics class, I forget exactly what it was supposed to be, I think it was some kind of instructional video or picture set. Which it turned into apocalyptic Christmas for some reason with me, because I had a real obsession with Santa Claus too. So I had this image of Santa in a gas mask that I plastered everywhere, and it just stayed with me for many, many years. Eventually the events surrounding this movie happened and it just worked. It was actually a short story I wrote in 2012, then the movie and it was a no brainer, we have to use that mask.

 

HoTS: It really caught my eye, it was kind of a “Holy Fuck” moment.

ML: (laughs) That's exactly what I was going for. Haha.

 

HoTS: That scene. I kept telling people this is going to be one fucked up movie.

ML: Well a lot of people think that character, that Santa is a slasher movie villain, but White Doomsday is not a slasher movie. So I'm curious what people think that character is associated with and is completely off base from what is really going on. I'm going to remain mum on the circumstances of those scenes, but it's not a slasher movie. So eliminate that from your minds. I'm not a fan of slasher movies.

 

HoTS: That's one of the things I have been pondering in my mind, and I wont ask you to divulge any secrets, but what is that Santa? Is it the mom dressing up to go out and kidnap babies.

ML: (Laughs)

 

HoTS: Or is it the actual Santa? I don't know, and I want to know so bad, but I don’t want anyone to tell me.

ML: Hopefully you won't be disappointed. A lot of people have been asking me what that is, because when Fangoria ran a story about our poster, that photograph, they plastered that all over the article. Everybody has been reposting that and asking what the fuck is this, and I'm just smiling to myself and it's like, “Just wait, you'll see”. (laughs)

 

HoTS: Do you think the slasher film is so ingrained in pop culture now, that when ever people see a mask, they automatically assume it's a slasher film?

ML: Absolutely, and when I was cutting the trailer, the producers were very hesitant, like, “Yeah, I don’t know if you want to use that, you're giving away too much, and people will get the wrong impression of the film”. I thought about it long and hard. I wanted the trailer to be as representative of this film as humanly possible. We had one version of the trailer that made it look like an apocalyptic action movie, and that's not this movie at all. I really thought it was important to show people that image, just to show, this isn’t a standard thing. I mean, I've been billing this to people as Miracle on 34th Street meets The Road, and I really don't know a better way to describe it than that. It's a slow burn, it's a depressing character piece. I feel it's more of a dark drama than a horror movie, but that's just me personally because I wrote the story. But I know people are going to think it's a slasher flick.

And we did kind of a retro style artwork for the poster. I wanted to do like an 80s horror paperback cover. Mark Schoenbach of Sadist Art Designs did that for us, he's the guy that did our The Stall poster as well. Those two things combined, people are definitely going to think it's a slasher film. You know what? Let them think that, hopefully when they watch the movie, they wont be disappointed that there's a story in there and not just a guy in a rubber mask hacking up teenagers.

 

HoTS: I see how people can make that leap from the poster, but to me, watching the trailer, I know you say The Road, but to me it reminds me of the last ten minutes or so of The Mist.

Spoiler
End of the world,there’s no fucking hope, three bullets left, but you don’t know what’s about to happen, what’s around the curve of the road.
I know a lot of people hated that ending, but to me it was perfect.

ML: Yeah, I think that was a great ending. I'm a big fan of the bleak stuff.

 

HoTS: Me, too, but I have to be in a good mood to watch those films.

ML: (laughs) That's understandable.

Mike Lombardo is dreaming of a White Doomsday

Noel and Merry Doomsday from Mike Lombardo
Photo courtesy off Mike Lombardo

 

HoTS: When I come in from a hard night's work and need to chill, I turn on Family Guy. But if I'm in the right mood, I go for the bleak, depressing, dark films like A Serbian Film and Martyrs.

ML: Two of my favorite films of the last ten years, and they're absolutely beautifully made. What I like about those two movies they are incredibly dark, and ugly movies, but they never get to the level of exploitation. Even A Serbian Film, they show you just enough, and then they move on, they never revel in it. There's this really disturbing imagery, but it never becomes undisciplined.

 

HoTS: It's an extremely powerful film.

ML: Absolutely.

 

HoTS: I remember sitting in silence after watching both of those films.

ML: (laughs) I was just about to say that.

 

HoTS: What did I just see, what did I experience. Especially with Martyrs, that ending was perfect.

Spoiler
What did she say? I’m still wondering.

ML: For me, I think Martyrs is a harder film to watch. I know a lot of people think A Serbian Film is the more shocking of the two. The thing with A Serbian Film, you are introduced to these characters, a genuinely loving family, genuinely good people, that happen to be put into a terrible circumstance. There's light hearted moments, and there’s a build up, and then everything just plummets to hell. Martyrs starts down here (gestures with his hand as if a low level) and it just goes, it's never not horrible, there's not a single moment of that movie where you're smiling. It's just terrible all the time.

 

HoTS: The one time, when you start to smile, then Boom!

ML: Yeah, there’s that family scene for like two minutes, then Boom, home invasion. And I'm sitting there watching, and what really struck me about Martyrs, I was sitting there watching with my roommates and when the movie turned, when they finished Lucy’s story, I remember looking at my roommate and saying, “I have no fucking idea where this movie is going”, and there's another hour left. I have zero idea what's gonna happen and that hasn't happened in a decade. Then they just come out of nowhere and sucker punch you in the stomach. Here's a girl getting punched in the face for ten minutes. Enjoy.

 

HoTS: That was so brutal because it was so real.

ML: I'm getting chills just thinking about it. That movie just wrecked me.

 

HoTS: I kept waiting for the Hollywood moment, for her to grab her chain and choke out her captor, waiting for her to somehow escape, and it didn't happen. I finished the movie and said, “I loved this, but I'll never watch it again”.

ML: That’s the way I felt about it and A Serbian Film, and I've watched both a dozen time since. I remember after watching Martyrs, I had to go for a walk, I just had to get outside, that movie was so rough, and A Serbian Film was, too, but with A Serbian Film at least it had character arcs and a more cinematic approach to it. It definitely wasn't a Hollywood movie but it was a little more standard, a little easier to swallow, but the bleakness of Martyrs. I don't know if I've ever seen that topped. The only other films that have affected me like that were Sâlo and Cannibal Holocaust. Just raw, unflinching brutality, and ugliness, and they were all influences on me when I was doing White Doomsday. I'd like to think we don't pull any punches. We go for the sad whenever possible.

 

HoTS: At the risk of sounding like a very sick individual, I hope you don't pull any punches, I'm looking for a very dark, bleak, hopeless film.

ML: It's all those things, we had a little bit of a test screening of the rough cut at Scares That Care, to some of the people who were involved in the movie. The first ten minutes we were all talking, getting settled in, joking a little bit, by fifteen minutes in everyone had stopped talking, by twenty minutes I noticed there was dead silence, then someone said, “Someone make a joke, please”.

 

HoTS: Oh, you had them then, sounds promising.

ML: The back story of the movie is a very personal film. I wrote the story, in 2012 my mother was diagnosed with kidney failure, she was in the hospital in critical condition for about nine months. She has recovered since then, but she had interstitial nephritis, which caused her kidneys to only function at like three percent. They did not think that she was going to make it, and I was the go between for the hospital and my family, who were all in different states at the time. Everyone was calling me for updates all the time, and I basically had to try and downplay how bad things were. I didn't want to break down in front of my mom, and my family, so I was taking the brunt of it, and passing along the bad news. To say sane I started writing the story, which essentially boils down to watching a someone you care about fading away and you being powerless to do anything about it. So the hopelessness came from that, the story is dedicated to my mom and the movie is too. The character of the mother was influenced by my mom, and a lot of what you see is these characters, trying to shield the little boy from the reality of the situation. So no, it's not a happy movie.

 

HoTS: I like to think that movies like this, allow me to get the darkness out, helps me stay sane. I don’t know if that’s true for other fans and filmmakers of depressing, disturbing films. People do ask me all the time how can you watch films like this, and especially when I watched A Serbian Film and The Human Centipede, which I didn't find disturbing at all.

ML: No, not at all. Actually I didn't like the first one when I first saw it, because I had heard so much about it and I was thinking “this isn't the movie I heard it was going to be”. Watching it since, I realize it's a very, very good movie. It's almost a body horror movie more than anything else. It's more about domination and slavery, I don’t want to say psychological, because it is pretty visceral, but it's not a gross out, exploitation movie at all. The disturbing part of that movie was this man, breaking three people down into dogs basically. That's what bothered me about it.

Then the second one, was what everyone expected the first one to be. I'm very one the fence about the second one. I love the concept of it, that some one had seen the original one and then tried to reenact it. The movie is basically a giant “Fuck you” to censorship and the media claiming that people are going to mimic movies, which I think is absolute horseshit. I heard the premise and I thought, “Wow, this is going to be really intelligent”, because I didn't know if Tom Six was a really smart guy, kind of doing something nasty, or if he was just a sleaze king. Then I watched that movie and, ahhhh he's kind of just a sleaze king. Which there's nothing wrong with that, but I think he had a great opportunity to make a powerful commentary on horror films, and censorship of art, and he kind of botched it. I haven't seen the third one, but I heard the third one was miserable.

 

HoTS: It solidifies him as a sleaze king. There are some incredibly funny moments, but it is just so offensive, so gross. It's basically every derogatory word and insult you can call another human being is used. Every racial, sexist insult is thrown out over and over.

Okay, to move away from the doom and gloom a bit, let's talk about The Stall. For some reason I had the idea that was a zombie film, but I saw it earlier, and it's not.

ML: Oh no.

 

HoTS: I didn't want to bring it up in case zombies pop up in White Doomsday, but I'm so tired of zombies.

ML: No, no, that's another thing - I know some people are going to think it’s a zombie film and it's not.

 

HoTS: I just think the zombie story has been told. Let's find a new story to tell.

ML: Exactly.

 

HoTS: I did like Maggie with Arnold, but other than that.

ML: I didn’t see that but actually heard a lot of good things about that.

 

HoTS: It was pretty good. It was more of a story of the relationship between a father and a dying child than a traditional zombie movie.

ML: See, that's something that I would definitely enjoy, being that I love dying children obviously.

 

HoTS: (laughs)

ML: I think zombie films work best when the zombies are window dressing, a background to a different story. That's how I enjoy them anyway. I would definitely watch that.

 

HoTS: Back to The Stall. For some reason, I had the idea this was the story of a guy trapped in a bathroom stall during the zombie apocalypse, but it's not.

ML: The thing with that movie, we were working on The Stall about 2-3 years though various technical difficulties, shooting on weekends. We had to re-shoot a lot because the effects weren't working with the tentacles. But we were just kind of doing our thing, you know, making this Lovecraft movie, which was also very personal, about my job. That was like a dry run for something more serious. It's funny, the poster and the premise make people think it's going to be this big serious, gross out, B-movie and it's not, at least I hope people don't take it that way. It's about half and half.

 

HoTS: Honestly I was expecting turds. I'm glad there were no turds.

ML: Exactly. That was the big joke for me. We were presenting this movie as though it's going to be like a Troma movie, and it's not at all. It's pretty much straight Lovecraftian. It has a bleakness I was feeling at the time. Working in food service for fifteen years, trying to be a filmmaker on the side, it kind of takes its toll on you. Dying at work is my biggest fear, like one day I will realize I wasted my life doing something that I don't enjoy, while trying to support my passion on the side. The idea that I’m terrified to leave my comfort zone - which equates to a two by two bathroom stall in the movie - because there’s some horrible thing out there, that I'm not aware of yet, some awful external force. That when I get out there, I'll realize that my dreams are not good enough, and that I wont make it. That's what the whole bit is about. Or it's just about a guy trapped in a bathroom with a bunch of tentacles, and that's pretty cool too. However you want to watch it, that's fine.

 

HoTS: It was the most Lovecraftian references crammed into twelve minutes I have ever seen. You even worked in Erich Zann which is still my favorite Lovecraft short story.

ML: We had more on the radio broadcast but it gets cut out. That was one of my favorite, I'm trying to remember the others, I know there was DJ Brown Jenkins and Erich Zann. That was a lot of fun. I'm a huge Lovecraft geek, obviously.

So, I was working on this movie for two years, we release it, and our poster art was originally a restroom sign, with tentacles coming out of the side. That was our first poster, we had that for about a year. Then we did the alternate poster that's on the DD, of the guy kind of shrinking away from the tentacles, that looks like a big 70s or 80s VHS cover. So we had all that stuff out for awhile, and then the movie comes out. It's getting watched, stories posted all over the place, and then I start getting calls, about four months later to go on Netflix and look up The Stall. And I look, and there’s a movie with the same fucking poster as us, but it's zombie hands. It's the same premise, and I was like, “Are you fucking kidding me?” (laughs) I was so annoyed. Then I watched it, and if it was a good movie, I'd be totally cool with it, but it's an awful movie.

 

HoTS: I think that was what confused me. When I met you I asked you if The Stall was on Netflix because I remembered seeing it.

ML: I got that from a lot of people. Which really aggravated me, not saying they stole it, because people do come up with the same ideas all the time but it really grinded my gears because they had the same poster art. Their other poster was the restroom sign with zombie arms coming in from the side, so basically both their posters were damn near identical to ours, and it's essentially the same premise. But whereas I recognize that that movie has about thirteen minutes in it, they stretched it for an hour and a half (laughs). So it became very tiresome very quickly. Although I am a big fan of their first movie, Freak Out. It's about a guy who escapes a mental asylum and a bunch of horror fans find him. He not a violent criminal but they try and train him to be a slasher killer. It's low budget, but it's very funny. It's very low budget, but it's a fun, dumb movie, they were trying to make a Troma style B movie, and it's got some very entertaining moments in it. But The Stall, I was not so much a fan of. Maybe I’m biased, I don’t know.

 

HoTS: That does explain my confusion because when I watched it earlier I knew I had seen that cover before, but I don't think I ever watched the zombie version of The Stall. Because like I said, I really don’t watch new zombie films unless I'm bored out of my head and there’s nothing else that catches my interest.

ML: Yeah, and it sucks because I grew up with Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead. When I was a kid, I wore out my VHS copy of Dawn of the Dead. I used to rent it every week and watch the head explosion scene from the beginning, over and over again. I was obsessed with zombies and there was nothing else out there other than the Italian stuff, a spat of movies in the 80s and the Romero trilogy, there wasn't really any other zombie stuff that was too exciting. Then back in what, 2003 when Brian Keene published The Rising, the Dawn of the Deadremake came out and things kind of blew up again for zombies. I was like, this is the best time to be alive, there is zombie stuff everywhere. Then after about a year of that, it's, “Okay, I'm done”. That was ten years ago and it's still going (laughs).

 

HoTS: It is still going, There are three themes, that if I am cruising Amazon Prime or Netflix, that I just scoot right past it: that's zombies, found footage, or four friends going anywhere. I just pass.

ML: Yep, yeah. (laughs) Actually I just watched the Cabin Fever remake, speaking of four friends going somewhere. It's like, “Why do I do this to myself”? Horrid, horrid stuff.

 

HoTS: Like me. I will shit talk a movie, know it's going to be bad, and still end up seeing it.

ML: Oh, absolutely.

 

HoTS: I saw The Omen remake in the theater.

ML: I was there opening night.

 

HoTS: I saw The Omen remake in the theater while running a fever and fell asleep. I tell people I love the movie because it's the best sleep I got all week.

ML: I had to go to the ER right after seeing that. I found out I had two hernias.. I was in the theater and ran to the bathroom vomiting profusely. Everyone said I had the antichrist growing inside me. So that was my experience with The Omen - as if the movie wasn't bad enough.

 

HoTS: I think it just made everyone sick.

ML: (laughs) It really did. The devil was definitely in that film because no one seeing it had a good time.

 

HoTS: So where are you going now with White Doomsday? Festival circuit?

ML: Yes. Currently we are in post-production. We are starting to work on visual effects now, sound design, um color grading, and then I'm hoping to have the movie finished by Christmas. It would be great to have it out by Christmas. The thing is, it doesn't mean it will play by Christmas, because we are at the mercy of the film festival schedules. You submit a film to the festivals four months in advance, and you don’t know if you get accepted for two to three months. So we have to figure out which festival we would like to premiere at, and what the submission deadlines are, and all that kind of stuff. But I would love to have it out for Christmas. Then the film festival circuit, and try to find a distributor, and see what happens. If we can find a company to put it out, then the DVD will hopefully be widely available. If not we will access our options, maybe press our own DVDs like we did with The Stall and Suburban Holocaust, then hit the circuit, the festival and convention circuit on foot and bring the film to you. So we'll see.

 

HoTS: I will be looking for it.

ML: Thank you.

 

HoTS: Hopefully on physical media.

ML: Physical media is a big thing for me. We will probably do a VOD release down the road, but I hate not having a physical disc. I'm a collector. I am a huge, huge collector and I love extra features. I refuse to go out and buy a disc that has no extra features on it. This movie was a year and a half in the making, and I'm going to have so much behind the scenes it's obnoxious. So many crazy stories about how we made this movie with just paper clips and chewing gum, you know. So I'm hoping to get a nice supplemental package out there that VOD doesn't have.

 

HoTS: There's very little worse than opening up a DVD and special features are scene selection.

ML: Yeah. Or theatrical trailer. It's like, “Oh wow, that’s great”.

 

HoTS: I just watched the movie; now I can watch the trailer.

ML: Thanks, this is phenomenal. Interactive menus, that's my favorite, and subtitles for the hearing impaired.

 

HoTS: I love VOD because of the convenience, but I hate it because of the inconvenience, if that makes sense. It's so easy, but I’m at the mercy of whatever Netflix or Amazon allows me to watch.

ML: Absolutely, and from a filmmakers standpoint there are a lot of pitfalls. People think, “Oh, there’s no overhead”, because you don’t have to make discs. But they find ways to gouge you with putting it out there and you are also opening yourself up to a huge amount of piracy very easily. This is my first feature so I'm very leery of all that, but I guess I will find out soon enough.

 

HoTS: Piracy yeah. I think it's so easy from a fan’s stand point to say, “This is a big Hollywood director. They aren’t losing any money”, but I have seen Indie directors, who are having thousands if not tens of thousands of downloads, but they aren't actually selling shit.

ML: I was talking to a friend about effects, and he was giving me the run down for distribution on his first feature. They did a Kickstarter campaign and sent out early DVDs to the Kickstarter backers. He said by the time the film was released, the day it actually premiered on DVD and VOD, there were over 700 websites that had it for download already. He said ,“Well, we lost our shirts on that one”. It's so easy to justify, you just click on that link and you’re like, “I'm not really stealing”, but when you’re a filmmaker at this level, you are literally counting every download, counting single sales... I'm not trying to make a movie so I can get a solid gold pool, I want to be able to make another film. I fund this stuff with the money I make at the pizza shop. It's very difficult when people are pirating stuff.

 

HoTS: And people are getting so open about it.

ML: I just the other day saw someone ask where he can get the Alien series for free, and I said, “Well, you can buy them, and you should support the artist that made them”. I know the 6.99 it costs at Wal-Mart to get them is too great but...

 

HoTS: And you can do a VOD rental for under 3 bucks, I know I just shit talked VOD, but there’s really no good reason to pirate movies. I know you maybe cant afford to watch every movie you want to, but I can't afford a Lamborghini. I feel your pain. I can't get a gold plated pool. That’s life, and it's not an excuse to steal, but it's just so easy and there are realistically zero consequences.

ML: Nope, they aren't knocking down anyone’s door for piracy. I think also people take for granted the ability to get everything instantly. In the old days when you had to go to a video store and scour around for hours to find that movie, it had more value for you. It meant something because you had to hunt for it. Even in Napstar days, it took three days to download a MP3 of a song. That was a fucking accomplishment. You had to really want that song, or that jpeg of Jenny McCarthy. You really needed it or it just wasn't worth it.

And this goes beyond piracy to film appreciation in general. People will just go online and do a search of ten most disturbing films of all time and do a mass download in, like ten minutes, and finish watching them and it's, “Yeah, whatever”. It's disposable to them because they didn't have to really work, hunt, or research it. It doesn't mean anything to them. It's like junk food, and that's a shame, because you really aren't experiencing those films. Because those articles, those lists, they aren't giving you any historical context, they aren't telling you why these films are important. I feel like it's the best time for being a film fan, and it's the worst time, for those reasons. It's never been more accessible, but it's so disposable to everyone. It’s a real shame.

 

HoTS: To me, part of the magic was always digging through those dusty shelves looking for that gem.

ML: Exactly, just looking at that crazy cover and knowing that cover or that poster was lying to me but damn if I don't want it.

 

 

I want to thank Mike Lombardo for allowing us the time to chat with him. We will keep our eyes on I'm Dreaming of a White Doomsday.

Posted by Allen Alberson

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