Friday, May 21, 2010

Chris LaMartina and his "Book of Lore"

Article by
Bruce G. Hallenbeck


There's this really fun book called "Weird N.J.," by Mark Sceurman and Mark Moran that's a sort of combination clearing house and travel guide for New Jersey's local legends, best kept secrets and offbeat folk tales. Yes, Virginia, there is a Jersey Devil, and there are lots of other bizarre beasts and urban myths in the Garden State.

Much in the same "vein," if you'll pardon the expression, is Chris LaMartina's feature film BOOK OF LORE, but this time it's all about weird happenings in Maryland.


LaMartina's movie has to do with a mysterious book that details local unsolved crimes, most of them of the distinctly icky variety, such as the kidnapping and murder of babies, people with their eyes gouged out, etc. This Encyclopedia of Eerie leads to a few new murders when lead character Rick Adams (A. J. Hyde) tries to uncover the mystery surrounding the murder of his girlfriend, who's been killed in the manner of one of the murders in the Book of Lore. Needless to say, he uncovers more than he bargained for…

Chris LaMartina is Baltimore-born and bred, a 25-year-old wunderkind who grew up on a diet of Hammer horror films, Universal monster classics and eighties slasher films. His 2007 movie BOOK OF LORE was released as part of the horror double feature collection, BOOK OF LORE / GRAVE MISTAKES on May 18th, courtesy of Camp Motion Pictures, and you can clearly see his influences in the film's lighting scheme (bright colors ala Hammer, Mario Bava and Dario Argento), his ensemble cast (pick any eighties slasher film) and his gore effects (Tom Savini meets Herschell Gordon Lewis). The latter, in fact, makes a special guest appearance of sorts; you can hear the voice of the Godfather of Gore on a bingo record in the film, calling out numbers. Weird indeed.


I spoke with LaMartina recently about his depraved childhood, and, perhaps, even more depraved adulthood. "When I was a kid, around fourteen or so," LaMartina recalled, "I discovered the family camcorder and caught the filmmaking bug. I started making short films and as I got older, the plots became more elaborate and they became more ambitious. I used to watch a lot of horror movies on video, and there were some pretty crummy horror movies out there. After awhile, I thought maybe I could make something better than that stuff.'



Scenes from Chris LaMartina’s BOOK OF LORE

While going to film school, LaMartina made an anthology film called DEAD TEENAGERS, which was released to DVD by Brain Damage Films. This brought him to the attention of another Baltimore filmmaker named Jimmy George. "I met Jimmy years and years ago," LaMartina continued, "when I was fourteen and he was eighteen or nineteen. We talked the same language because he was a film nerd, but the age difference made it difficult. They're going to parties and they don't want to hang out with fourteen-year-olds. So he went out to Hollywood to try to be a screenwriter and then he came back a couple of years later for a bunch of reasons... so a mutual friend of ours re-introduced us and we got together and started writing BOOK OF LORE."

Alternative Cinema Podcast - May 2010
Jimmy George and Chris LaMartina visiting Pop Cinema Studios to record the May 2010 AC Podcast

LaMartina knows his stuff as far as horror film history is concerned. "I like the Expressionism of the German silent films," he noted, "and I like the colors in the giallo films. There's something cool about it. People have a psychological response to horror films. My background is really diverse; I would catch the Hammer horror stuff like HORROR OF DRACULA, and then as a pre-teen I saw like every Universal horror movie: THE WOLF MAN, SON OF DRACULA, HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN, all that stuff. And then I went through a slasher phase."

"We spent about a year just writing BOOK OF LORE,” LaMartina said. "We wrote a first draft screenplay, and that's something a lot of micro-budget filmmakers take for granted. They'll write a screenplay and maybe let a friend check it out. But we took it really seriously. We got script coverage. We paid a professional reader to give us an opinion, what about it was crap, what about it was decent.

"When we finally got the script where we wanted it, we cast and raised the money. We raised the money by selling a lot of my stuff. I was a projectionist and I had a lot of 16mm film prints. I had a 16mm print of Tod Browning's FREAKS that I sold. I sold most of my more valuable VHS tapes. And Jimmy sold his whole collection of DVDs. And that's how we funded the movie."


LaMartina is a big supporter of the DIY movement. "I like the idea of doing it yourself," he continued. "With the right equipment, anyone can make a movie that looks good. So we raised the money, we held auditions... We started shooting the film in August '06, and the first two or three days of shooting were the hottest days in a couple of years in Baltimore. We were dripping with sweat in unbearable conditions. And that same week, my brother was getting married - and I was the Best Man. I had to organize his bachelor party and go to the wedding during the first week of production. It was just like a nightmare!"

But LaMartina persevered, as did his "awesome crew." He did his own cinematography. "Jimmy did a lot of the sound," he continued. "And we had Darren Mosher, a special effects guy. It was a very bare bones crew, but we pulled it off.

Darren Mosher applying make-up on his next victim, Sean Quinn.

Two weeks into production, D. Patrick Bauer, who played Evan Nash, got mono. So our plan to finish shooting in August was just thrown out the window. We pretty much finished shooting with everyone else by the end of August, but we shot all of his stuff in September and October. Most of the principal photography was done by the end of October."

“Book of Lore” crew - pictured left to right: Darren Mosher, Dan Vidor, Chris LaMartina, Lindsay Hanson, Jimmy George, Aj Hyde, and Jordan Epstein

Filming of the "legends" illustrated in the Book of Lore took place later. When I mentioned the "Weird N.J." book to him, LaMartina laughed and said, "You know, it 's so funny you bring that up, because I love that stuff! I don't scare easily and it's been a long time since a film really scared me. So I thought about what really creeps me out, and for me it's those stories, those mythos that people tell around the campfire. And there's a small town near Baltimore that is so rich in these weird and creepy stories. You know, about hauntings and murders and things like that. Those are the creepiest things to me. And I'm pretty happy with the result, of how the stories played out."


the chances are if BOOK OF LORE scares Chris LaMartina, it will do a number on you too.

“Book of Lore” was released by Camp Motion Pictures as BOOK OF LORE / GRAVE MISTAKES Double Feature DVD

Available on Alternative Cinema and Amazon

Jimmy George and Chris LaMartina were guests on the May 2010 Alternative Cinema Podcast. Listen below or click this link for other options (including iTunes)

Visit Weird New Jersey!

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Thursday, May 13, 2010

Studio Visit

Blog by
Michael Raso

It’s not that often that filmmakers visit the studio. These days, the Butler, New Jersey offices and studio are primarily marketing, post production and catalog sales for the combined companies of Pop Cinema, Alternative Cinema and Camp Motion Pictures.

Butler Center, NJ USA

The turn-of-the-century hustle and bustle of multiple in-house, on-site productions to feed the exploding DVD market are in the past in favor of productions off-site (and often in the home state of the filmmakers)

In 2007 Mark and John Polonia (along with Brett Piper) shot “Splatter Beach” in rural Pennsylvania.

Splatter Beach - Directed by The Polonia Brothers
John Polonia, Brett Piper and Mark Polonia / "Splatter Beach" 2007

In 2008, the tongue-in-cheek spoof "BatBabe:The Dark Nightie" was shot in nearby New York City.

BatBabe:The Dark Nightie
“The Jerker” wreaks havoc in NYC / Batbabe: The Dark Nightie

This year, Jacob Ennis is shooting a follow-up to his successful STASH in his home state of Kentucky. Here is the press release from late in 2009:


Jacob Ennis, director of indie exploitation hit STASH, is currently in production on a new exploitation feature for Camp Motion Picture’s Bloody Earth Films. Inspired by iconic extreme ‘70s exploitation-horror films such as THE HILLS HAVE EYES and LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, RED RIVER, also penned by Ennis, is the shocking and brutal tale of the final days of a back-woods serial killer. Set in the gorgeous parks and forests of Kentucky, with an extensive cast of locals and professional talent, RED RIVER is slated for release in late 2010.

Red River - Dirrected by Jacob Ennis

Red River - Dirrected by Jacob Ennis
Images from the upcoming “Red River” directed by Jacob Ennis

In late April, Maryland natives (Chris LaMartina and Jimmy George) came up from Maryland and appeared on the May Alternative Cinema Podcast.

Alternative Cinema Podcast

Chris and Jimmy are the Dynamic Duo behind the “Book of Lore / Grave Mistakes Horror Double Feature” being released nationally this Tuesday, May 18th by Camp Motion Pictures.

Book Of Lore
“Book of Lore/Grave Mistakes Horror Double Feature”

They also produced the monthly “Lost Trailer Park: Never Coming Attractions” …

May 2010 / PSYCHO de MAYO (aka Gringos Muertos)

April 2010 / SHRIEK OF THE EASTER BEAST featuring George Stover

…and most recently produced the 80’s “throwback” “President’s Day” also featuring George Stover, Ruby LaRocca and Shawn C Phillips.

“President’s Day” Official Trailer

Shawn produces the amazingly popular (and favorite YouTube show of mine) “My DVD Update Collection” – a monthly show where Shawn shares his review of “showing the dvds and Blu-rays Ive gotten over the last three weeks!”

My Dvd Collection Update 4/12/10 featuring “Book of Lore / Grave Mistakes” review + a review of Michael Hoffman’s ROT: Reunion of terror

As some of you may know, I am passionate not only about filmmaking but of Film Photography (with emphasis on cameras from the Twentieth Century). So much so, that I started a podcast called The Film Photography Podcast!
The monthly show can be heard here -

Here are some images I shot using vintage cameras during Chris and Jimmy’s visit to the studio.

Alternative Cinema Podcast - May 2010

Alternative Cinema Podcast - May 2010
Jimmy George and Chris LaMartina shot on Classic Polaroid 600 Instant film

Alternative Cinema Podcast - May 2010

Alternative Cinema Podcast - May 2010
A vintage (1954) Kodak Brownie Bull’s-Eye camera was used to shoot Jimmy and Chris in the Pop Cinema studio.


Pop Cinema owner Michael Raso has been working professionally in the visual arts for over 20 years. A photographer, producer and and most recently Podcast host, Raso is passionate about using film as viable and exciting medium for the visual artist, even in this age of digital photography.

Film Photography Blog

The Film Photography Internet Radio Show

All Images © 2010 Michael Raso

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Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Interview With"Shock Festival" creator/author Stephen Romano

Author, artist and director Stephen Romano gets down-and-dirty about his acclaimed DVD, STEPHEN ROMANO PRESENTS SHOCK FESTIVAL, and the 2008 novel that started it all.

Stephen Romano

What got you into genre films?
I had a very unconventional upbringing by my father who was a rock and roller in Houston. He thought outside the box, played blues and jazz in smoky nightclubs. I followed him into that life for a while, but it was movies that fascinated me the most . . . and because we partied so often with local entertainment types, it wasn't hard at all to go on movie sets and get a whiff of the craziness that lurks behind the scenes. I actually interned for a few days on Al Reinert’s Academy Award-nominated documentary FOR ALL MANKIND. I talk about some of the more bizarre experiences I had during that time on my commentary track on the SHOCK FESTIVAL DVD. What really got me into genre films had to be STAR WARS, and later STARCRASH and DAWN OF THE DEAD; those were the films that really knocked my lights out. DAWN was the first film I ever saw that made me want to make films. There was a real excitement in the craft of that movie. The way it was shot and edited, the pacing and the execution of the special effects. (HALLOWEEN also wowed me, though it probably hasn't aged as well.) I was always a nerd for films like CLASH OF THE TITANS, too. The sleazy allure of the grindhouse experience put me in a hammerlock not too long after that. By the time I was 13 I was beyond help of any kind. When ALIENS came out in 1986, I paid real money to see it in the theater 37 times. (Believe it or not, I was actually aiming for 38 times because of Lieutenant Gorman's line in the film where he tells Vasquez he's done 38 simulated drops. That's the kind of obsessive fan-boy I am.) That was really a magic year for genre films. THE FLY came out that year as well. There were always late night creature features, midnight movies. Elvira was in her prime with MOVIE MACABRE back then. BARBARELLA was a favorite, still is. I wish they would stop remaking my favorite movies!

What got you into genre related art and more specifically movie poster art?
I think anybody with any interest in film at all is into movie poster art. It's half the game, really, especially with genre pictures, and I grew up in the last great age of it, when home video was first starting. Remember when they used to put real hand-painted movie poster art on video covers? Man, I miss that. I'm not sure who came up with the current trend of "floating heads" in movie posters, but it speaks volumes about how sanitized and unimaginative the industry has become. I collect posters and original movie art, too. I have one entire wall in my house devoted to art from STARCRASH, which is the grandest, cheapest, silliest, most awesome STAR WARS rip-off ever.

Stephen Romano - Shock Festival

There's something really off kilter and tacky-fun about being so obsessed with a film like that. The crown jewels of my STARCRASH collection are three original pencil studies for the one-sheet, done by Drew Struzan, back when the film was still called THE ADVENTURES OF STELLA STAR. Struzan is a legend now of course because of his posters for BACK TO THE FUTURE, STAR WARS and the Indiana Jones movies, along with about a million other things---but back then in the seventies, he worked for American International, doing amazing posters for films like TENTACLES, SQUIRM and THE FOOD OF THE GODS. They hired him to do STARCRASH, but AIP lost the right to distribute the film and he was canned. But he still did five different pencil comps, which are beautiful works of art; of course, because this is Drew Struzan we're talking about. I'm always on the lookout for the other two. (Any LOST BOYS fans out there?) John Solie did the final one sheet, which is pretty stunning in its original art form. Roger Corman was distributing the movie by then.

The Beyond graphic novel / Stephen Romano

What was the start of your career in art?
I've been in comics in some form or another as a writer/layout artist since about 1992-ish. My first pro gig was the graphic novelization of Fulci's THE BEYOND. I wrote and illustrated an original graphic novel project a year before that, but I was just the pencil artist. I was a rough breakdown kinda guy. See, I was never really a finishing artist before SHOCK FESTIVAL. I literally had to teach myself how to paint and design using Photoshop for the project because I realized it was too ambitious to afford a larger art team. One of the reasons that something like SHOCK FESTIVAL has never been attempted is that it would have been far too expensive to do in any conventional way. Oddly, since the announcement of SHOCK FESTIVAL in 2008 at the Fango show in Austin, I've done dozens of real movie posters and DVD covers for filmmakers who dig the style I developed. Crazy world. I never really set out to be a finishing illustrator, it just sorta happened by accident. Up until now, I've concentrated mostly on writing and designing.

Stephen Romano - Shock Festival

When did you start the Shock Festival book project and what were its origins?
Well, I've wanted to do a book of fake movie posters since I was a kid, and it still strikes me as bizarre that someone hasn't done it yet! Seems like a real no-brainer, huh? But as I mentioned before, doing a book with hundreds of these damn things would be really expensive to produce . . . good artists cost lots of money, just ask Drew Struzan . . . but I think that's only part of the reason nobody ever did it until now. The best ideas are the most original ideas, and they tend to hover right there in plain sight. I had just finished writing a dreary novel about the death of my mom in early 2007 and decided I needed a more fun project to occupy my creative headspace. I had been toying with the SHOCK FESTIVAL concept as a real project since just before MASTERS OF HORROR (Episode one: INCIDENT ON AND OFF A MOUNTAIN ROAD) started filming---but I always came up against the wall of the art itself. I didn't feel like spending all my money hiring artists or getting my friends to work for free---but it was always nagging in the back of my head. So one night I'm just kinda doodling around on the computer and came up with a pretty respectable poster for I HATE YOUR GUTS and I said "hey . . . I bet I could pull this off." In the beginning, it was my plan to do all the design and graphics work myself, while farming out the key art to various professionals I could hire on the cheap. I put an ad on Craig's List, called in some favors, and enlisted all my friends as character models. I got Tim Bradstreet on the project on a kind of a wink-and-handshake deal. But a funny thing happened as those first few months of the project inched forward---I studied what these guys I was hiring to do my key art were doing and realized I could probably do it, too, and I could probably even get closer to what I actually wanted if I did it myself. I shot a bunch of photo reference for the fake film SHARKHUNTERS and was gonna send it to Tim Bradstreet so he could do the poster . . . but I just ended up art directing the thing until it was done! And it looked really terrific, very authentic.

Shock Festival - Stephen Romano

Shock Festival - Stephen Romano

When I realized I could shoulder most of the workload myself, I altered the scope of the project from sixty-six (because it couldn't be 666!) fake movies to one hundred and one and started putting in 18 hour workdays. Before I knew it, an entire year was gone and I had taught myself how to paint movie poster art! In December of that year, I had the project in good enough shape to print a small run of the book so that I could demonstrate the concept to publishers. Bradstreet was really blown away and came on with Thomas Jane as co-publishers with IDW----and then I spent ANOTHER year getting the final version ready, doubling the amount of art, working with Bradstreet. Jane offered to become a character named Elliot Swann. It was like making an indie movie and then getting a distributor and reworking the final cut. It became this massive, unprecedented endeavor. Literally two years in the making.

Was it harder coming up with the intertwining back-story of your fictional exploitation personalities or did the difficulty lie in coming up with so many fictional films that could pass as actual lost gems from the heyday of grindhouse cinema?
It was a completely organic process. I knew I wanted to have text along with the posters and some kind of faux history built around them, but I never realized just how deep it would eventually get. I began with inventing the posters, casting my friends as characters, kicking it around. A few of the models made suggestions to me about what kind of B-movie stars they wanted to be---like my best friend Ashley Laurence. She's still really famous for playing Kirsty in the HELLRAISER films and wanted to be a Russian sex kitten rather than a scream queen. We brainstormed over the phone and just kinda invented Natalya "Natalie" Ustinov right on the spot. I'd have wild photo sessions where people like Lynn Mikeska, who plays Tracie Lynn Darcie in the book, would show up with armloads of costumes and we'd just make up stuff! She had a wedding dress one of those nights and one of my other friends had a cool Indiana Jones getup on--so we slapped shotguns into their hands and RAIDERS OF THE WEDDING DAY MASSACRE was invented!

Stephen Romano - Shock Festival

This was the first creative woolgathering session---the "research" period, so to speak. I started to see who the characters of SHOCK FESTIVAL were during this time. About mid-year, I just took a break from the art and spent a month writing the text of the book. It just flowed right out, that first draft, and it was wild and crazy, way too long, and I invented more films and characters along the way. Later, when it was time to get the book in shape for its nationwide release, I did an incredible amount of editing on the fucking thing. I cut it down from over a hundred and fifty thousand words to around sixty thousand. I added Thomas Jane's character. Cut out the fat. Added more posters. I made certain rules for myself editorially that provided a sort of "instant objectivity" about things. You'll notice that aside from the opening of each chapter, there's almost never a full page of text and each block of text ends on a PERIOD. In other words, I never wanted a page break in the middle of a paragraph, and I wanted the text to completely support the art, changing off smoothly in tandem. I spent months hacking it up and putting it back together. And while it was definitely a long and intense process . . . I wouldn't say that any of it was difficult at all. This stuff is in my blood. In fact, it was the MOST fun I've ever had on any project I ever attempted.

You directed the I HATE YOUR GUTS trailer - what was it about that specific film that inspired you to pick up a camera?
It was the first poster I did for the book . . . and I knew I could get Lynn to come in and reprise her role as Tracie Lynn Darcie. I had the concept for the trailer way early in the development of the book, actually. It's a sick joke that comes at you really hard and fast, and I knew it would make people laugh and maybe cringe a little. It's just under a minute long. I wanted mine to be short and brutal, really in-your-face. We had no money at all, so we had to do something that would be easy to do in one day. A lot of screaming and blood flying around, it's really very silly. But it's my little movie. Someone called the cops on us because we shot in my backyard and Lynn is a method actor. A bunch of officers showed up just as we wrapped and there's all this blood everywhere, it was just insane. I had to do my best song and dance to keep out of jail for directing I HATE YOUR GUTS!

Shock Festival - Stephen Romano

If a Shock Festival Volume Two DVD set ever happens, which film would you direct a trailer for on that set?
I wanted to shoot GOLDILOX STRAIGHT TO HELL for Volume One, but we were unable to pull it off on such a low budget. I'd like to do one for STARFIRE BEYOND THE GALAXY, which is my tribute to STARCRASH, of course. But to be honest, directing is not really a huge ambition of mine. I've actually been talking with one of the directors on this project about doing a feature-length SHOCK FESTIVAL trailer movie. That would be awesome and I wouldn't have to do any of the work! We DID have a great time shooting I HATE YOUR GUTS. You wouldn't believe how much laughing was going on behind the scenes on that. Then again, it was a one-day shoot on a zero budget, just goofing around with a camera and a few friends.

I understand that you have written for some other films and filmmakers, can you elaborate on this in general and specifically your work with Don Coscarelli?
Sure. I have actually written quite a number of film projects, most of which never got filmed for one reason or another. Sigh. That's Hollywood, man. But the money is good. I was able to take two years off to write and illustrate SHOCK FESTIVAL because of a few of those heavy paydays. I actually wrote something with Don during that period of time, but that's top secret for now. Coscarelli gave me my first professional break in the real business. I had written a few scripts for hire, published a science fiction novel called INVASION OF THE MUTANOIDS, ghosted two books for other writers. But I'd never done anything in Hollywood proper and I wasn't Guild yet. Don was impressed with my PHANTASM stuff and allowed me to publish the comic series, which he was really blown away by, and so he invited me to be his writing partner on a lot of things. Obviously, the first tangible result of that was our episode of MASTERS OF HORROR, which ended up as the best reviewed film of his career. That was insane. It was really an honor. We also wrote the sequel to BUBBA HO-TEP together. That's looking like it's finally going to get made soon.

Can you elaborate on the script you wrote for Phantasm V that Don Coscarelli supposedly liked so much?
Afraid not. Top secret. I wrote it. Don still likes it. Maybe it will happen someday.

What can we expect next from you?
The next film project is most likely to be BUBBA NOSFERATAU: CURSE OF THE SHE VAMPIRES. It's a wild screenplay and Don's getting it set up now, with Paul Giamatti co-producing and co-starring as Colonel Tom Parker. Ron Perlman is on board in the lead role of Elvis originated by Bruce Campbell, which is outrageous and cool. Book-wise, you should check out THE RIOT ACT. That was a book of original short fiction I self-published just after MASTERS OF HORROR in a super limited run---just a hundred copies to test the waters, and was very well received by some very famous people. The new version has six new stories in it, none of which have appeared anywhere else. It's all original stuff. It will appear soon from a major publisher. Also, I am the author of the OUTRAGEOUS novelization of BLACK DEVIL DOLL, which is available right now from Amazon. I am working on another novelization now. That's for the classic Spanish horror film PIECES. I am doing that one for Grindhouse Releasing, which is run by Bob Murawski, my great friend, who just recently won an Oscar for his work on THE HURT LOCKER. It'll be out just in time for Halloween, I believe. In fact, I just did the poster for Bob’s amazing GONE WITH THE POPE, which is also in theatres now and you MUST SEE.

Stephen Romano - Shock Festival

I also have two novels in rewrite now. One of them is called SAFE IN THE WOODS, which is an important work, a bit along the lines of Jack Ketchum's THE GIRL NEXT-DOOR. Yeah. I don’t fuck around. I speak truth.

Stephen Romano - Shock Festival

Also, just because I’m into having FUN with horror movies, I’ll be one of the hosts of the FRIDAY THE 13th 30 year convention in August and you'll see a really kick ass poster from me on that, too! I also did the original promo poster for THE BLACK WATERS OF ECHOES POND, which is out now in theatres . . . plus I do private commissions for people who just want to see themselves immortalized in B-movies, like THE MUMMY OF MOTOWN . . . and then there’s my poster for MURDER LOVES KILLERS TOO, which is an amazing horror film done by real professionals with a love and affection for Italian Giallo . . .

Stephen Romano - Shock Festival

MUMMY OF MOTOWN / Stephen Romano

and, of course, I hope people enjoy my SHOCK FESTIVAL DVD set. We put an entire year into creating it and I think the work shows. I'm particularly proud of the commentary tracks I did, which are very innovative for this type of project---kind of a combination of an extended interview and lecture on horror and exploitation films which takes you into some wild territory and hopefully sends you away smiling and maybe a little more knowledgeable about the form. We have Uncle Creepy from Dread Central on the main track with his wild and hilarious commentary, which is more screen-specific and fan-centric than mine. He's a good buddy, and just fucking insane. I really think people will find the whole package satisfying as hell. We have all the bases covered, man.

For additional information on Stephen and his many projects, visit -

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