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."
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)
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