Breanna Lucci chats with Connecticut native, Michael Lombardi to discuss his latest horror film, The Retaliators.
Michael Lombardi, known for his filmmaking expertise, stars in and co-directs horror thriller, The Retaliators. Lombardi is a musician, producer, director, actor, and much more. He’s also the head of production and development at the global entertainment company, Better Noise Films.
The Retaliators is a gore-filled thriller that tackles numerous storylines in its dark and gruesome portrayal of how far a father should go to avenge his daughter’s murder. When Bishop (Lombardi), a celebrated pastor, hesitantly allows his teenage daughter Sarah (Katie Kelly) to attend a Christmas Eve party, he can’t know how quickly things will change. While pumping gas before the party, Sarah runs into violent drug smuggler Ram (Joseph Gatt), and by the time she realizes the imminent danger, it’s too late. Sarah’s murder rings deafeningly loud through Bishop’s ears, and he finds himself at a devastating crossroads: should he continue taking the high road? Or is real revenge something God cannot give? Is it, instead, something he needs to claim himself?
Lombardi and I chatted about all things horror, The Retaliators, and his professional journey. He’s a fascinating individual with a lot of heart, so it’s no surprise that he's produced the great concoction that is The Retaliators.
The Retaliators had it's worldwide theatrical premiere on September 14, 2022. Find tickets to see the film in your area here.
Breanna Lucci: Were you a horror fan before making a splash in the genre? What are some films that have inspired you?
Lombardi: Well, I wasn’t the same after Jaws (1975). That’s the same with Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), Friday the 13th (1980), and Halloween (1978); they all greatly inspired me because they changed the horror game–they made the rules, really. More modern films like It Follows (2016) and Rob Zombie’s House of 1000 Corpses (2003) have been inspiring too. I’ve always been a big fan of horror films.
I pull influences from around me. I’m not the best at articulating my ideas; the Geare brothers (Darren Geare and Jeff Allen Geare) are way better than me. However, our creative influences and tastes are very aligned. For instance, at the film’s beginning, I went into a closet with my cell phone and recorded the monologue that my character said. And it was just my ear of being influenced by all those films that made me feel that it needs to be said a certain way. Now people are saying that it was very Cohen’s brothers-esque, and I love those guys, but I didn’t set out to do it like them. So, I’m very naive in some aspects, and I wish I was a little more well-read or rehearsed in my inspirations.
With this script, with the ’80s and the soundtracks and references to other films, I read it, and I was like, “Oh, my god. I get this. We have to make it.” All those films helped me as an actor and producer and helped me make choices as a director, but they weren’t at the forefront of my mind.
Breanna Lucci: That is fantastic. I will say, I noted the soundtrack in my review because it's so satisfying. Can you elaborate more on the music in The Retaliators?
Lombardi: Thank you. Allen Kovac, the founder, and CEO of Better Noise Music, is a legendary music manager. I brought The Retaliators to him, and he had unwavering loyalty to me in making this–he said, “Go make your movie. Oh, and by the way, here’s the number of a bunch of legendary artists.”
So I called Jacoby, and after telling me that his heels hurt from jumping off stage last night, I walked him through the film. He was like, “Dude; I’m in.” I was like, “Alright!” We carefully talked about the parts where his music would really shine. We wanted to do it in a non-gratuitous way.
I could access these guys because Alan wanted me to make a movie first and then have the silver lining of this beautiful core audience second. I never wanted to leech off the artist’s fans; I was hoping that I could make a film where lovers of horror come and see our film and go, “No way! That’s the dude from (whatever).”
And then we got the Stranger Things composers, Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein to jump onboard. So having those guys scoring the film really complemented the amazing soundtrack. All the musicians were incredible to work with: so prepared, so good. It was really special.
Breanna Lucci: How has your previous professional experience (or life experience) helped you fall into the role of Bishop?
Lombardi: I was on a show called Rescue Me. It was about New York City firefighters post 9/11, and it was on FX. I did almost 100 episodes. Dennis Leary was the star of the show, and he produced, starred in, and co-created it. I didn’t realize how much I was absorbing and taking in from him because he was the guy. Like, it was his show.
I was able to draw upon a lot of that once we got across the finish line because while making a movie, there are a lot of cooks in the kitchen. You need to know how to be a boss when you need to. So from him, I learned how to be a boss and drive this train to get this thing done; not everyone will like you at the end of the day. I’m not saying that happened here; I’m just saying that if you don’t speak up at that moment, then it’s gone for that scene, and you can’t go back.
For Bishop, my character on Rescue Me was a sweet guy, and Bishop certainly starts that way and is that way at heart. It was fun to get a little badass and really dive into the concept of that primal instinct. The idea of revenge is as old as Shakespeare. It was so fun to explore.
Breanna Lucci: It certainly worked, I loved your portrayal of Bishop. How did the opportunity for The Retaliators come about?
Lombardi: I used to write with the Geare brothers. I lived in California for a while and had a band in the early 2000s. One day, I was told about these brothers and told I needed to write music with them. We met and made some music, and then several years passed until I had a charity event coming up, where I was going to play one of the songs I wrote with Darren. So I called him about it, and we started talking about the screenplays he was working on during that conversation. One was The Retaliators, and I just fell in love with it. I was on a plane to LA about three or four days later to get started.
Breanna Lucci: I love the spontaneousness. What was it like working with Samuel Gonzalez Jr. and Bridget Smith as co-directors on this film?
Lombardi: Basically, Bridget Smith was really good at the story and creating a wonderful and safe environment for the actors. That’s something you need for the actors; you need trust. We got a lot of the story stuff through her.
Samuel Gonzalez is very stylized, with really good visions. For example, if you’re drinking a glass of water, his shot will shoot up through the glass of water up to your eye, and then there will be a reflection of a machete or something. He taught me a lot.
Production-wise, COVID-19 allowed us to fill the holes in the film because it gave us a second to breathe. I was the producer, so I got to ride the line between the two of them. Co-directing can be all over the place, but we were able to get over the multi-director obstacles.
Breanna Lucci: What does the future look like for you? Are there any projects you’re currently working on?
Lombardi: There’s still more lifting for this film. Down the line, we’ll do streaming and all that. I did a film, a fun romantic comedy that is kind of crazy. It was fun to be ridiculous on camera and do something really light. Tom Berenger plays my dad in the film, which is badass and cool. He’s such a great dude, so I learned a lot from him.
Also, Better Noise Films is going to do another movie. Hopefully, it’ll be with the Geare brothers and my editor, Randy Bricker. The Geare brothers have a lot of other great scripts and other Retaliators films in mind. So, we’ll see where it takes us!