The Retaliators is a horror movie with '80s action vibes soaked in Spaghetti Western roots. The question it poses is simple — what would you do if you had a minute alone with your loved one's killer? Anything goes. No cameras, no witnesses, no escape. Just don't kill the guy. The question seems simple enough, but the reality of the answer gets a bit murkier. For Pastor Bishop, the opportunity unexpectedly presents itself. Michael Lombardi is the producer, co-director, and star of The Retaliators. He's also a fan of spaghetti westerns (along with the rest of the Retaliators co). Of his first experience with Darren and Jeff Allen Geare's script, Lombardi says, "Besides, of course, the wink at the '80s, and even a bit of a Sin City graphic novel-esque vibe, it had that Charles Bronson sort of badass feel to it too. It has that slow-burn story, and it gets badass. And then the ending is like a nod to Tarantino, I'd say. That's where we give the crazy gore payoff. It had all those elements, and I literally fell in love with the story. I'm like, 'I've got to make this thing.'"
By nature, Bishop is a pacifist and a peacemaker. Early on, after a Christmas tree altercation in front of his daughters, the eldest urges him to be a little more like "Bruce -Whatever-His-Name-Is." Of course, Bishop's response is a practical one "'80s action heroes solve problems with violence and one-liners. Real life doesn't work that way." This was a big part of the appeal for Lombardi. "You have to really peel back the onion on this guy because he really starts off at one place and ends up in a completely different place. And that's what intrigued me so much. You get to do the gamut here as an actor. There's obviously a lot of action, but there are so many layers. It was really fun to prepare for the guy because he is a man of the cloth approaching this provocative question and the foundation of the film: if you had a minute alone with the person who killed your loved one, would you take it?"
A friendship with longtime music executive Allen Kovac led to a soundtrack that feels like an event. Akin to the '90s soundtracks that felt like a companion piece to a film. Kovac, who now runs the label Better Noise Music and Better Noise Films, has worked with the likes of Meat Loaf and the Bee Gees. His current roster includes over 40 bands, from Mötley Crüe, to Five Finger Death Punch, Ice Nine Kills, Jacoby Shaddix, and Papa Roach. Lombardi brought the Geare brothers' script to Kovac, and they decided to go all in on putting the musicians in the movie as cameos and making a killer soundtrack. The next step, Lombardi says, "was making them really shine as actors and making a film first and putting them in a very non-gratuitous manner." Five Finger Death Punch plays the motorcycle gang, Jacoby Shaddix of Papa Roach is the main baddie, and you might also spot a little Tommy Lee in the mix.
A painstakingly created soundtrack deserves a proper release, and according to Lombardi, a vinyl release is on the way, "It's so beautiful. The vinyl is white with blood splat, it's got posters, and it's so fun." But in the same vein as not wanting to gratuitously pop the cameos in there, the filmmakers didn't want to gratuitously throw the soundtrack in there either. "We really wanted to be careful where we placed the music. Of course, you want to complement the emotion or the objective that the scene is expressing, so it doesn't go against the grain and supports it and even heightens the audience member's experience."
In addition to a soundtrack packed with familiar names, you'll likely recognize a couple of familiar names on the score. "We were lucky enough to get the fucking Stranger Things guys to score this. Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein scored the movie after all this incredible music was placed." Lombardi gets to channel a little bit of two of our favorite Bruces in his journey with Pastor Bishop. Willis and Campbell. "I never thought about anybody that was actually alive in terms of playing my character. We've talked about Ash, Evil Dead, and the films of the '80s and '90s. The incredible thing is all of those were influences. Hostel, Saw — like a thinking man's Hostel. So in terms of that, all the influences you discussed are influences for the style of the film. But for me, with the character, I just based everything on what I could tap into that was real to me, all the elements."
Rather than drawing from any specific characters for the role of Bishop, specifically, Lombardi created a backstory for the character to draw from as the "why" of it all. "I sort of layered in that maybe when he was a real young man at 18, he was going down the wrong path. I don't remember exactly what I used, but here's an example. Maybe he was in a bar fight at 18, and he punched somebody, and the guy fell on his head and almost died. It was an accident. He didn't want to kill him, but maybe that happened. And then, through that, he almost went to jail. Maybe he was introduced to becoming a man of the cloth, and it opened up his eyes, and maybe that's where he met his wife... I wanted to give him something in his past that he had to bury. So all this stuff you just sort of build in. And I never based it on any character that I saw in a movie, but on of real life things and the imaginary circumstances around in which this guy has to live."
"You do all that crazy fantasy work, and then you just let it go. Then you put your two feet on the ground in the scene. And you never push it, but it's there. If you're talking to someone sitting next to you at a cafe or something and you just strike up a conversation, you don't know what they've been through in their lives. But it's there. And as you said precisely, it informs their decisions and how they interact daily."
In addition to collaborating with familiar names in music, Lombardi also worked with a familiar editor. "I was so lucky we brought in Randy Bricker to edit. We wanted a guy who knows story and horror. He also worked on Halloween 6; he's the head editor on the Chucky series. He was the perfect mix for me as the editor to bring in. We worked so closely together on this thing, and he was incredible."
Lombardi may be fairly new to producing features, with two projects now under his belt, but he's been acting for quite some time. As a series regular on Rescue Me, he cites some valuable advice he got from Denis Leary, co-creator, star, and producer of the series. "He always talked about, if you can get into the writer's head, there's no one closer to the project creatively. So as an actor, I'd always want to do that. And now, as a producer, when I'm on set, and I'm on location, I would call [the writers] when I could. Or if I had to fight for something that I believed in and maybe someone didn't, or if my eyes needed to be opened, I always had them to lean on because I knew the script I loved was the script that I read."
The Retaliators takes place during the holidays, and we even get a few Christmas trees. When asked whether he qualifies this as a Christmas horror, Lombardi laughs. "There's been a little bit of a debate. It's fun because it's a horror, so Halloween is a nice time to do it, and it's starting to get a little colder, and we're getting into the season. But for me, this is a fun movie through November and Christmas because, certainly, the Christmas elements are shining bright in it. "
Lombardi lists some classics in his Christmas repertoire: Silent Night, Deadly Night, Die Hard, and Krampus. Maybe The Retaliators will make its way onto your naughty (nice?) lists this year.
Marc Menchaca, Michael Lombardi, a high-octane original soundtrack, and cameos from some of the biggest names in rock music, including Five Finger Death Punch, Tommy Lee, and Papa Roach, set the tone for this epic horror-thriller. The Retaliators is available to rent or own on Digital now!