Sometimes when I’m watching micro-budget, direct-to-DVD horror crap, someone catches my eye and I wish that he or she would have been the star of the movie, or will at least go on to do other films.
A while back, I blogged about Halloween horror flick Jack ‘O’ Slasher (blog here), and made note of the cute bearish funny guy who died way too early. More recently, I was watching MILFs vs. Zombies (blog here) and discovered that the same guy, one James Balsamo, was yet again my favorite part of a film. He’s funny, he’s adorable, and he just looks like he’s having a hell of a good time making ridiculous horror comedies.
Clearly, he is. Because he has gone on to make a bunch of his own with his production company, Acid Bath Productions. I wanted more Balsamo in my z-grade movies, and his films give it to me good. They also definitely make me feel at home. James is from Long Island, where I live and grew up, so his home-brewed films feel like Long Island to me, in all its cheesy, white trashy badness, complete with our horrible accents.
Rather than feeling like full-length features, his films are more like a series of comic bits and scenes that loosely come together to form a simple plot. Sprinkle in loads of tits, heavy metal music, and practical low-budget gore effects, and you really get flashbacks to late 80s direct-to-VHS garbage kids like me couldn’t get enough of as a teen. So here are the four films I checked out.
HACK JOB (2011)
I’ve saved the worst for first. So…I haven’t saved it. But what do you expect from a movie called Hack Job about two wannabe filmmakers given a bad script by the devil that they must make into a movie? It even begins with a bouncing ball sing-a-long featuring the line “We can’t promise a plot, but there’s lots of gore and tits.”
While the film is presented as an anthology with three stories, there’s so much random shit going on it’s often hard to tell when one story has ended and another begun—especially since James is the lead in all of them. Although, he stands out a bit more in the third story, because he has 1980s Sammy Hagar hair! Awesome.
Weeding through all the messy confusion, the stories include: military baddies bringing a bunch of mummies to life; alien parasites turning people into zombies during a “battle of the bands” contest; a guy controlled by paranormal forces becomes a televangelist killer. Although James stars in all three tales, this one does little to show off his true comic skills. He’s kind of lost in the shuffle. And with Lloyd Kaufman in the film, the goal seems to be to make things as nonsensical as some of the worst Troma films.
But since this is patterning itself after Troma, you do get plenty of boobs, lesbianism, bad humor, and at last, some pretty impressive gore effects in the last story. Also, horror icons Lynn Lowry and Debbie Rochon make brief appearances. Debbie absolutely steals the show with just a few lines, perfectly capturing the comic tone James better demonstrates in his later films. I’ve said it before, but Debbie really shines when she’s doing horror comedy and really needs to be better utilized in this capacity in more indie horror movies. In fact, James and Debbie should do a movie together as the stars.
BITE SCHOOL (2015)
This vampire comedy is heavy on slapstick spoofing, beginning with an animated intro sequence accompanied by an “Addicted to Blood” spoof of the Robert Palmer hit. I just love animated intros in my horror comedies. Right after that, there’s a bloody good decapitation in an alley, giving a hot bald vampire complete neck access….
Here, James plays a rich boy who gets cut off by his grandfather, played by horror legend Herschell Gordon Lewis. Grandpa wants James to go back to school to get his GED.
Instead, James hits up all his friends for some cash—and gets hit back in return. Being mocked and abused by other characters is a trademark shtick of James’s movies, and he is so good at delivering laughs in the process. Two highlights of this section of the film include a guy at a bathroom urinal pissing all over James’s face, plus Ron Jeremy in a brief cameo in which he kicks James’s ass. I mean literally, he makes James bend over so he can kick his ass.
In the meantime, the bald vampire takes down an occasional victim, never really crossing paths with the main character. This is a noticeable pattern in all of James’s films—the “good” guy and the bad guy barely interact until the end.
Anyway, James eventually does go back to school. First thing he does is fantasize that the girls in class are shirtless. James, not one to shy away from gay jokes, also pictures a sexy black dude flashing his chest. Plus, he has a notable bromance with his gay buddy (played by sexy and funny Paul Fears). On top of that (who’s on top?), James’s very hetero sex dream is interrupted by a “wet dream” in which his gay buddy walks in wearing only tighty whities. But it’s no dream when the gay buddy humps a pillow good…before dry humping James!
It’s in the second half of the film that things begin to gel, with a focus on James, his gay buddy, and their classmates taking on an invasion of the school by the undead. Considering the title of the film, it would have been cool if more of the focus had been on this plot of the group trapped in the school with the vamps.
Look for cameos by b-movie horror king Edward X. Young, as well as Judy Tenuta.
COOL AS HELL (2015)
The basic premise of Cool as Hell is that James is a nerd working at a comic book store. When he meets a snazzy, pimped-out demon, he suddenly begins scoring women, falls for a cool chick who already has an asshole boyfriend, and eventually finds out he must take on monsters to save the world. James even has a burnout buddy, so this could have been a streamlined buddy movie/horror farce.
Instead, we once again get numerous comic scenes that exist despite the storyline. My favorites involve James’s nerdy character instantly being ripped a new one verbally by anyone he meets. I can see why James includes so many moments like this; they let his simple comic personality shine. I laughed out loud every time. There’s also plenty of nudity, and James’s first sex scene delivers my kind of adolescent sex humor. James even gets sour cream rubbed on his furry belly. I’m not a fan of the stuff…but I’d lick the sour cream off James’s belly any day.
There is an early alley attack by some sort of hairy beast that promises cheesy monster movie fun, but the horror only comes in at the end when James finally takes on a pack of zombies in a brief (but deliciously b-movie gory) sequence at the end.
While the comedy delivers in patches, Cool as Hell had the potential for plenty more laughs if the main characters had interacted more. For instance, there’s a lot of focus on the bad boyfriend guy, played by sexy scary Frank Mullen, who totally eats up the scenery in his first appearance. Again, I was laughing out loud. However, his numerous scenes throughout the film don’t even involve James; he could have been a great foil for James. James’s burnout buddy also just wanders on screen for some funny banter now and then. Even the demon stays at home having sex while James goes out doing his own thing, so they have very little interaction. The demon is such a charismatic character and deserved to play a bigger role in the story. He reminded me of Jim Carrey’s character in The Mask, but is a lot sexier.
The movie’s theme song is performed by horror punk band Bloodsucking Zombies from Outer Space.
Also, keep an eye out for Tom Savini and David Naughton in very brief cameos.
CATCH OF THE DAY (2014)
Catch of the Day is loaded with brief horror cameos. There’s Jason Mewes of Jay & Bob (who has gone on to do a lot of indie horror), James DuVal (Kea-no Reeves, as I like to call him), Debbie Rochon, Tony Todd, Edward X. Young, Irwin Keyes, and Tuesday Knight. Also, since this is a cop buddy movie, James’s sidekick is adorable Jeff Kim.
Same sex marriage was legalized just in time.
Generally, the plot concerns James and Jeff investigating a mad scientist who is turning humans into fish people. But be warned. The movie runs two hours and fifteen minutes and it’s not until an hour and a half into the movie that James and Jeff actually begin working on the case together.
In the meantime, we get various side stories. There are numerous flashbacks to times James fucked up on the job and got suspended from the force—including one confrontation with a flasher, complete with bouncy-dick-and-balls full-frontal!
He’s not small, it’s just hiding in the bushes.
James’s sister is marrying Jeff, so there are some clashes over that, leading to James dropping racist Asian jokes endlessly…and he even pokes fun at that. There’s also a drug lord plot that makes a majority of the film more of a cop comedy than a horror comedy.
Speaking of the horror comedy aspect, this is a totally low-budget farce, so don’t expect more than really bad b-movie monsters. In fact, the fish people are simply actors in yellow jumpsuits, fish masks, and reptile hands.
Wait. Is that the sexy Bite School baldy vamp being attacked by Greedo?
As is a pattern with James’s films, the big confrontation with the monsters is reserved for the very end, and once again, the plot could have centered solely on that story instead of going off on many tangents (shortening the film by a welcome 45 minutes or so in the process), and the humor could have been incorporated more heavily into the buddy scenario.
With Jeff as the straight guy, the duo made for a pretty strong comic team, and that could have been exploited so much more. For instance, there’s a scene in which James is chasing the baddies but is cock-blocked, literally. He encounters the gay pride parade! There’s a major montage, including gay kisses, drag queens, and leather men, all set to a song called “Suck on a wiener.”
I was on the edge of my seat waiting for James and Jeff to suddenly appear in nothing but thongs, dancing on a float in an effort to make it through the parade. But alas, the huge opportunity is missed, and James simply walks away from the parade. Come on, James. Show off that beary hairy bod in one of your movies and throw us gay horror fans a bone.
Actually, he kind of does in Catch of the Day. His character has a sex dream while standing on a subway, and his boner ends up right in some other dude’s face…and scores James a proposition from a trans guy next to him.
Perhaps James was thinking of a costume for the gay pride scene….
While James Balsamo’s hack job horror comedies may not have the most cohesive narratives or big budgets, they make me laugh and are loaded with boobs, practical blood effects, b-movie horror cameos, playful, non-derogatory gay humor, and James’s adorable face and meaty yummy body. He was even nice enough to send me this shot for his gay fans. Personally, I think he could stand to gain a few pounds here. And no, I didn’t ask why he’s posing for what appears to be a gay bondage porn beefcake shot. Who am I to judge?
You can purchase James Balsamo’s films on his website. Meanwhile, if you want to see James being a bit more serious in a short horror film in which he plays a redneck (he’s so versatile with his gay fetish attire), check out Homer here.