An Interview with James Balsamo – By Misty Layne

I recently had a chance to chat with James Balsamo about his upcoming film “Cool as Hell” featuring Tom Savini, Laurence R. Harvey from "The Human Centipede 2", and David Naughton from "American Werewolf in London", and Andrew W.K.. We also talked about the horror genre, Troma, and insomnia. You can check out the “Cool as Hell” trailer here, find it on Netflix here and if you’re in the area, stop by this convention to meet James.

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ML: It looks like you became horror obsessed as a young child – what’s your first horror memory?

 JB: I was eight years old and watching Friday the 13th Part III with my father – I was loving every minute of it (until they showed Jason’s mother’s severed rotting head…that scared the crap out of me). Soon after, my own mother (with a head on her shoulders) asked me if I wanted to join an acting school. That’s when it hit me! I could be that guy behind the mask. I’m not a sports fan or a horticulture enthusiast; I eat, sleep and breathe horror films, so it was clear from a young age I wanted to live and work among the monsters and madmen of cinema universe. Watching that movie was my first horror memory.

ML:  Who do you prefer – Freddy or Jason?

JB: Well, although Jason opened the door to the horror world for me, it’s really Freddy who holds my still beating heart in his razor gloved hand. I’m a gore geek, and the FX throughout the "Nightmare on Elm St." films is just Gorgasmic.  Not to mention the cheesy one liners that spew from Krueger’s mouth. Sure, he might not have the best fashion sense, or the best completion, but Freddy was Freddy since the first film. It took Jason three movies before he even got his signature hockey mask look. I’m not hating on Jason, because that cat can kill, But as far sequels go, in that series it’s all over the place. Jason isn’t even the slasher in one of the "Friday The 13th" films, it’s a copycat killer. (Personally that’s one of my favorites, but that’s beside the point). They’re both giants in the slasher genre, but I prefer Freddy to Jason any day of the week. 

ML:  You’re a director now but you used to be an actor.  When’s the last time you were in something and is acting something you would consider doing again or have you given it up completely?

JB: I actually act in all of my films. My latest role is the leading character Rich in my new film "Cool As Hell". When I was growing up I couldn’t find anyone that was shooting horror films to act in. I went to film school, so I could make my own movies to star in, and I did just that. Now that I have directed three feature films with worldwide distribution, I’m living my dream of being an actor. I just also happen to be a director, writer, producer, and FX artist. I have made a ton of friends in the horror community, and I’m always honored to have cameos in fellow film makers’ upcoming projects. 

ML: What’s the biggest difference between directing and acting and do you think that having originated as an actor makes you a better director?

JB: Acting and directing are two completely different animals it’s like comparing oil, and a punch in the dick. Acting is a very ego centric career choice. You have to worry about your own lines and actions. In a sense of course, as an actor you care about the project, but most actors aren’t on set every day, thus relieving them of every concern on set. As a director you’re essentially the parent of the cast and crew. When the director says it’s a great shoot, it’s like daddy is going to take you out for ice cream. The director takes the good with the bad. When you need to do a third take or a shoot runs late, it’s like a parent giving a spanking and everyone pouts about. Then the director is the bad guy. In the end it’s all worth it though, because you made a movie that will last forever, and immortalizes everyone just a little bit. The cast & crew might reflect on the few times you were tough, but damn it they respect you, just like a good parent.

ML:   “Hack Job” was your directorial debut and you also wrote it (as well as the rest of your works that you’ve directed).  Tell us about “Hack Job” – what is it about and why is that where you decided to start your directorial journey?

JB: Synopsis: James and Mike are tired of art films taking away the credit that horror films deserve. So, they get a script from the devil to make the best horror film ever. The script has three stories in it. The first is about Nazis that awaken a mummy’s curse. The second tale is about an alien that crashes a battle of the bands and then starts eating the contestants, and the last story is about a man who gets possessed to kill televangelists…you will never guess who possessed him. Find out this and more in Horror/Comedy HACK JOB!

"Hack Job" is an anthology like some of my favorite films, such as "CreepShow", and "Tales From The Darkside". Before I made my first feature I was making short films for about six years. I felt that making short films and tying them together to make an anthology was the best way to transition into making a feature.  The film was definitely a learning process, and a project I still look back on fondly, because it opened the flood gates to working with my idols such as Lead singer of GWAR Dave Brockie, Lloyd Kaufman, and Debbie Rochon. Working with celebrity cameos have now become a staple part of my life. It’s just a regular Tuesday after noon on set, but it’s awesome to know that my first film "Hack Job" paved the way for all this to happen. 

ML: Do you write other than screenplays or do you stick strictly to writing for film?

JB: I write just about anything you can think of songs, poems, and love letters to my dogs. Here is that very love letter.

To my dog beast. Oh how I love you, let me count the ways. I love the way your hair sways as you stick your head out of the car. I love the way you bark at shadows by the door. I love the way you share my lunch, and I love how you lick your nuts. I love the fact that you shit on my floor, I couldn’t love you any more. 

I left it for him to read, but he’s still not grasping the concept of the English language. If it was any consolation he did piss on it. I believe that was to acknowledge I had made the effort. I also used to be a stand up comic, so I wrote all my own jokes. I’m a writing machine, when I have the time to sit down and do it. Before I was a film maker I played in a bunch of bands as a lead singer, I actually wrote the lyrics to all three theme songs in my films. Played by Bloodsucking Zombies From Outer Space, and The Jimmy Psycho Experiment(AKA PsychoCharger). I still have a great passion for music, I’m currently writing my solo album now which I plan on releasing this year. 

ML: Your newest film “Cool as Hell” was just released and tells the story of Rich, a comic book store employee, who meets a demon who ultimately becomes a samurai sword wielding zombie slayer.  Where did the idea for this come from?

JB: I have terrible insomnia, and I actually get a lot of my work done while most people who have conventional jobs would be sleeping.  The idea for "Cool As Hell" came to me one night while tossing and turning. I really wanted to go back to a horror’/comedy after my second feature "I Spill Your Guts". I wanted "Cool As Hell" to be fun and over the top. So, I created the character Az, the demon. He’s is a raunchier combination of Maurice from the film "Little Monsters" and BeetleJuice. Az, even has a sex scene with naked red demon woman. Let me tell you, that is an experience all by itself. If you ever have to paint nude actors solid colors with a paint brush. I should have just got one of those house spray guns. A logical person would have used an air brush. I just felt I got more texture out of the paint brush, it helped it look more like demon skin. The samurai sword was one of those great cinema mishaps. Originally it was meant to be a chainsaw homage to "Evil Dead 2", but the prop mysteriously went missing, Our director of photography Guy Marchais stepped away for a minute and returned with the samurai sword.  The problem was solved and a sword wielding, Hawaiian shit wearing legend was born.

ML: Are you a comic book fan and if so, what are your favorites?

JB: I’m actually a big comic book geek. Film making is a very time consuming career, so I don’t get to read them as much as I like. I used to read old EC Tales From The Crypt comics, The Max, The Punisher series, Savage Dragon, Vampirella,  and The Goon.  My all-time favorite comic book though is Mr. Monster. I actually got in contact with creator Michael T. Gilbert to use the Mr. Monster comic in "Cool As Hell". I actually got permission from Michael, but I couldn’t decide which issue I liked the most to use. I just had the two main characters reference how great Gilbert and Mr. Monster are. It’s actually what brings the two love interests together. I currently have a comic book of my own in development for my film "I Spill Your Guts". After the film was novelized by Nick Kisella, I knew the American Executioner could hack and slash his way into the hearts of readers. I plan on really spilling some guts right off the page in this gory comic book. 

ML:    The trailer for “Cool as Hell” has a Troma-esque quality about it – were you influenced at all by Lloyd Kaufman?  Who are your horror influences when it comes to making films?

JB: It’s funny you say that because I have strong ties to Troma still to this day. I used to intern for them. I made a lot of great connections working for Troma that’s how I met Debbie Rochon. Also, I was honored that Lloyd Kaufman was seen wearing a "Hack Job" shirt on the set of his new film "Return to Nuk’em High". Troma is my home away from home, and it’s really been interesting to hear people all over the world call me the new Lloyd Kaufman. I think the strangest was hearing Lloyd say it himself in an interview on Troma T.V.. My horror influences as a director span across the world. I’m fond of Italian horror films so needless to say Lucio Fulci, and Dario Argento. There are so many film makers I draw creativity from the list, and I would just go on and on. But some people who really stand out are Stuart Gordon, Herchell Gordon Lewis, and Charles Band.

ML: Tom Savini is just one of the big names in “Cool as Hell”.  I’m a fan of his work – how was it working with him?  And how were you able to get him into your film?

JB: Acid Bath Productions is a growing company and we work with a number of celebrity names. I had met Tom a few times in the past, I bumped into him at a horror convention and I told him about "Cool As Hell". He thought it was a great concept and was on board. Working with your idols can be a great experience, and working with Tom was nothing short of that. Tom and I cross paths on the convention circuit all the time now, and he’s always such a fun guy to chat movies with. 

ML: It looks like you’ll be appearing at a few horror conventions around the country.  Can you tell us when and where you’ll be in the next couple of months?

JB: Becoming a guest at horror conventions is a dream come true. I’ve already been a guest at several shows including, Days Of the Dead Atlanta, Rock N Shock, and Horror realm to name a few. May 3rd, I will be a guest at Texas Frightmare in Dallas Texas. So if you’re in the area, I hope to see you there. I love meeting the fans and making new friends at conventions.

ML: Do you have any advice you’d give to upcoming directors and/or writers?  And are there any other upcoming projects you’d like to mention?

JB: Film making is not a science. If you have a desire to make a film, go out and do it. Anything is possible if you put your mind to it, with some elbow grease and help from your friends and family.  If you don’t have friends, invest in a tripod and make a movie. 

Acid Bath Productions is currently in production on its fourth feature film "Mystery Meat". Here is the synopsis: Blake is struggling through his fiancé’s perfect wedding plans. Not to mention his problems running a downward spiraling restaurant, that he shares with his brother Tony. When alien eggs from a meteor crash, end up in their latest food delivery, all hell breaks loose. Then, to make matters worse, the eggs hatch into devilish fast growing space varmints. One of the little monsters swallows Blake’s wedding ring. Now, Tony and Blake have to find the creature with the ingested ring, before Blake’s bridezilla to be, causes more damage than any space varmint could. The boys really bit off more than they could chew in this crazy horror/comedy titled Mystery Meat!

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The film is currently slated for an October release, and features cameos from Debbie Rochon, Jake ‘The Snake’ Roberts, Irwin Keyes, Johnny Legend, Frank Mullen, Carmine Capobianco, and Theodous Crane from AMC’s “The Walking Dead”. The film will be filled with the same nudity, humor, gore, and awesome soundtracks that our fans have come to know and love.