Watching James Balsamo’s new flick, I Spill Your Guts, and to an extent his first film Hack Job, is kinda like having my most recent ex-girlfriend tell you a story. It’s a very “stream of consciousness” storytelling style. There is a central through line, and it will end up at the right place, but on the way there it will meander, split off, and follow tangents; weaving in and out of itself so many times that occasionally you forget what the actual story was until you unexpectedly find yourself back in it. The difference is, with I Spill Your Guts, at the end of the approximately hour and a half long experience, you are left entertained and glad that you went for the ride instead of just being glad it’s finally over. Also, I doubt the movie would get all butthurt if you start singing “The Neverending Story” at it. There is one similarity between the flick and one of (name withheld)’s grueling stories though, if you find that the movie isn’t working for you for one reason or another, you always have the option of just zoning out and focusing on the tits.
Synopsis: “Two friends Dennis and Joe join the military together. While on a routine mission, the two are quickly surrounded by enemy fire. When Joe stands up in the line of fire to run, Dennis pushes him out of the way and takes a bullet in the throat. Dennis wakes up in hospital to find Joe rewarded as a hero. Joe told a lie and took all the glory, and Dennis was left as a mute from the accident. Dennis can't talk, but actions speak louder then words. The two return home to N.Y. and now the war rages in the streets. Dennis wants revenge on Joe, so he will kill everyone close to him. One little lie will cost so many innocent lives.”
One of the things I enjoy about finding a director early on in their career is watching the evolution of their work. I really enjoyed Hack Job (REVIEW) as a first feature, and it’s interesting to see Balsamo’s progression as a filmmaker. One of the main differences between the two movies is that this time Balsamo went for a single story instead of an anthology. To be honest, with how “all over the place” Hack Job was, I had my doubts as to whether or not he could pull off a feature length plotline. He does so quite well actually. As I mentioned, it does swerve all over the path, and we see the writer/director’s penchant for asides like showing a music video in the middle of the flick or a scene involving wrestling that has nothing to do with the central plot, but it’s not a problem. He definitely makes it work and the central story stays strong. In I Spill Your Guts, the schizophrenic energy of Hack Job has actually gelled into a legitimate, discernable filmmaking style. Those who subscribe to auteur film theory could make an interesting study out of Balsamo. He even manages to skillfully use social commentary without becoming preachy, a feat that some of the genre’s old masters even have trouble pulling off.
While it does maintain a sense of humor, ISYG is far less silly than HJ. The story of a veteran coming home from war and turning psychotic and homicidal is not exactly new. That motif has been used in films like Forced Entry, Combat Shock, Death Dream, The Ravager, The Exterminator, Targets, Cannibal Apocalypse, Bayou, and others. The “revenge for stolen glory” angle is a new twist, however, which is always appreciated in the often derivative world of low budget filmmaking. Not only is the story fresh, but The American Executioner (who Balsamo also portrays) is a great character. The camo army jacket paired with that genius American flag mask is a look that stands side by side with some of the classic slashers of horror history. I would like to see him return, as I think the character has franchise potential.
Another thing I dug about this flick was the gritty New York City atmosphere. The film manages to capture that seedy, grimy, dangerous, 42nd Street quality of a bygone era of the Big Apple. It’s the same atmosphere that helped make films like Maniac, Basket Case, Frankenhooker, and Driller Killer so good. The sleaze is palpable. It’s something I haven’t seen done right in a horror flick since the ACTUAL grindhouse era, and it’s impressive that this one was able to pull it off.
The sleaze factor is, of course, helped by the fact that there is a copious amount of nudity. We never go more than a few minutes without some eye candy. The movie is bursting with bountiful bare breasts and flush with full frontal fun. James, you’ve definitely got a good handle on the basics buddy.
The soundtrack will be a polarizing feature of the flick. Metalheads will love it. Others, maybe not so much. Some will say that the soundtrack overpowers the movie, but I contend that this soundtrack is so integral to the film that it is a character in and of itself. Featuring metal bands like Cannabis Copse, Suffocation, Ghoul, Mausoleum, Skeletonwitch, and way too many more to list, this is definitely the best movie soundtrack since, well, James’s last movie. For the horror punk lovers like me, there are also contributions from Calabrese, Order of the Fly, Thee Flanders, Nightmare Sonata, and the almighty Bloodsucking Zombies From Outer Space. Trust me, this flick could attain cult classic status based on its music alone.
As is becoming his trademark, Balsamo has jam-packed I Spill Your Guts with cameos. Of course Uncle Lloyd is in there. Dave Brockie (aka Oderus Urungus from GWAR), Debbie Rochon, and Lynn Lowery also make a return. We get cameos by the incomparable John Link (Spiderbabe, The Collective vol. 2) and Tim Dax (Mr. Bricks, CSI). Andrew W.K. drops in to get his head split. The movie features some great independent film directors in acting roles, like Joel Reed (Blood Sucking Freaks, Bloodbath), Tim Ritter (the criminally underrated Truth or Dare series), and Donald Farmer (I Will Dance On Your Grave: Cannibal Hookers, Savage Vengeance). We even get to see ECW legend Balls Mahoney nearly cave someone’s skull in with a steel chair. These cameos run the gamut from a five second long non-sequitur (Brockie) to a major role in the story (Rochon), and playing “spot the cameo” makes for an additional dimension of fun for the viewer.
As far as the gore goes, it was damn good. Really damn good. Some of the kills are downright brutal, and that “getting head” scene was a classic. The final kill in the junkyard was awesome. I love that the effects were all practical, and they look great. There were a couple of kills that occurred mainly off screen though, and a couple that looked clipped for some reason. I understand that it was probably a budget thing. Like I said, there is plenty of gore on display, but with a title like I Spill Your Guts, I kinda expected an over the top, “paint the entire set red,” full on Das Kommabrutale style splatterfest. Then again, I’m horror-jaded as hell, and there’s no such thing as enough gore in my mind (I think Dead Alive still could have used more blood), so take that with a big ‘ol grain of salt. I do tend to ask for far too much as far as the grue goes.
The only thing I can really call this flick out on is the sound. Just like its predecessor, there are issues with the sound mix. The musical interludes are far louder than the dialog scenes, and the transition can be jarring. That needed to me smoothed out some. Seriously, that’s the only thing I didn’t like here. Well, there is the fact that the opening news footage was re-used later in the movie. That was kinda redundant. Other than those two things it was all good. Sure, there is some shaky cam, but the vast majority of it is first person, so it makes sense. That’s more than I can say for a lot of big budget studio releases these days. Sure a few of the performances are amateurish, but that’s to be expected, and the really good performances (especially the one by newcomer Billy Walsh) more than make up for that. Now if they would just fix that damn sound.
Random Thought #2: All of the grammar in the text was right this time. Excellent.
Random Thought #3: Kelli Lynn Sage, who plays Heather, is insanely hot.
I had a blast watching this film, and I mean every word of praise I’ve given it, but I would be remiss if I didn’t throw out the same warning I did with Balsamo’s last flick. This is a “Video Fringe” film. Read the Hack Job review if you don’t know that term. It’s not glossy, it’s not “state of the art” from a technical standpoint, and it isn’t mainstream. It doesn’t have big budget gloss. It doesn’t have the current star from that CW teen drama. It doesn’t have contrived, safe scares. You know what else it doesn’t have? CGI. I love that. What it does have is originality, heart, soul, and balls. It also has some awesome death scenes and a killer soundtrack. Oh, and boobs. Can’t forget the boobs. What I’m saying is this, if you can’t get beyond the sanitized, hollow, cookie cutter drivel that studios are trying to pass off as “indie horror flicks” these days, then this probably isn’t for you. If you love a low budget, rough around the edges, fun as hell, truly independent horror flick with a head on its shoulders and another on the sidewalk, you will dig I Spill Your Guts just like I did. I can’t wait to see what Acid Bath serves up next. Both Hack Job and I Spill Your Guts are currently available from Wild Eye Releasing (LINK). One and a half severed thumbs up. Nathan says check it out.