Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Review: Cool As Hell

Yeah, yeah, I know. I was supposed to have this review up last week.  I’ve been busy on SOC’s current pet project though, so me getting a little behind will be worth it in time.  I promise.  Anyway, if you’ve been a Cellmate for a while, you know that James Balsamo and Acid Bath Productions have been associated with Son of Celluloid since damn near the beginning, and vice versa.  Hell, Hack Job was the third screener I ever received.  Earlier this month at Days of the Dead, I finally got to meet James Balsamo in person, and he hooked me up with a hot off the presses copy of his new flick Cool As Hell.  He also gave me an I Spill Your Guts shirt (which – spoiler alert – is still my favorite Acid Bath flick).  Admit it, you’re jealous.  The question is, does Cool As Hell live up to its name? 

Synopsis: “Rich wasn’t always a samurai sword wielding zombie slayer! He was your average comic book store employee, until he met a demon named Az. When Az came from Hell, he left the portal open and a soul hungry beast escaped. Rich and his roommate Benny used to have girl troubles, but that’s the least of their worries now. They have to stop the creature and the living dead that have crawled out of Hell. Who would have thought Rich would have to save the world just to get laid?”
The number one thing that struck me as I watched Cool As Hell was the acting.  It is leaps and bounds above his previous two flicks.  It’s got a lot of the same actors too.  I don’t know if they just found the right roles this time around or they grew as artists or what, but the leads are great.  Balsamo and Dan E. Danger, as Rich and Benny, are a damn good comic duo.  Balsamo, in particular, shows some spot on comic timing in his delivery.  Billy Walsh, who you might remember as Joe Bava in I Spill Your Guts, pulls off the perfect attitude and presence as Az.  Lauren Adamkiewicz shows off the chops to carry off a leading lady role.  Frank Mullen, who is also the lead singer for legendary death metal band Suffocation, is hilarious.  Every time he opens his mouth, the (seemingly improvised) string of profane rage that spews forth will have you rolling.  As good as the leads are, there is a time-honored tradition in comedies of someone in a small character role stealing the whole f’n show.  In Cool As Hell, that was Jackie Wolozin.  She’s only on screen for a little over four minutes, but for those four minutes she is supreme lord and commander of your eyeballs, ‘cause they ain’t going anywhere.  Here’s hoping she has a role in Acid Bath’s future flicks.
As with HJ and ISYG, the soundtrack is great.  Not only do The Bloodsucking Zombies From Outer Space contribute another theme song, but their music is used throughout the flick, which I personally loved.   Some of the best bands the metal and punk scenes have to offer are featured as well.  One of the criticisms that HJ and I Spill Your Guts sometimes drew was that the music, while great, sometimes didn’t mesh well with what was on screen, and sometimes actually worked against the scene.  That’s been remedied in this flick.  I was really impressed with how the music always set the appropriate mood and worked in tandem with the action this time,.  The music just bludgeoned it’s way through before.  Now it’s more of a surgical strike, making these great soundtracks, which have always been a major draw for these flicks, an even more potent weapon in Acid Bath’s cinematic arsenal.
The cinematography deserves special mention as well.  A couple of moments (what in the green hell was up with that first seizure inducing scene in the comic shop?) not withstanding, overall the film looks great.  Where the camera work really shines is in the actual camera movement.  Director of Photography Guy Marchais deserves a round of applause, because those tracking shots were fluid, visually engaging, and showed a pretty unique style.  It’s hard to put my finger on precisely what it was, but these shots were just plain cool looking. 
All of the usual Acid Bath touches that we’ve come to know and love are here.  As I mentioned, the soundtrack kicks ass.  The flick is full of Balsamo’s trademark “blink and you missed it” cameos from Tom Savini, Laurence Harvey, Andrew W.K., Tim Dax, Raven, Tommy Dreamer, David Naughton,  Carmine Capobianco, Tim Ritter, and the list goes on and on.  There are also a lot of musician cameos, including members of The Meatmen, God Forbid, Cannabis Corpse, Municipal Waste (who are hilarious), Black Tusk, etc.  There’s some fun low budget style gore.  And it wouldn’t be a Balsamo flick without the tits.  Bountiful tits.  Lots and lots of bare breasts.  I think one of the things I most like about the nudity in this flick is that it’s non discriminatory.  There are big boobs, smaller boobs, skinny girls, thick chicks, and everything in between.  I dig that.  Variety is the spice of life.
Along with those integral Acid Bath hallmarks, a couple of their same old issues rear their ugly heads too.  Part of Balsamo’s storytelling style is for the film to go off on sub-plot tangents, which is not a problem…unless those tangents go on too long.  There was one scene in particular involving Sal collecting money at a bar that seemed interminable. A little more liberal snipping in scenes like that would really help maintain the flick’s momentum.  Also, the sound needed help.  While the leveling issue isn’t even remotely as bad as in I Spill Your Guts, there are times when the conversation is too quiet or the music is too loud.  There were some outdoor scenes where the wind was obviously beating the living shit out of the mic.  A quick overdub would have done a world of good.  I’ve called both of this film’s predecessors on their sound issues too, but don’t think I’m picking on you James.  In my always humble but never wrong opinion, sound is currently the single most neglected piece of the filmmaking puzzle amongst indie horror filmmakers.
I’m not entirely sure what to say about the comedy aspects of the film.  I’ve said before that I’m extremely picky about my comedies.  Some of the stuff here was just too silly to work for me.  That’s a matter of personal taste though.  I think that fans of all kinds of comedy will find something here to dig.  I’m definitely more into dialogue and character driven comedy, and thankfully there’s some of that in here too.  Comedy is such a subjective thing that you really can’t judge it.  Not all of the gags were my cup of tea, but I’m sue they will be a lot of people’s.  The one thing that I can say for sure is that I would have liked to see some more horror in this horror-comedy.  All of the horrific stuff is in the very beginning and last 20 minutes.  What lies betwixt the samurai sword zombie slicing is more or less just a straight up comedy with a demon as a character.  If that counted, then Bedazzled and Oh God would be horror comedies too.  That’s not to say that it doesn’t work as a comedy, and the horror elements are well done, but I wish the macabre goodness was dispersed a little more evenly throughout the flick.

Random Thought 1: I mentioned that great theme song earlier.  Well, here it is.  Go listen to it.  Then go to facebook and tell the Bloodsucking Zombies From Outer Space that they need to play in America.  Don’t leave me as the voice crying out in the wilderness here.  Damn I love this band. 

Random Thought 2: You know that beautiful moment where you’re laughing so hard that you can barely choke out “what the unholy f**k was that?”  Tim Dax’s cameo got that reaction from me.
Random Thought 3: The drinking game from Hack Job still applies.  Drink any time an actor (particularly the bands) looks like they’re barely maintaining a straight face.
Random Thought 4:  I just misspelled Hack Job, and spellcheck asked me if I meant Hand Job.  Interesting.

I’ve talked before about how Balsamo’s flicks exist on the video fringe and might not resonate with more mainstream oriented audiences.  Cool As Hell, however, is his most accessible flick.  Well, as accessible as a flick with demon sex and talking loogie named Boo-Gar (get it?) can be.  The flick definitely works as a comedy, there’s some nice splattery touches, and all of the things that make an Acid Bath flick fun are in full effect.
Balsamo takes a step towards more traditional filmmaking here, while keeping the other foot firmly stuck in the bizarro world of trash cinema.  So, invite your weirdo friends and your normal buddies too; chances are they’ll both think it’s Cool As Hell.  Seven Superbong tokes out of 10.  Nathan says check it out.

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