Monday, September 28, 2015

Review: Bite School

Text © Richard Gary / Indie Horror Films, 2015
Images from the Internet

Bite School                         
Written, produced, directed and edited (among others) by James Balsamo
Acid Bath Productions
94 minutes, 2015

In a world where indie filmmakers are trying to be the new Spielberg or Scorsese, or possibly even a Craven or Carpenter, James Balsamo seems to be aiming at best towards Landis’ The Kentucky Fried Movie (1977), though it would probably be more accurate to say Abbott and Costello or the Three Stooges, with him playing all the key parts, and usually in tight black tee-shirts to show off the “guns.”

Now, there’s two ways to read that paragraph, and if you’re not reading it in the complimentary way, well, you’re mistaken. Balsamo’s films are rude, crude, and full of pulchritude. In other words, they’re fun. Now, there are some A-listers who follow the rude-to-be-rude-to-be-cool rule, such as Seth Rogan and his ilk; personally, I find Balsamo’s stuff way more enjoyable because although it’s pretty obvious he (and the cast) is having fun, it’s not just working hard to reaching goofiness to be goofy, Balsamo’s films are just, well, goofy.

While he’s definitely an auteur and has his own “signatures,” each film has a unique idea at the base of it, and as it follows that thread, everyone and everything is jumping into the fray. One way to look at it is that he leans more to the School of It Don’t Matter (writing, acting, etc.); it’s more about the whole ride.

After a fun animated credits with a really off-key Robert Palmer homage called “Addicted to Blood,” we are introduced to Tony Canoni by Judy Tenuda and her “reality show,” Lifestyles of the Rich and Obnoxious. He’s a narcissistic rich twit (think Hiltons or Kardashians) who cares only about weed, sex, and, well, that’s about it. His girlfriend, Cookie (Sarah Martin), is an obnoxious golddigger twit.

James Balsamo and HG Lewis
After one misdeed too many, Tony’s grandfather (a stumbling Hershell Gordon Lewis, the Mass Market Maven of Florida, who is better known for single-handedly inventing the gore genre by directing the likes of Blood Feast [1963] and Two Thousand Maniacs [1964] ) cuts him out of the family’s fortune unless he gets an edu-ma-cation in the form of a GED. This leads to Cookie leaving him (no loss), being kicked out of his mansion, and asking a number of cameo metal musicians – and Ron Jeremy – for a mere $100,000 to help him get by.

After saving a man from being killed by the Lesbian Mafia (no comment from me) due to his owning them $30K, he talks the troubled and stereotypical gay guy, George (Paul Fears) into letting him stay on his couch in exchange for paying off his debt when he earns his degree and is reunited with his fortune. The apartment is shared by George’s father, the angry and also stereotypical Asian Mr. Woo (Vincent Leong). Tony and George both sign up for the GED class, led by Mr. Fleck (a very wooden, yet humorous Roy Frumkes; he wrote the classic 1987 flesh-melting Street Trash), who gets to spout lines like: “Let me assure you George, a GED is your best weapon against militant lesbians.”

Mandy Cat Kitana
Meanwhile, there is a concurrent double story about a nasty vampire, Gregor (Billy Walsh, who played the main villain in Balsamo’s I Spill Your Guts in 2012) biting assorted people (yeah, mostly women, just like in the Hammer days), and a very diminutive (4’11”) yet sexy and busty vampire princess named Vicky (Mandy Cat Kitana), who hangs out in front of the telley smoking weed with a Teddy-like vampire bat puppet named Spat who talks in a high-squeaky voice (Balsamo?). She’s bored after all these years and so also signs into a night (of course) GED class. The same one as…yep, you guessed it.

As time goes on, the stories continue to collide more and more until the meld into one very confusing but enjoyable mish-mash. Vampires be coming outta da yin-yang by the end, some of them showing ample cleavage – especially high priestess Elizabeth (played by Veronica Freeman) – others resembling classic Romero zombies but with fangs. Then when Elizabeth turns into a two headed vampire bat creature with boobs and a serpent’s tail puppet that, well, a brief description doesn’t – er – bite into it.

There are three constants in a Balsamo film, and I’m grateful for all of them. First, there is the homage to other films, such as a very nice nod to Roddy Piper, especially as this was filmed about the time he passed away. There’s also a bits from Rodriguez’s Desperado (1995) and the great kung fu classic The Flying Guillotine (1976; aka Du bi quan wang da po xue di zi). Of course, he also tips the hat toward many other directors and styles, such as the aforementioned zombie vampires, and even himself, as he has Spat watching a television promo for his own as yet non-existing sequel, I Spill Your Guts 2, as well as some wacky other ads and fake TV clips.

Frank "Fuckin'" Mullen
Second, there are the cameos. It’s kind of a blink-of-the-eye-and-miss-it kind of thing, or many times it’s a matter of who’s that now? For me, it’s especially true of the death metal musicians, as it’s not a genre that speaks to me. There’s also a bunch of indie film actors relatively known, famous, and infamous, such as those mentioned before, Roberto Lombardi who is making a nice niche in fan films with himself as an effective Freddy Kruger, scream queen Genoveva Rossi, genre collector turned actor John Link, John Dugan (the grandpa in the original Texas Chain Saw Massacre in 1974), porn star Jasmin St. Claire, off-beat Other musician David Peel, and many others. As I’ve said before, Balsamo goes to a lot of horror and music cons across the country, and films little clips with the actors and finds a way to include it in the story: Butch Patrick – wearing a Herman Munster tee – is a perfect example here. Then there is always Carmine Capobianco, who has great comedy timing, and especially Frank Mullen; I’m a fan of the guy, as I’ve said before. He should be in the cable series version of The Wolf of Wall Street.

Last of this list is the humor, mostly of the lower kind, but there are so many gems included that it pays to listen as some of them zing by. A good example of this kind of wit is when after someone demeans Tony, he says, “Do you know who I am?!” The guy responds with a derisive, “This is New York. No one gives a fuck who you are.” Another great and easily missed one is an acquaintance running into Tony stating, “I haven’t seen you since you took that tropical vacation to Vancouver!”

Gore appears often, albeit cartoonish (that’s okay, the whole film is a cartoon, in a way), there’s lots of flesh (wouldn’t complain about more, though), and many of the effects are laughable to the point where you’d almost expect them to be in a Japanese television program. My one complaint, though, is the sound is uneven and sometimes over-modulated to the point of fuzzy. Still, I’ll take it as part of the whole.

So, here’s a true, digressive story: I had to stop watching the film about half way through because of various reasons (not that I wanted to, just life), and planned to finish it the next day. That night I dreamed that I was hanging out with Balsamo (as himself, though I have never actually met him in person), and we were sitting on a couch talking about indie horror films and the Ramones. There are lots of shots of him sitting on a sofa in his films, so it’s no wonder. I don’t do weed, drink much or listen to metal, but as obnoxious as his characters tend to be, this dream shows that he still comes across as someone likeable on a deeper level. That says a lot to me, considering I wouldn’t want to get near any of his characters.

Go watch this film, and have a laugh; whether with it or at it, it’s all good.

Why I’m a Fan:

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