Sunday, June 10, 2018

Review: The Litch

Text © Richard Gary / Indie Horror Films, 2018
Images from the Internet

The Litch                                
Produced, photographed, directed and edited (among others) by James Balsamo
Acid Bath Productions
90 minutes, 2018

James Balsamo films are the manifestations of a Joke-of-the-Day desk calendar, mixed with a copy of a B-level People magazine, with a splash of Penthouse. All that’s missing is the Pez dispenser. In other words, his end result is a somewhat consistent hot mess of gooey fun.

James Balsamo
As always, Balsamo is the star of his own film, in this case playing a petty thief named Vinnie. But let’s be real, like any Abbott and Costello release (among many), he essentially plays the same character with different names and situations. In a previous one, he was a rich guy about to lose his money, and yet in another, a cop. But in each case, they are essentially the same guy: sloppy, snarky, and horny and often clad in shorts. So as the immortal question is paraphrased, “Why is this film different from any other film?” The easy answer is that it’s not. And I don’t have a problem with that.

As for the titular Litch (or the alternative spelling of Lich), it is “the Old English word for Corpse,” according to Wikipedia, and in literature refers to a magical being who controls others to do his bidding (this is my shorthand version). The Urban Legend website states it is a “spellcaster that has magically increased [its] lifespan to the point of becoming undead.” In other words, a soul eater who not a nice creature. And Vinnie is about to find out just how nasty it can be.

Before the film even starts, Vinnie has stolen a crystal from some mystical shoppe, and now the Litch is after his ass, taking over the bodies of those around him, including a friend (Mickey) and girlfriend’s (Mallory, I kid you not), mid-hump. Thankfully, there’s a flashback (narrated by Vinnie) of the origin of the creature in its present form (I’m guessing the 17th Century?), as well as the previous week leading up to Vinnie stealing the Litch’s crystal.

Dave Stein as the Litch
Along with the story, there is a lot of fun filler, and I really don’t know what other word to use to describe it: for example, while playing with his dog we see clips from commercials and television shows (including a couple featuring Balsamo’s real parents and brother, and others with cameos, which I’ll get to later), and stuff like that; another is shots of Balsamo doing whatever (such as standing in a park) while he waxes pun-etic on the narration.

I may have said this before, and odds are hopefully I’ll get to opportunity to say it again, there are certain approaches one must take when watching a Balsamo flick, such as not only one must have a suspension of disbelief, you really have to just say fuck it and strap yourself in for the ride. If you start asking questions, well, you’re watching the wrong film. Second, you really must bring out your teenage self, with all the belching, topless women, and bodily fluids that run amok and often fill the screen. The plots are held together with scotch tape and filler and those cameos (which I will still get to), but again, this isn’t trying to be Schindler’s List. Hell, he’s not even trying to be a second-rate director who is trying to be a serious artiste like Judd Aptow (showing my personal taste here a bit). Balsamo’s output is an indie genre all to itself that is almost ridiculous to the point of, “well, fuck reality, I’m going just on the ride and having fun.” That is why his films work so well.

But the thing is, you see, there is a smartness below the sur… well, I’m not sure I can even get away with that. This is Balsamo being Balsamo, and we’re all the lucky for it, because it’s stupid as Trump and thrice as fun. Unlike most films these days that actually seem to start being interesting 20 minutes after the prologue(s), this one keeps going right on through, even with the filler which contributes little to the story, but also adds to amusing time.

So poor small time thief Vinnie has the crystal and, like the red ruby slippers, the Litch can’t touch him directly, so he turns the Vinnster’s friends, family and acquaintances into ghoulish creatures that are hellbent to cover Vinnie in every possible kind of slimy upper-half bodily fluid. Think of a very gross Nickelodeon.

Speaking of which, the effects are a very, very nice mix of gross, cheesy and effective. Decapitations, brains pulled out of heads, and so much more, all guaranteed to give the viewer the glees, with the right mindset, aka the right mindset, in my opinion.

The Litch is dressed like a Vinnie Price in Witchfinder General (1968), and tells puns that make Freddie Kruger’s sound like Schopenhauer. There are some genuinely funny moments, such as Vinnie’s encounter with a mob enforcer named Sven (Eben McGarr), or the exchange between a magician, Adequate Levi, and his assistant. Melody Peng has a nice moment near the end, as well. These are just a trio of many examples.

Terra Strong, EG Daily, James Balsamo
As I was promising, let’s discuss cameos. Yeah, I know, I talk about this during every Balsamo review, but it’s worth revisiting. Most indie films have a couple of big cameos in their films, who get top billing for their couple of hours work. Amateurs, compared to Balsamo. The film can barely go 5 minutes without a cameo by an actor, death metal musician, or a comic magician; sometimes they play themselves, sometimes characters, but in most (but not all) cases, they’re on screen for about a minute on average. Many times it’s obvious that Balsamo shoots the footage and then figures out where to put them into the film later. What I especially find amusing is that one of Balsamo’s shticks is to have them really insult him and/or physically abuse him. Here – and this is only the tip of the list – we have the likes of Tom Sizemore, the Amazing Jonathan, still lovely and still diminutive Elizabeth Daily (aka EG Daily, e.g., 1984’s Streets of Fire), Dick Warlock (The Shape in Halloween II and III; and was also in Blazing Saddles), fire-eating Scream Queen Debra Lamb, more recent Scream Queen and budding director Genoveva Rossi, and of course the irrepressible Lloyd Kaufman.

My only real major complaint after all that? Not enough Frank Mullen, as he’s an East Coast guy and Balsamo (and bro) are relatively recent ex-pats to the West Coast. You’d have to see previous Balsamo films to get why, and you should.

The ending was certainly not what I was expecting, which is a good thing. Is it silly and ridiculous? Yeah, but it works in the story, and if you think you have it all figured out, you may be surprised. And stick around for after the credits,

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